Reviews 2011

Selber denken macht schlau: Philosophieren mit Kindern und Jugendlichen. Anregungen für Schule und Elternhaus [Thinking makes you clever: Philosophy with children and young people. Suggestions for school and home]

Selber denken macht schlau: Philosophieren mit Kindern und Jugendlichen. Anregungen für Schule und Elternhaus [Thinking makes you clever: Philosophy with children and young people. Suggestions for school and home] . Eva Zoller Morf. Kempten: Zytglogge Verlag, 2010. 137 pages. 19.50€ (hardback).

Young children, as we all know, constantly try the patience of their busy parents and teachers with questions about where they were before birth or why they were born at all: they are natural philosophers. In her third book on philosophy for children, Eva Zoller Morf offers practical assistance to adults challenged by the existential anxieties of the children in their care. Morf’s strategies and techniques are, she insists, excursions into ‘everyday’ philosophy rather than an attempt to engage with the history of philosophy or competing doctrines, although she does include a small number of information boxes on key figures in the history of philosophy ranging from Plato, Socrates and Aristotle to Kant. Drawing on the wisdom of her guru - Thomas Jackson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Honolulu - Morf aims to promote thorough and critical habits of thought in the young and to nurture children’s understanding of the world and of their fellow human beings. She is careful, however, not indicate a specific age range for the book, nor does she suggest any kind of developmental pattern in children’s philosophical thinking: her preface addresses ‘children’ from three to ninety-nine. The result is a book targeted at the young child with no sense of progression towards a more exacting understanding of finer philosophical points in later childhood and adolescence; perhaps that is to come in a later volume.

Morf takes a somewhat arbitrary approach to selecting philosophical topics that range from ethics to the fulfilment of desires; from justice and identity to birth and death. All are undoubtedly of burning interest to children, yet much of the discussion on how to address these issues seems bland rather than rigorous or innovative. Tips for teachers are plentiful from the excellent – but hardly new – suggestion of using children’s literature and picture books as starting points for philosophical discussion, to the equally tried and tested notion of passing round an item (a stuffed sea lion or homemade pompom in this case) to indicate who has the right to speak during circle time. Frequent use of the phrase ‘caring thinking’ is indicative of the tone throughout the book, as indeed is the letter from Morf’s niece Rahel in handwritten font that takes a decidedly religious turn. In addition, there are several rather artfully posed photographs of children deep in thought that do little to enhance the overall quality of the work.

Nonetheless, parents as well as teachers new to the profession and who lack the confidence to manage the kind of open-ended discussion that philosophical thinking entails will find useful information here, particularly on the kinds of children’s texts that invite reflection on philosophical issues. Jostein Gaarder is represented, of course, but so are a variety of picture books that address the creation of the world, courage, the nature of happiness and death. Morf’s book provides some useful starting points, but ultimately such advice will become redundant as philosophical reflection pursues its own course. Then children will take the lead, as indeed they should.

Gillian Lathey
Roehampton University, UK