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  • Philosophy for Children:A Review of the Texts from the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children
  • Jonathan E. Adler (bio)
Matthew Lipman. Kio and Gus. 1982. Pixie. 1981. Harry Stottlemeier's Discovery. ("Harry"). Revised edition), 1982. Lisa. Second edition, 1983. Suki. 1978. Mark. 1980.

All works are paperbound and published by First Mountain Press, Montclair, New Jersey. A manual accompanies each work. These workbooks are, respectively,

Wondering at the World. 1986.

Looking for Meaning. 1982.

Philosophical Inquiry. Revised edition, 1984.

Ethical Inquiry. Second edition. 1985.

Writing: How and Why. 1980.

Social Inquiry. 1980.

All the manuals are hardbound, looseleaf, and published by First Mountain Press. Looking for Meaning, Philosophical Inquiry, and Ethical Inquiry are co-published with the University Press of America.

First there was "Harry," who discovers the rule that a true "All" statement like "All cats are animals" when turned around, yields the falsehood "All animals are cats." However, a "No" statement can be reversed: If "No cats are dogs," then it is also true that "No dogs are cats." (But what is the response to the following putative counter-example put to me by a fifth-grader? "No cats chase dogs" may be true, but it is just false that "No dogs chase cats.") Together with his friends, family, and teacher, Harry continues these explorations in the area of Aristotelian logic. This collaborative enterprise is meant to serve as a model of a community of inquiry.

"Harry" was Lipman's response to the depressing reasoning abilities he saw among his college students. He assumed that the problem began early on in his students' education. "Harry" was targeted at about the sixth grade reading level (his son's grade level at the time). [End Page 136] Success in introducing this work in a public school setting encouraged Lipman's ambition, now largely met, to create an entire pre-college curriculum in philosophy. The target grades for Kio and Gus are 2-3, and for Pixie 3-4. (He is now completing a work for pre-school to 2nd grade). The works after "Harry" continue with other members of Harry's class taking center stage: Lisa, 7-8th grade; Suki, 9-10; and Mark, 11-12.

Each of these works presents an interesting, involving story. Philosophical issues and problems arise unobtrusively and implicitly in the course of everyday reflection and discussion. The children occupy center stage. The great philosophers animate the works, but do not intrude into them.

The writing is clear, direct, and simple. Conversations are unnatural only in their lack of slang and vulgarity. Humor and wit are sprinkled throughout. While we are sometimes permitted to laugh at someone else's expense, it is only so long as that person can laugh, too. There is overall contrivance in the high proportion of material loaded with philosophical potential. But never does the contrivance undermine a good story or make the ideas appear forced. Much of each story is in dialogue form. Vocabulary and style are at the high end of students' grade level. The packaging is defiantly artless—no enticing covers, no pictures, no prefaces, no table of contents, no informational boxes. The print is large. The attraction is all in the content and its ability to stimulate reflection and discussion. There is adventure in ideas, not action.

Each work focuses on a particular philosophical theme. The workbooks highlight the diverse skills and ideas that can be developed out of any chapter. As I mentioned, "Harry" focuses on simple logic. Lisa, directly building on "Harry," studies ethics. Suki is a masterful inquiry into aesthetics, especially writing arts. Poetic Suki attempts to open up the world of art and poetry to the ever-literal, logical and pessimistic Harry. Mark is oriented to social studies, specifically, issues of justice. The manual for Kio and Gus is subtitled Wondering at the World. With the guidance of his blind friend Gus, Kio explores the natural surroundings of his grandparent's farm.

For illustrative purposes, let me, somewhat arbitrarily, discuss Pixie, which is distinctive in being presented in the first person. Its philosophical focus is meaning, especially the pervasiveness of ambiguity and polysemy.

Nine-year old Pixie is plunked down in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6563
Print ISSN
0147-2593
Pages
pp. 136-140
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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