sábado, 8 de janeiro de 2011

Martha Nussbaum recommends Philosophy for Children

In her new book from Princeton University Press, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010), American philosopher Martha Nussbaum recommends Philosophy for Children as an exemplary program of “Socratic pedagogy,” which, she argues, is a necessary component of education in democratic societies.  Nussbaum calls attention to a “world-wide crisis in education” (2): making national economic growth its primary purpose. This crisis involves “radical changes … in what democratic societies teach the young,” (2) and in particular, the de-emphasis and even elimination of teaching the humanities and the arts.  Nussbaum’s own philosophy gives education three aims: to prepare people “for [democratic] citizenship, for employment and, importantly, for meaningful lives” (9).  As her title indicates, the book’s focus is on the first of these aims, and its argument may be summed up in two statements: democracy requires three broad kinds of abilities - “the ability to think critically; the ability to transcend local loyalties and to approach world problems as a “citizen of the world”; and ... the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicaments of another person” (7); and a liberal arts education, with emphasis on the arts and humanities, is necessary to cultivate these abilities.  
In chapter 4, “Socratic Pedagogy: The Importance of Argument,” Nussbaum traces a genealogy of Socratic education - “in which the child [is] an active and critical participant,” (57) to eighteenth-century Europe and North America, and nineteenth-century India.  As she explains it, Socratic pedagogy combines a focus on “the child’s ability to understand the logical structure of an argument, to detect bad reasoning, [and] to challenge ambiguity,” with a focus on the “Socratic values,” such as being “active, critical, curious, [and] capable of resisting authority and peer pressure” (72).  Nussbaum describes the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johan Pestalozzi, Friedrich Froebel, Bronson Alcott, Horace Mann, John Dewey, and Rabindranath Tagore, but explains that their work is mostly too theoretical, their recommendations too general and too time- and place-specific to “show us … what we should do or can do here and now, in the elementary and secondary schools of today“ (72).  Even Dewey, whom Nussbaum calls “the most influential and theoretically distinguished American practitioner of Socratic education,” (64) “never addressed systematically the question of how Socratic critical reasoning might be taught to children of various ages.” (73)  The solution she finds in one exemplary program:
But teachers who want to teach Socratically have a contemporary source of practical guidance ....  They can find very useful and yet nondictatorial advice about Socratic pedagogy in a series of books produced by philosopher Matthew Lipman, whose Philosophy for Children curriculum was developed at the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children at Montclair State College [now University] in New Jersey.  Lipman begins from the conviction that young children are active, questioning beings whose capacity to probe and inquire ought to be respected and further developed …. (73)
Nussbaum spends the remainder of the chapter describing the Philosophy for Children curriculum, extolling its attention to the logical properties of thought, its presentation of complex ideas through engaging stories, its illustration of how attention to logical structure can pay off in daily life, the progression in complexity of novels for children of different ages, its treatment of philosophical topics such as mind and ethics, and its respect for children (73-6).
Martha Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, and chair of the new Committee for Public Philosophy of the American Philosophical Association.  She has taught at Harvard, Brown and Oxford Universities, is a Board Member of the Human Rights Program and founder and coordinator of the Center for Comparative Constitutionalism.  Her other publications include   The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (1986, updated edition 2000), Love's Knowledge (1990), The Therapy of Desire (1994), Poetic Justice (1996), For Love of Country (1996), Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (1997), Sex and Social Justice (1998), Women and Human Development (2000), Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (2001), Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004), Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (2006), The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future (2007), Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America's Tradition of Religious Equality (2008), and From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law (2010).

Maughn Gregory, January 2011

(e-mail partilhado pela Dina Mendonça)

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