The purpose of Philosophy for Kids is to foster deeper thought about important and fascinating questions such as “Does anything ever happen by chance?”, “Should you ever tell a lie?”, and “Do you have free will?” Questions are divided into four categories: values, knowledge, reality, and critical thinking.
Each lesson begins with questions that require thoughtful engagement from students. They might be presented within a context or on their own. For example, the lesson on “Should you ever tell a lie?” presents six situations for students to decide whether or not they would tell a lie. Questions range from the trivial to “If you could save a person’s life by telling a lie would you do it?” The questions might be presented as multiple-choice, true/false, yes/no, ranking activities, or other formats.
Each lesson (and its question) is related to a philosopher, so students learn about philosophers themselves as they wrestle with questions philosophers have considered. Each lesson concludes with “For Further Thought,” questions, activities, or deeper observations on the topic. Some questions relate to other questions, which helps students understand the complexity of ideas. You can jump around in this book, purposely choosing questions that relate to one another or choosing questions simply because they interest students.
While the topics could take students into really “deep” territory, the way the lessons are presented makes them suitable for bright students as young as about nine or ten years old. At the same time, most of the lessons are equally appealing to adults. This is a great way to start to learn more about philosophy and philosophers, and it does not require prior knowledge on the part of teachers. However, there is a brief section on how to teach the lessons followed by teaching tips for each of the 40 questions.
While older students can work through the lessons on their own, it is likely to be a lot more fun and more productive when used interactively. A single student with a parent or teacher would work, but a few students would be even better. If only one or two students are working with a teacher, it might be possible to share a single book, but it is definitely best if the teacher and each student has his or her own book. (There are no separate student books or answer keys.)
The book might be used as a supplement or it can be covered as a critical thinking course, using about one lesson per week for a year. I suspect that most students will find the exploration of these questions so stimulating and enjoyable that they will look forward to the lessons.
Questions on values and beliefs arise because of the very nature of philosophy, but no particular philosophy is advanced by the author. Those with a Christian worldview will likely want to add biblical perspectives into many of the discussions.
The Examined Life
The Examined Life: Advanced Philosophy for Kids is a sequel to Philosophy for Kids. White used these ten lessons with gifted students as young as fourth grade level but more often with grades six through eight. However, the lessons are also great for high school students, and, as with Philosophy for Kids, adults will also enjoy pondering big philosophical ideas as presented in these lessons.
The Examined Life works from ten excerpts from primary source works of philosophers rather than beginning with questions. A number of questions arise from each of the works themselves. The book serves as a teacher’s manual. You can photocopy the pages with the excerpted literary works—these range in length from half of a page to two pages with each broken down into numbered passages for easy reference.
The Examined Life presents teaching information passage by passage with questions that might be raised (if students don’t already ask them) to stimulate discussion along with comments and suggestions. White alerts you to possible challenges or questions students are likely to come up with based on his years of experience.
Questions in The Examined Life definitely go to a deeper level and tackle more abstract and metaphysical concepts. Some of the topics addressed are the nature of time, whether or not nonviolent resistance can be based upon something other than belief in God or religion, Thomas Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God from design (his fifth argument), the perennial “If a tree falls in the forest with no one around, does it make a sound?”, and the question of whether technology is “the savior of humanity” or “the tool of humanity’s ultimate destruction.”
Parents or teachers need to take more time to read and think about these lessons in advance than they do for Philosophy for Kids. There is much more information provided for parents or teachers. This is not a book that students can use on their own.
While questions touch on deeply held religious beliefs, they are not designed to undermine faith. The person leading the discussion can generally influence the direction of the conversation and raise additional questions regarding issues of faith, but the book was written to be used by those with or without any type of faith. Even so, students with no faith background who are exposed to these questions might well be forced to consider the possibility of the existence of God!
The Examined Life has two additional sections that might be of interest to some parents and teachers. While there are a few activities in these sections, they are primarily articles to help teachers of gifted students integrate philosophical education into other subject areas and explore theoretical ideas about teaching gifted students.