Philosophizing with children
Dr. Klaus Feldmann / Philosophy
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The common search for truth

Dr. Klaus Feldmann on the research area "Philosophizing with Children

Why? Why? Why? Children's wonder about the world often begins with these questions. Dr. Klaus Feldmann, Academic Senior Councillor at the Philosophy Department of the University of Berg, deals with the topic of 'Philosophizing with Children` in his research. "In the field of philosophizing with children, it is often the case that elementary philosophical questions are raised here by the protagonists," he explains, "but their processing is not done with a recourse to philosophical literature. Children provide impulses, and that makes philosophizing with children interesting."

Everyone philosophizes, but at different levels

The topic of 'philosophizing with children` is often smiled at in the specialist community, says Feldmann, because "philosophy is, after all, a science with a high level of conceptual abstraction and cannot be done like that for children." But this research area is not about philosophy itself, but about philosophizing, that is, a practice as opposed to a teaching. "In my discipline, the didactics of philosophy, we do not start from a hierarchical model of the subject, which could be divided into academic, school or child philosophy, but from a gradual model. That is, in each context there are respective goals, practices, and different claims to validity for philosophizing." In the subject didactic literature, he said, this is compared to sports. "There are elite sports and popular sports, but they all do sports." Applied to the humanities, he said, this means everyone does philosophy, but in different ways.

The philosophical approach in everyday life

Children often ask questions that make us adults uneasy because we don't have the answers ourselves. In times of Corona, climate crisis and war, parents reach their limits. So how do you deal with it? "From my point of view, parents should make uncertainty an issue and openly discuss the limits of their knowledge and their own orientation with their children," Feldmann suggests, because giving an apparent sense of security and formulating answers that you don't have yourself leads to uncertainty among children. This is then also the more philosophical approach, since philosophy has been asking itself the same questions for thousands of years and also has few, if any, answers, the expert formulates. "Crucial in this approach, especially with children, is to make them realize that you are not alone with your questions and concerns, that we adults are also troubled by these problems and that we all, as mortal and loving human beings, have these problems in common."

Philosophizing with children - The common search for truth.

In solving all of our problems, however weighted, a philosophical conversation can help, but how does one philosophize with children? "Research relies heavily on talking with children," explains the educator. "Socrates - even if it's historically debatable - is the protagonist in many Platonic dialogues and discusses central philosophical questions with his interlocutors. For example, what is the good, what we can know, or what immortality means. Methodologically, this ancient conversational format was further developed in the 20th century." Today, the following premises are assumed. "The conversation should start from individual experiences of the participants* in the conversation, take root in the concrete, in order to then be able to better open up an issue through the selection of a case and the discussion about it." The claim for this conversation format is the common search for truth and finally in the form of a meta conversation (a meta conversation describes the situation in which two or more people talk about how a certain conversation went, especially how they dealt with each other. Editor's note) the reflection of the conversation itself. This is favored by most in 'philosophizing with children'. In addition, there are other approaches besides the conversation. "These include descriptive materials, through which one can philosophize about pictures or films, for example, or work narratively with stories."

The practice of asking questions

When philosophizing, it's helpful to think of children as equal partners in the conversation. This encourages them to think for themselves and to develop their imaginations, but does not necessarily lead to a conclusion. Still, children often handle open-ended conversations better. "They understand - often better than adults - that factual answers aren't all there is in the world," Feldmann says. "Philosophizing helps them do that. As a practice of asking questions rather than giving answers, it makes a contribution to differentiation. Children thus learn that there are different 'categories' of reality." In addition to factual reality, which can be explored empirically, there is also the reality of the emotional and intellectual world. "This can be described less objectively. Its linguization lies in the realm of philosophy."

A very special relationship

Philosopher Gareth B. Matthews says, "The combination of strengths and weaknesses that an adult brings to a philosophical encounter with a child contains the opportunity for a very special relationship." Says Feldmann, "In questions of personal life orientation, which is a central function of philosophizing in educational contexts, children and adults meet in what Hannah Arendt (Hannah Arendt 1906 - 1975, German publicist) would call the realm of 'human affairs.'" The special feature of the relationship is the common closeness to questions about human relationship in general, which in its extremes is certainly characterized by death and love, and which is ultimately the source of philosophical practice. Therefore, philosophizing is extremely important for the formation of one's own opinion, because it "holds the possibility to look at reality in a more differentiated way. Answers can certainly be qualified by philosophical means - contrary to the assumption that there is no right or wrong in this area. The basic criterion here is the theorem of contradiction with all its implications."

Philosophy in schools should become a compulsory subject

To philosophize parents or teachers*innen often lack the time, as well as the necessary training for such thinking work, which offers for the personal development of a child however crucial advantages. "Philosophy or philosophizing should be upgraded in our educational institutions because of the benefits it brings to adolescents," Feldmann suggests. "For example, philosophy should be established as a regular compulsory subject in all types of schools and classes, and no longer as an appendix to religious education." Philosophizing is not reduced to imparting knowledge, but also includes independent thinking, critical observation and reasoned judgment. There is an opportunity to reflect together on the limits of knowledge and ignorance, to become aware of the limited claim to validity of science in general. This could open up other functions - especially social functions - of the discipline. "Problems like bullying, for example, could be better dealt with in the classroom this way, and it would definitely have social philosophical implications."

Philosophical conversation versus the digital world

The philosophical conversation between children and adults in our rapidly changing, digital world is extremely important, Feldmann believes. "Very many skills that we want to teach through philosophizing are immensely relevant to dealing with the digital. These include security issues, behavioral patterns, as well as how to deal with the net or how I myself would like to appear and be seen on the net." The reception of sources and the question of the basis on which a judgment is reached are also important topics for discussion and also serve to educate people about democracy.

Uwe Blass

Dr. Klaus Feldmann is a senior academic councillor at the Philosophy Department of the University of Wuppertal. His teaching area: didactics of philosophy.

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