As a student in my final year at the University of Saskatchewan, it saddens me that I am not as adept at critical thinking as I should be. Give me something to memorize and I’m on it, but ask me to critique an argument and I flounder.
There are many ways in which critical thinking is encouraged in university: writing critical reflections, research essays or journaling individual experiences. But unless one is well-practiced in reflection and questioning, how does one truly know how to think critically?
The government of Saskatchewan is moving to implement standardized testing throughout the province, but this methodology does not actually teach children how to think critically, nor does it encourage the questioning attitude so important in modern society. But what’s the alternative?
Philosophy classes are the obvious answer, as they’re literally the study of knowledge, but it’s understandable why some people may steer clear of them — I normally do. However, I was fortunate enough to find a class that has not only taught me to delve into the art of thinking, but to also encourage and foster this process in children.
For the past three months I have been taking a class on philosophy for children. The class has been very challenging, but it has also been very inspiring.
The discussions we had ranged from conversations about meaning, identity, friendship, happiness, value, death and ideas of good versus bad. The children were always asked to give reasons for their answers and they most always provided engaging responses.
The children taking this class have taken away essential analytical skills, something that will impact their education for years to come. It has taught them the value of asking questions — something that undergraduate students are too often lacking.
These 10-to-12-year-olds asked questions such as, “What do our lives mean?” “Is there life on other planets?” and “What is normal?” It was amazing to see the curiosity these students had, helping them air out philosophical questions and leaving them asking more. During one of the first sessions a student asked if they were allowed to disagree with us, the student facilitators. It was so exciting to inform her that disagreeing, arguing and reasoning was the purpose of our lessons together.
Throughout these sessions though, I truly felt like it was I who was learning. These kids would voice their “wonders,” as we phrased them, and the children’s ideas completely blew me away.
I can’t remember the last time I stopped to think about life on other planets, or to ponder what it means to be happy.
It was through these sessions that I started remembering the importance of questioning and reasoning. I had gotten to a point in university where it was easy to ask questions regarding the texts we were reading or what was happening in society, but seeking out knowledge and questioning truths was something I had forgotten how to do. Encouraging this in children and being a part of the inquiry in a classroom setting — or community as we called it — was exhilarating.
When you are constantly surrounded by academics, working with preteen children is like a breath of fresh air. They have such uniquely untainted insight, with much admirable innocence. It’s refreshing to hear about their middle-school values and ideas on friendship, truth and the nature of good and evil.
Upon finishing our in-classroom discussions with our grade five and six classes, one of the last questions asked was whether or not the children would like to do this class again. The group of 30 students unanimously said yes. Some of the feedback we received throughout the semester was that this one-hour-per-week lesson was a highlight for the students, prompting them to share what they learned with their families and peers.
As someone who still sees herself as a novice when it comes to critical thinking, it was exciting to learn such skills alongside these youths. They grew so much in the eight sessions we had together and it saddens me that the Saskatchewan government will be implementing standardized testing across the province, as it strikes me as a curiosity killer.
I don’t see standardized testing as a way to foster creative or critical thinking. My hope is that philosophy for children classes, like the one I partook in, become a norm in this province because it challenges typical ways of learning and thinking.
If the government is going to teach for standardized testing, why not teach philosophy and critical thinking alongside? They could easily balance each other out and help Saskatchewan cultivate some of the next great thinkers.
Photo: Raisa Pezderic/Photo Editor