Preparing Students to Thrive and Flourish in School and in Life
YOUNG PHILOSOPHERS OF NEW YORK is committed to helping students become not merely academically successful and subsequently employable, but intellectually versatile, emotionally resilient, socially sympathetic, and civically engaged citizens. We want our young people to thrive: to develop their emotional and intellectual abilities so that they flourish as complete human beings. Our Think to Thrive curriculum is designed to help them do so.
Children initially arrive at school full of wonder about themselves and the world they inhabit. They routinely ask questions that often stump and occasionally frustrate the adults to whom they are directed. “Why does the world exist?” “Are numbers real?” “Is lying always wrong?” “What is fairness?” These are, of course, philosophical questions, and what makes them challenging is that they are open-ended and without any single, correct answer. As such, they do not comfortably fit into the crowded curriculum of the classroom, and the pressures to impart to students the information and competencies required to reach pre-determined benchmarks. An unfortunate consequence of having their questions left unanswered or even dismissed as unimportant is that children ask them less frequently as they progress through school, and many eventually stop asking them at all, becoming concerned only with what they need to know to pass the next test.
Far from being idle and irrelevant, however, the philosophical questions that come naturally to children are central to their development as persons. As adults, we know that much of human life concerns making choices and charting courses where there is no one ‘right’ choice nor ‘correct’ direction to take. There is no one single recipe or solution that will guarantee either individual happiness and fulfillment, or social and political harmony. Important as what children are taught in school obviously is, it does not adequately prepare them for this dimension of their lives. As an essential break from learning what to think, our children’s questions are invaluable opportunities for them to learn how to think through a problem with different possible answers, critically exploring and probing them until they become more adept at arriving at an answer that seems best, all things considered.
As satisfying as finding a reasonable solution to a philosophical problem is, the search itself is just as rewarding. Within the communities of philosophical inquiry our facilitators help establish, young people become open to rethinking their answers and refining their questions in light of the constructive criticism of others. They also come to appreciate how other people’s experiences inevitably shape their perspectives, and when they do so they become less likely to think that a perspective different from their own has got to be wrong. Learning to think creatively and critically about what is possible, in respectful collaboration with others, helps them become better at living in community.
Think to Thrive is a curriculum designed to compliment a young person’s educational experience by inviting them to philosophically investigate what they are learning within the Common Core-based classroom instruction. Building around three primary learning areas of Civics, STEM, and Languages & Arts, we offer students an organically philosophical learning environment where abstract and normative reflection is seamlessly connected to the acquisition of core cognitive capacities and academic skills.
Civics: Starting with what they learn in social studies, history, and related subjects, students will proceed to re-imagine and re-design their community educationally, economically, politically, and culturally with the aim of understanding what is necessary for establishing an economically just, ethnically diverse, and morally sensitive community.
STEM: Here students will be encouraged to critically reflect on both the central assumptions of the various disciplines that investigate (and allow us to transform) the natural world, and the effects of the technological innovations that they inspire, Using case studies as well as their own interests and concerns, students will be invited to think deeply about such issues as the dilemmas posed by self-driving cars (and increased automation generally), the implications of continued advances in artificial intelligence, and of the ethics of engaging in genetic modification of both our food sources and ourselves.
Language & Art: Moving beyond a conception of art (including prose and poetry) as something we enjoy consuming and creating, students will explore the purposes and power of art, especially the ways that it can influence and manipulate our thinking, how it can shape our identities, and communicate our values to others.