Art & Dialogue: An experiment in pre-k philosophy
Introduction: Early educators are in a bind. Teacher education programs are calling on them more and more to help students practice critical thinking and develop intellectual character (Ritchhart, 2002); yet school funding depends on meeting Common Core standards, which do not explicitly assess critical thinking until the high-school level (NEA.org). Add to that an over-engineered content curriculum, and thinking becomes a luxury that is quickly lost amid more immediate concerns (Cabrera and Colosi, 2012). As a result, we are raising a generation of “excellent sheep” who flourish amid standardized tests but are increasingly unable to think for themselves (Deresiewicz, 2014). The problem, we suggest, is that today’s teachers are in such a rush to give students the answers that they are not allowing them time to ask the questions. As a result, students cannot find the “deep structure” of issues. Bodies of knowledge thus strike them as disconnected facts, quickly forgotten. The solution, as suggested by recent work in cognitive science, is to teach critical thinking through teaching content (Willingham, 2007). In what follows, we propose a way of organically integrating content and thinking through games, story books and art. With this, we put children into the driver’s seat, encouraging them to ask their own questions, to propose their own answers and to join their peers in joint inquiry through dialogue. In a word, we propose teaching children philosophy as early as possible. Tom Wartenberg has made considerable progress with his picture-book philosophy curriculum designed for elementary schools (Wartenberg, 2014). But what of younger children? Combining the resources of Rollins College’s Philosophy Department and Child Development and Student Research Center, we set out to find “how low can we go?” Over four terms’ of trial and error, we have adapted and distilled Wartenberg’s methods into a model that works for the Center’s 4-year-olds, and we have tested this model on a larger scale through a one-term collaboration with the Winter Park Day Nursery.