Saturday, November 20, 2010

Four year olds and philosophy

Stupid idea.

"I think, therefore I am four . . . France starts them young"


Henry Samuel

November 19th, 2010

The Daily Telegraph

France is to start teaching philosophy to younger pupils, in some cases as young as four, provoking a row over whether the discipline is being dumbed down.

The country has long idealised its philosophers, who, from Descartes to Derrida, have heavily influence Western thought for centuries. Its modern media philosophers have superstar status, from the open-shirted Bernard-Henri Levy to Raphael Enthoven, the TV philosopher and ex-boyfriend of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and father of her son.

France is seeing a boom in all things philosophical, from cafe debates to festivals, corporate seminars and even cartoon strips on the subject.

Until now it has been mostly limited to the final year of secondary school, but two developments this week have led to heated debate over whether children should be introduced to abstract thought far earlier.

The first was the release of a documentary shot over two years in a Paris nursery showing a class of four-year-olds coming to terms with a host of profound concepts. In Ce n'est qu'un debut (It's just a beginning) the pupils are asked to express thoughts on anything from love and death to the definition of intelligence - described by one child as "my mother when she doesn't put the Nutella in the fridge". Another child described the difference between humans and animals as "body hair".

The second development was an announcement by Luc Chatel, the education minister, of a plan to teach philosophy for 14- or 15-year-olds, where subjects such as history, literature, science or politics will be taught through the prism of philosophy.

But Mr Levy said: "I don't believe in a vague initiation into philosophy. If it's just a vague varnish given to pupils, it would be absurd as philosophy supposes training."

Mr Enthoven, a university philosophy teacher, defended the developments, saying adolescents were in dire need of the tools of philosophy "when they most need to think for themselves, to question themselves about the world, to realize that what they feel, their sadness or dismay is nothing new but has been described in many texts before them".

As for nursery philosophy, he said: "The very young are natural philosophers - philosophy is not firstly about rationality, reasoning but about candour, and small children are by definition candid."

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