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March 26, 2011

Philosophy series encourages discussion among kids

Local professor shares knowledge with children

PLATTSBURGH — Beth Dixon believes young children will benefit from learning philosophy.

"I make the case to teachers that philosophy is not just an add-on subject," the Plattsburgh State professor said. "It's a way to help them meet standards for other courses."

Through the college, Dixon heads an affiliate center of the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children, a program that sponsors philosophy discussions with students in area schools.

But her passion for philosophy has prompted her to start a new event for elementary-school kids at the Plattsburgh Public Library.

During a recent session called "What Should a Good Friend Do? Puzzles and Problems about Friendship," Dixon led the children down different roads of inquiry after she and two philosophy students from the college read excerpts from two children's books.

Creating dialogue

The group also played a game in which the children labeled different people and objects as either "easy to be friends with, hard to be friends with or impossible to be friends with." They each took turns drawing cards from a backpack. Each card had a label on it, such as a computer or person with a disability, and the children placed the cards in one of the three categories.

Sam Schantz, an 11-year-old from Arthur P. Momot Elementary School, drew a card with "baby" written on it. He chose to put it between easy and hard because, as he explained, you can talk to a baby, but they will probably not understand you.

Several other children drew cards and explained their decisions, and most of the children were in agreement until Jamie Manning, a 9-year-old Keeseville Elementary School student, chose to put "a computer" between easy and hard.

"It's not a person," he said. "It can't ask you what you like."

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