Why we should teach philosophy to kids

Posted by: Tedstaff

Via the BPS Research Digest: A recent study on the long-term benefits of the Socratic method. In a study of 105 children, all around 10 years old, teachers spent an hour a week for 16 months teaching lessons based on philosophical inquiry.


The philosophy-based lessons encouraged a community approach to “inquiry” in the classroom, with children sharing their views on Socratic questions posed by the teacher.

The result? At the end of 16 months,

Compared with 72 control children, the philosophy children showed significant improvements on tests of their verbal, numerical and spatial abilities

And two years later, when the philosophy children were tested again, their higher scores persisted — while the lower-scoring control group were, in some cases, declining further. Researchers Keith Topping and Steve Trickey point out that these gains persisted even though the kids had switched schools as well, from primary to secondary, showing that the influence of philosophical inquiry works across contexts and over time.

Or in the words of Socrates, “If this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, my influence is ruinous indeed.”

Socrates image from Wikimedia

Comments (4)

  • Kartik Agaram commented on Dec 18 2007

    The title is misleading, I think. The improvements are due to the socratic method of question and answer, and not what it is used to teach.

  • Ken Dzugan commented on Dec 16 2007

    For those that are intrigued about using the Socratic method in schools I suggest that you read Mortimer Adler’s “The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifiesto.” Written in 1982, it was a radical redesign for schools built around a weekly Socratic Seminar. There are a few–far too few–Paideia schools in existence today and several Centers that train teachers in becoming Paideia teachers. The first book was followed by “Paideia Problems and Possibilities: A Consideration of the Questions Raised by The Paideia Proposal,” in 1983 and the “The Paideia Program: An Educational Syllabus,” in 1984. To Learn more about Dr Adler and his work in Education, Philosophy, Adult Learning and many other areas visit the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas website and

    Ken Dzugan, Senior Fellow and Archivist
    Center for the Study of The Great Ideas

  • carl heneghan commented on Dec 16 2007

    When evaluating information on interventions one should consider the biases introduced by the use of non randomized controlled trials. In healthcare results are over inflated on average by 40% when inadequate randomization procedures occur. For those interested in historical biases in research the James Lind library offers one of the best resources for discovering how research can literally pull the wool over your eyes. That is not to say that the teaching of philosophy is a bad thing. However, the following issues are important, how pragmatic and how practical is the intervention? Often replication proves impossible. In healthcare what we would want to know is the clinical significance not the statistical significance. The two are very different; the same applies in education, what benefit can you expect to obtain for your child? Often it is very little. In determining whether an intervention is worth pursuing the principles of critical appraisal should be applied.

  • Benoit Essiambre commented on Dec 14 2007

    That’s very interesting. Schools should teach children about ways to reason, learn and be creative with knowledge. Too often, when they try to teach effective learning methods, they tell the students that learning is about shutting down distractions and isolating themselves with compulsory literature to concentrate and slowly absorb material hours at a time. Although spending time studying helps to learn, if the person doing it doesn’t know how to ask themselves the right questions allowing them to understand and remember, studying can become very ineffective, discouraging and boring. The Socratic method allows children to learn how to learn. I cringe when I see educators trying to improve their programs by prescribing more time studying or receiving lectures. In my opinion it’s disrespectful to tell children to spend a lot of time studying without providing them the means to make their efforts useful and efficient. Children are not stupid. They do value their time and notice when adults force them to waste it.