Think Big!

23 August 2017
Professor Dan Groll walks on a sidewalk with a group of small children

When philosophy professor Daniel Groll tells you about a class on political philosophy and ethics, you probably expect him to describe a lively lecture on Kant, not story time with Kevin Henkes’s Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. But philosophy instruction can take many forms. For the past three years, students in Groll’s “Philosophy with Children” course have been using simple stories to teach philosophical concepts to first- and third-graders at Northfield’s Greenvale Park Elementary School.

Groll was inspired by Big Ideas for Little Kids, a book by Mount Holyoke professor Thomas Wartenberg that outlines how to tackle philosophical concepts via children’s literature. “The names of philosophers or theories never come up,” Groll says. “We consider the lesson a success if we get them to say why they agree or disagree with each other.”

The children tackle big topics like authority: Is it okay for a teacher to take away your things if you’re disrupting class with them? Is it okay for another student to do it? And sincerity: What are the components of a good apology? As they discuss and sometimes even debate their ideas, they realize that some questions don’t have clear answers. And that, says Groll, is the point.

The Carleton students design the lessons they’ll lead—they choose a story and develop discussion questions and a related activity—and write a college-level paper about the philosophy concepts they’ll cover.

Interested in having philosophical discussions with the kids in your life? Visit Wartenberg’s website to find a variety of related materials, including some that were created by Groll’s students.

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