Philosophy in the Gifted Curriculum
Educators Guild Newsletter
Davidson Institute for Talent Development -
Issue 6
Spring 2006

Current pedagogy emphasizes the importance of "critical thinking." However, as this article points out, K-12 classrooms are typically lacking in the very fields that foster critical thinking; specifically philosophy. The author highlights possible reasons philosophy is not taught in the classroom, and recommends philoshopy resources available on the web.

Contemporary pedagogy is brimming with admonishments about the importance of “critical thinking.” From mass-market curriculum guides to research-based professional literature, this message has become a universal mantra in K-12 education. Yet in the wake of certain other trends in public education, we also find a curriculum largely bereft of the discipline that may rightfully claim the most intimate and enduring ties to critical thinking. Philosophy is rarely taught in K-12 outside the sphere of exclusive private schools, or genuinely inspired gifted programs, yet it is an expected offering in all university liberal arts departments.

Among other objections, philosophy has frequently been dismissed as too contentious and challenging for secondary students. One unfortunate consequence of this thinking is the emergence of public school curriculums, which intentionally exclude the classical works of literature and philosophy that have helped sustain and define our connection to the Western cultural tradition. This is a loss for all students and a real dead end for gifted students, who are well equipped to benefit from the complexity of the classical canon.

Those who would deprive even the most capable students of this rigor and complexity often claim that such material is educationally “impractical” and “outdated.” Yet we may witness the impact contemporary philosophers like Thomas Kuhn and Patricia Churchland are having upon science and the study of artificial intelligence. Both of these scholars, and many others like them, are in the thick of contemporary thought, dealing with matters that are not only practical, but also essential to the progress of society and doing so with educational backgrounds that include a substantial amount of classical training in philosophy. Moreover, if we acknowledge the current educational outcry for critical thinking mentioned earlier, then why would a discipline built from centuries of critical thinking be characterized as outdated or impractical?

Recommended Resources

Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children (IAPC)
“The Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children provides curriculum materials for engaging young people (Pre K-12) in philosophical inquiry and provides teacher preparation in the pedagogy of the classroom community of inquiry.”

    Two texts that come highly recommended by the IAPC are:
  • Philosophy in the Classroom, Second Edition by Matthew Lipman, Ann Margaret Sharp and Fred Oscanyan
  • Philosophy and the Young Child by Gareth B. Matthews. Dr. Matthews also has a wonderful site dedicated to the methods and means of teaching philosophy to young children.

Mount Holyoke College The philosophy department of Mount Holyoke College has assembled and currently maintains this site dedicated to the use of children’s literature to teach elementary aged children philosophy.

The Examined Life: Advanced Philosophy for Kids by David White Distinguished author and educator, Dr. David A. White, spent 15 years in the GT classroom and his text, The Examined Life: Advanced Philosophy for Kids, first explains why philosophy is a relevant subject for secondary students as well as an ideal fit for the gifted classroom, and then describes exactly how to teach this material.


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