Philosophy is one of the disciplines most severely damaged by the rise of the productivist mentality : what does not produce added value in a clear and manifest way is despised and relegated to the trunk of confusing elements without utility.

This degradation of the value of philosophy has been very evident in the university environment, but in compulsory education the prospects are not particularly favourable.

Philosophy and children

Why invest time and money in promoting a line of knowledge and competence that will be truncated when the time comes for the job market?

To these sociological arguments we must add the psychological ones. It is a widespread idea that a large part of schoolchildren do not have to benefit from philosophy, since developmental psychology shows the difficulty (or impossibility) of younger children when it comes to dealing with abstract ideas .

See in this respect Jean Piaget’s theory of stages of development. Of course, studies on the development of brain connectivity (necessary to create abstractions, which are properties shared by the most varied objects) indicate that this is not fully consolidated until the third decade of life. Is education in critical thinking unnecessary, then, for the youngest?

Beyond the contents, praxis

A recent research suggests that teaching philosophy to children can produce a significant improvement in their intelligence level . The study, carried out by Spanish researchers (Roberto Colom, Félix García Moriyón, Carmen Magro, Elena Morilla) and whose results have been published in Analytic Teaching and Philosophical Praxis , is a longitudinal research that has been followed for 10 years, from the age of 6 until the end of secondary school, from a group that was taught philosophy on a weekly basis (455 children) and a control group that was not taught philosophy (321 children). Both the control group and the treatment group had the same socioeconomic profile and both belonged to the students of private schools in the area of Madrid.

The results show that the members of the treatment group increased their IQ (general cognitive ability) by 7 points and 4 and 7 points in fluid and crystallized intelligence, respectively. In addition, philosophy classes with children reduced the accumulation over the years of the number of students in the “risk zone” (with a relatively low IQ score), a typical problem of educational institutions.

As for the influence of these sessions on personality traits, philosophy students from early ages showed a tendency to extraversion, honesty and emotionality . These traits could be enhanced, more than by the content of the classes themselves, by the modality of teaching that philosophy requires to be taught in classes: discussion groups, debate to question preconceived ideas, and the continuous proposal of questions. Philosophy with children requires a much more democratic class structure in which the student is an active subject together with the rest of his/her classmates and the teacher becomes a facilitator and guide of the student’s research (something that connects very well with Vygotsky’s theory of the zone of proximate development).

A New Paradigm

If we recapitulate, we will see that the particularity of philosophy is not so much the content of these studies , understood as a “package of information” that is transmitted unilaterally from the teacher to the students, but rather the role of this discipline as a propitious framework to formulate questions and propose answers, that is to say, to elaborate one’s own way of seeing the world. This dynamic of questioning does not have to be limited to subjects that cannot be covered by the child’s mind, just as sport is important for all people, regardless of their ability to gain muscle mass.

Philosophy can constitute in itself a healthy habit and a training for the transcendental questions that will come in later stages of development, as well as offer a space in which the management of intersubjectivity and the understanding with others can work .