Notes on “Philosophy & The Young Child” by Gareth B. Matthews – Part 1

I’m not sure where I found this book and why I put it on my reading list. It was probably through an unschooling blog I read. I bought it with a gift card that my homeschool group gave me last spring.

It’s a wonderful short book! Philosophy is hard for me. I feel like I’m looking at one of those pictures that you’re supposed to see something in but you can only see it if you stop trying to look for it. The minute I start to see it, I try to focus on it and it’s gone…just like my understanding of philosophy. But that doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated by it! If I can’t really grasp philosophical concepts, how can I possibly talk to children about them? This book has eased my mind about that. Children are natural philosophers! I’ll follow their lead and see if they can’t lead me out of my “schooled maturity” and into some higher thinking about the world around me.

The first chapter is called “Puzzlement”. It’s what children have by nature and adults have grown to ignore. Do some children need more time to mentally explore than others? I believe all children are “naturally creative” and that a lack of free time to explore is harder on kids who are stubborn enough to want to keep that creativity.

Page 2 “Bertrand Russell tells us that philosophy, ‘if it cannot answer so many questions as we could wish, has at least the power of asking questions which increase the interest of the world, and show the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life.” This is where children are said to be natural philosophers. There is nothing that is “common” to a child. Everything is new and exciting and seen in a different light. As we grow older, we grow numb to the world and find it more difficult to see the magic.

Chapter 2 – Play

Children play with everything, including words, which builds their knowledge of the subject.

Page 21 “Much of what we adults tell children is highly questionable at best and deserves to be challenged.”

Parents and teachers who always refuse to play this game with children (logic games, explaining what you really mean, using words and phrases deliberately) impoverish their own intellectual lives, diminish their relationships with their children, and discourage in their children the spirit of independent intellectual inquiry.” There is never a “because I said so”. When children question what we mean and we ignore that with impatience and insist on blind obedience, what do we think we think we are teaching them?

Chapter 3 – Reasoning

Much of this chapter I didn’t understand, probably because I’m pretty unreasonable. Logical reasoning, like Socratic Questioning, is so lost on me. I just cannot follow it. I’ve yet to hear an explanation that makes any sense to me.

He describes a child he interviewed and came up with this gem, “his willingness to open up to an adult suggests that someone treated him, as well as what has to say, with respect.” This is something that peaceful parenting and radical unschooling promotes that people generally cannot grasp. If you respect the child’s wishes in that he has a reason to want the green cup and not the yellow one, you are building a relationship of respect that will be amazing in the long run. It’s not indulgence or spoiling a child to respect their opinions and wishes.

Chapter 4 – Piaget

Piaget’s methods of education assume that children learn in a methodical and measurable way, which unschoolers have found to be completely not true. They are not machines at all.

Some people are immune to philosophical puzzlement. For them there is, perhaps, much to learn about the world but nothing to puzzle over. To judge from ‘The Child’s Conception of the World’, Piaget is himself such a person.” And that is just sad.

Chapter 5 – Stories

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Many Moons, and Winnie-the-Pooh, are all beautiful examples of stories that inspire us to think about the philosophy of the world around us.

Page 63 “What gives the Humpty Dumpty theory its plausibility is that very natural notion that the meaning of a word has when it is used on a particular occasion is the idea or mental picture that the speaker or writer had in mind when the word was uttered or written.” Most of the time, we aren’t all using the same dictionary. When we discuss things we should agree on the meaning of words, otherwise we will never communicate. Recently, there really is no point in discussing anything with anyone because people don’t even realize that words can have different meanings to different people, in different situations. It makes a picture with a sentence on Facebook think one group of people is insane for posting it because they don’t have the same meaning for the words used but think they do.

Page 65 Here’s something that I’ve heard Sandra Dodd discuss quite a bit on radical unschooling pages, “There is something very puzzling about the idea of trying not to do what you really want to do. If you really want to do a thing, you won’t try not to. On the other hand, if you really try not to, it will be because you want not to do it. Thus, what Frog describes as a lack of willpower – indeed, what we all do – begins to look like a case of conflicting desires.” That’s the honesty we need to have with ourselves, if we want our children to do the same. It’s not about the willpower to not eat every cookie in the cupboard at once. It’s about being conscious of our desires and doing what we truly want. If you know that eating all the cookies will make you sick, you would not eat them all because your desire to not be ill trumps your desire for cookies, unless you’ve never been allowed to learn what your desires really are and only do what you are instructed to do by your authorities.

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