Kid’s Philosophy

The idea that schoolchildren should become philosophers will be scoffed at by school boards, teachers, parents, and philosophers alike.

Each day I post a new Online MCAT CARS Passage. This is for anyone who wants to practice for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Section.

Every article is selected to meet the AAMC MCAT criteria for MCAT CARS.

Subscribe by email to receive a new free practice passage each morning.

May 24, 2017 – Online MCAT CARS Practice

Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

The idea that schoolchildren should become philosophers will be scoffed at by school boards, teachers, parents, and philosophers alike. The latter will question whether kids can even do philosophy, while the former likely have only a passing familiarity with it, if any — possibly leading them to conclude that it’s beyond useless.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, nothing could be more important to the future well-being of both our kids and society as a whole than that they learn how to be philosophers.

I don’t mean that we should teach kids philosophy the way they would encounter it in college. Adolescents don’t need to dive into dissertations on Plato’s theory of forms or Kant’s categorical imperative. (That kind of study is valuable, too, and should be included in secondary education somewhere, but that’s an argument for another day.) The kind of philosophy I have in mind helps kids become better citizens by turning the classroom into what the philosopher John Dewey called “embryonic society.”

To see why this is vital, just consider the state of discourse in the current presidential election cycle. From issues of racism, economic inequality, gun violence, domestic and foreign terrorism to climate change, the inability of the candidates and their respective parties to engage in fruitful public discourse is a manifestation of our own adult dysfunction writ large.

Consider what Pew Research Center’s series on political polarization found last year:

“Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades. These trends manifest themselves in myriad ways, both in politics and in everyday life.”

I think most of us realize that society is a necessary compromise, and at least pay lip service to the idea that critical thinking and effective communication are virtues essential for its success. As we get older many of us tend to be less open to new information, evidence, and arguments — but we can and should instill the requisite virtues in our children via K-12 education.

“It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” as Frederick Douglass once said in a different context. In that spirit, then, it’s imperative that our kids become philosophers.

When people hear the word “philosophy” they might think first of something like a set of guiding principles or a general worldview. The New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick may have a coaching philosophy, for instance, while someone like the rapper Drake encourages us to have a YOLO attitude toward life. But academic philosophy is that discipline of the humanities concerned with clarifying and analyzing concepts and arguments relating to the big questions of life.

The focus is on asking questions because philosophy, as Socrates said, begins in wonder. We don’t just ask ourselves questions—we ask others, those who make up our society. It’s true that philosophy involves a lot of sittin’ and thinkin’ on one’s own, but as the late American philosopher Matthew Lipman wrote in his essay “The Educational Role of Philosophy:”

“Philosophy may begin in wonder and eventuate in understanding, or even, in a few instances, in wisdom, but along the way it involves a good deal of strenuous activity. This activity generally takes the form of dialogue.”

Dialogue is key because only then will our assumptions, reasoning, and conclusions be challenged. Only then can we become better thinkers. And in the process of becoming better thinkers through intellectually rigorous dialogue, our children can become better citizens.

While teaching philosophy to undergraduates at Columbia University in the 1960s, Lipman saw that his students were passionate to change the world but deficient in their ability to reason soundly and exercise good judgment. He also realized that college was a little late in life to learn to think properly, so he created the Philosophy for Children movement, known as P4C.

By the early 1980s, the results of Lipman’s new curriculum were promising and, just as important, it showed that kids took to philosophy with alacrity. For the first time, there was a proof-of-principle that children could become philosophers, in a certain sense. Kids are actually natural-born philosophers, as Stephen Law has argued. Lipman further observed in his essay:

Those who engage in philosophical dialogue about philosophical issues, even though they do not perform with the acumen of specialists, are indeed doing philosophy, even if they are very, very young, so long as their performances conform to the rules or standard practices of the discipline.

Other philosophers since Lipman have refined his original Philosophy for Children pedagogy, but the priority is always kept on dialogue. Under this model, kids go through a kind of philosophical apprenticeship where they learn by doing. The teacher’s job is to guide and inform student inquiries, helping them pay attention to the quality of their reasoning, and making sure they realize they’re meeting on terms of equality and mutual respect.

K-12 education in America can be the petri dish in which a more promising and enduring approach to living in an increasingly pluralistic society can be cultivated. Experiencing (and, yes, enjoying!) the participatory, communal manner in which philosophers argue their positions will enable our kids to evaluate the myriad issues that come up in social and political life and, to the extent possible, respectfully engage those who disagree with them.

If we fail to turn second-graders into Socrates, our kids may end up becoming expert at making a living, but they will be incompetent at creating a civil society.

Adapted from washingtonpost.


Leave a comment below with what you understood to be the author’s main ideas. Ask about this daily passage in office hours/workshops for help.

Subscribe to my Daily CARS mailing list by entering your email.

The full list of daily articles is available here.

This was an article on Education.

Have a great day.
Jack Westin
MCAT CARS Instructor.
Contact Information


  1. Author advocates teaching kids philosophy. It teaches them to think more clearly and engage others in a respectful manner for a “better” society and future.


  2. philosophy important, society dysfunctional, communication important, critical period important for learning philosophy


  3. Philosophy is a necessary, but often overlooked concept that is essential to the forming of important social and political dialogue required of a progressive society. It is therefore important to teach grade school students this subject, so they can grow into reasoning adults who can start important conversations about improving the social issues of today.


  4. CP=important (especially for future generations, in political compromise for example) tone=positive for academic philosophy for children


  5. The author thinks that kids should be taught philosophy because it will not only ensure their engagement in public discourse, but it will help them analyze concepts and arguments.


  6. important for kids to learn philosophy


  7. Philosophy can and should be taught to children, because it will cultivate a cohesive society. Philosophy in the sense of guiding judgement and reasoning, not necessarily in the context of learning and analyzing prominent philosophers. There is evidence that teaching children is possible, and can ultimately help shape our society in the future.


  8. Proposes that kids should stray towards studying philosophy. Philosophy is defined as analysis and questioning related to the bigger questions in life and the author proposes that children are more apt to pick up the critical thinking and open-mindedness needed for this sort of discipline, whereas adults that have not been trained in this sort of way find it much more difficult to challenge their own beliefs.


  9. Author tone =

    MP = teach kids philosophy early; starting at college is too late; want to be able to create civil community & learn how to be able to make a living

    reasonable b/c: in P4C kids took up the program well

    ex. current political landscape


  10. Teach kids philosophy. Through dialogue ability to ask questions / evaluate issues emerges –> better thinkers/citizens –> society.


  11. kids to learn philosophy = important
    – kids more open to new info; teach them to ask questions of life, become thinkers, carry dialogues, become better citizens
    RTA Lipman (promising)


  12. kid philosophy = good
    through dialogue and asking questions it teaches them to be better citizens

    Author’s tone = praise


  13. philosophy edu should start with children as they are natural at this as long as curriculum is fit for their age. focusing on education of philosophy is critical for our next generations to improve civil world as lack of this skill would only produce ppl who know how to make wealth but lack of critical thinking.


  14. Teach philosophy when kids young so they can be adults who live in civil society. Focus on question + dialogue rather than way of living


  15. Teaching philosophy at school => kids become better citizens.


  16. Philosophical thinking for children + teaching effective dialogue = necessary for fruitful future.


  17. MIP: school children = philosophers; dialogue = important; dialogue –> better thinking –> + society


  18. author strongly believe children should be taught in philosophy.
    being a ‘philosopher’ will help them to think critically and will help to create better society.


  19. philosophy is important and it is the basis to lessen societal problems.


  20. In order to create a civil society, children must be taught to ask questions and to create dialogue from a young age. By creating dialogue with other citizens, their values, assumptions and beliefs are challenged during critical thinking allowing them to become better citizens as it pays way for effective communication and understanding.


  21. The main idea I believe is about the benefits of children learning philosophy at that particular age. It will ingrain in them the values and characteristics to learn how to assert themselves properly, make descent judgments and foster a civil society in their future.


  22. MIP: Important to train kids as philosophers. Philosophy involves dialogue.


  23. Author is supportive of the idea that philosophy should be introduced to school children even though it is an incredulous idea to begin with. Philosophy will benefit these children and the society when these children grow up and integrate into society in future.
    Author suggests that philosophy be taught to children at the basic level and not the academic level. He thinks that there is nothing wrong with teaching college level philosophy at secondary schools too. He agrees with Dewey’s analogy of the classroom being an incubator that shapes young minds, a microcosm of the society we live in.
    Author believes that teaching kids philosophy might be a solution to the numerous social and political issues abound in our society today. We as adults are not able to engage in fruitful public discourse, very evident in politics. Since we tend to be less open to new and opposing information, philosophy will teach children to be more open to talking about their differences when they become adults.
    Dialogue is the crucial part in philosophy that helps develop our reasoning and allows us to be better thinkers.
    Children need not engage in academic level philosophy. They just need to be critiqued on their level of reasoning and accord each other with basic respect like fellow human beings. Hopefully, these kids will learn to engage even those who share opposing views and make their world a better place when they grow up.


  24. Kids….. philosohers….. to help society in more civil manner….. unlike today adults are close minded due to lack of understanding others


  25. MI: need CP (K-12) to make better citizens, foc on dialogue
    tone: + for CP


  26. MI: Kids -> Philo, Author argues to teach more philo to kids to help make them better for society


  27. MIP: teaching kids philosophy (how to be better citizens) is beneficial; tone = neutral


  28. Learning philosophy = important CW; start children young; philosophy = dialogue, learn by doing. Author = positive


Leave a Reply