Philosophy for Kids: A Pop Culture Introduction

Philosophy for Kids: A Pop Culture Introduction

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Updated on May 16, 2009

The great Greek philosophers, like Plato and Aristotle, believed children weren’t capable of thinking about thinking. In 1933, Jean Piaget’s theory on cognitive development suggested that most kids under the age of 11 hadn’t attained the intelligence and experience levels to grasp deep thoughts. A vast amount of contemporary research, however, suggests that adolescents can understand, apply, and enjoy philosophical contemplation, says Ruben Rabinsky, a philosophy professor at the University of Miami.

In his study “Philosophy for Children,” Michael Pritchard describes children who exhibit a sense of philosophical thought, from a kid who wonders if life is a dream, to another who ponders the concept of time. From his findings, Pritchard believes that children have the cognitive ability to understand and appreciate philosophy.

Your child may not learn about Socrates, Zen Buddhism, or nihilism in her middle or high school curriculum. But philosophical concepts breathe life in today’s popular culture, with movies like Star Wars introducing the Chinese concept of Tao by way of the Jedi force, and underground hip hop artists spitting truth into a mic with stream-of-consciousness lyrics. And believe it or not, the TV show Lost presents ideas like time and destiny; even its characters – from John Locke to Desmond Hume to Danielle Rousseau – are named after famous thinkers.

Toni Morrison’s picture book, The Big Box, addresses happiness and freedom to readers as young as four, while The Golden Compass introduces ideas as mature and profound as anti-theism – or the opposition to belief in a god – to middle schoolers. Ages-old philosophical concepts are embedded in books, films, music, TV shows, comics, and video games, and can add meaning to stories in popular culture.

Want to get your child interested in philosophical thought, using pop culture as a guide? Check out this list of concepts from various systems of thought, examples of how they’re explored in our media, and activities to pique your child’s mind:

Every person is distinct from another, with unique thoughts and actions and a conscious, reflective personality, all of which define the self. Today’s iGeneration toys with this idea of the self: your teen’s Facebook profile and Twitter account act as portals to her identity, while her avatar, or photo icon, signifies her virtual persona. Your child updates her profile to best reflect herself, illustrating the knowledge she has of her existence in the world. Philosophers throughout time have grappled with concepts of self-knowledge and the ego. Your child grows up in an image-conscious society where technology allows her to “update” her identity on a daily basis.

Analyze: Peruse profiles on Facebook or MySpace not simply as a friend, but as a researcher: what do the photos, fonts, colors, and overall design and template of a user’s profile imply about the other’s personality?

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