Ed Smith Students Learn Critical Thinking through Philosophy Workshops

     Published on 1/19/22   Tagged under:    District News    Ed Smith   

This is a photo of five Ed Smith students standing in front of a shelf of books in their school library, wearing masks and smiling at the camera.What makes me the person I am?
What distinguishes knowledge from opinion?
How should we determine which rules to live by?
Ed Smith 6th through 8th grade students had the opportunity to ponder these questions and more in a series of weekly virtual philosophy workshops, led after school by members of the Syracuse University Department of Philosophy.
“I think it is absolutely paramount to provide children with the opportunity to develop their critical thinking skills,” Syracuse University Department of Philosophy Ph.D. Candidate Nikki Fortier, one of the workshop instructors, shared. “A lot of the learning that goes on in primary schools is centered around gaining knowledge. I think it is important that we are encouraging kids to rely on their own thought processes, and to trust that their own thinking can result in important insights and in conclusions that might differ from those of their teachers or peers. One of my own goals in leading the workshop is to help foster a sense of confidence in the students; a sense that their intuitions and their reasoning are just as important as mine; that what they think and have to say matters.”
Through the workshops, students discussed animal ethics, death, and other complex topics, all led by SU philosophy staff.
“I’ve been interested in philosophy for a while,” Ed Smith 8th grader Nagi Aitbayeva shared. “It was nice to discuss these things. They’re things we don’t pay attention to everyday and it was nice to focus on them for a little bit and notice things that we don’t usually. My favorite discussion was about animal ethics. It’s relevant to what’s going on now with climate change and how people are starting to think about what animals in captivity go through. It gave me different insight into what other people think about these topics… it gave me a different perspective.”
“I like the way that philosophy makes you think and how it’s a different perspective on everything,” 8th grader Amari Laub agreed, noting that the discussion about death was his favorite.
“That workshop was interesting because it made me wonder why we fear death,” 7th grader Maria Triana added. “There is so much philosophy that tells us not to! I enjoy these discussions because philosophy makes you go deeper into everything. Everything has a deeper meaning than we usually think. It’s made me question a lot!”
“I wanted to participate because I’ve always had questions that no one could answer, like what makes me me,” 6th grader Addie Zhe-Heimerman explained. “We talked about that in one of the sessions: if we took all your atoms apart, transported you somewhere else, and reassembled them, would you still be the same person? It’s made me think about the world around me and how different it is… it’s made me focus more on the little things.”
“I’ve had some of the same questions,” 8th grader Helen Zhe-Heimerman said. “Why am I me and not someone else? I’ve read books about it, but it was cool to talk about this… I realized how you think differently after you take a philosophy course. It could be cool to be a philosopher!”
Thank you to the Syracuse University Philosophy Department for leading these important workshops!