WHY PLATO? – Keep Reading or Download the PDF
At one time or another, we all ask ourselves philosophical questions: open-ended questions that explore fundamental concepts and values in human life, questions that are not easily answered but lend themselves to rich reflection. We wonder, discuss, and critically explore the nature of reality and our values, as we try to understand and find meaning in our lives.
Children, too, engage in philosophical inquiry. From a very young age, children give voice to their curiosity by questioning everything around them.
PLATO is devoted to enriching young people’s educational experiences by introducing them to the benefits and rigors of philosophy before they graduate from high school. Our members include professional philosophers and other educators, K-12 teachers, graduate and undergraduate students, and school administrators.
We contend that philosophy is a key, yet overlooked, resource for preparing students for the challenges of the 21st century.
THE BENEFITS OF PHILOSOPHY IN SCHOOLS
Although it is sometimes misrepresented as an abstract practice removed from the concerns of everyday people, philosophy is eminently practical. Engaging in philosophical inquiry can bolster our ability to think deeply about our beliefs, commitments, and values; critically evaluate our own assumptions; construct sound and valid arguments; and evaluate the arguments of others.
Philosophy helps make us better listeners, and more reflective, respectful contributors to discussions.
Philosophical inquiry doesn’t treat knowledge as a commodity or a set of facts to be passed on to young people, but rather as something that is created collaboratively and emerges in classrooms in which questioning, discussion, and the search for unexamined assumptions are encouraged.
Studying philosophy hones analytical reasoning, reading comprehension, logical argumentation, and independent thinking – all important elements of a 21st century education. Several studies demonstrate the benefits of philosophy for children in these and related areas. Trickey and Topping (2004) show that philosophy programs help young students to improve their reasoning, discussion, and logical argumentation skills. Those who study philosophy also tend to perform higher on the Cognitive Reflection Test (Frederick, 2005), which measures problem-solving skills. Philosophy in K-12 classrooms has also been shown to promote socio-emotional growth, independent thinking, and positive self-esteem in children and adolescents (Millett and Tapper, 2012; Mohr Lone and Burroughs, 2015; Trickey and Topping, 2005).
Philosophical inquiry allows students to experience the pleasure of growing intellectually. In his pioneering work on education, John Dewey maintained that children enter school curious and motivated to learn (Dewey 1916; 1938). Educational research shows that students perform better academically when they are engaged in their own learning and believe it is of personal value (as opposed to a purely instrumental task) (Fredericks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004; Martin, 2001).
PHILOSOPHY IS UNIQUE AMONG THE DISCIPLINES
Philosophy is uniquely positioned to provide meaningful educational experiences to students. Other subjects may introduce elements of critical analysis and logical thinking, but only in philosophy are these skills deployed in the service of questioning, examining and discussing central questions pertaining to human life.
Through personal and group reflection, students have an opportunity to consider their assumptions and implicit biases, their own views and those of others students, and explore multiple, diverse perspectives on the issue under discussion. Students engaged in philosophical inquiry come to see how an academic pursuit can inform their personal experiences and development.
Philosophy doesn’t teach students just to answer questions, but also to “question answers.” Students are often asked to respond to teacher-supplied questions that have clear-cut answers. In contrast, in philosophical inquiry, students learn to pose questions and challenge their own assumptions.
THE CASE FOR PHILOSOPHY
Philosophy addresses both the timely and timeless goals of education: it improves students’ test-taking abilities and sharpens their intellectual skills. It also provides opportunities for authentic, student-centered learning, which are often limited because of the crowded curriculum and pressures associated with standardized testing that inhibit the possibilities for collaborative education.
Philosophy is important both for its instrumental value – as a discipline that will help students perform better in school and in higher education – as well as for the intrinsic rewards it promises. Now, more than ever, students need to become engaged in the world as skilled thinkers, as citizens in a democracy, and as global citizens. The stakes couldn’t be higher, or the need for responsible, reflective, systematic thinkers greater; these are precisely the habits of mind that philosophy cultivates.