Suppose I said "Love is the answer to the question. Now, what is the question?" To consider this requires you to think abstractly. You likely wouldn't ask this question to a child, but why not? Perhaps we, as adults, still have fears of ancient Greek times... such as when Socrates's method led to his execution for "corrupting" young minds.
Yet, to be wise, we must have a deeper and more robust understanding of ideas. Our minds must be able to think critically, think creatively, and think conceptually. To raise our thinking up a level, we have to be able to go from the literal to the abstract. Studying philosophy is a superb way of broadening our thinking from narrow concepts and particulars to organized abstractions of ideas.
Sadly, when it comes to education, children don't get much in the way of philosophy. Curriculums are typically content-focused with limited attention paid to philosophical-based, inquiry-focused learning. Minimal attention is paid to encouraging inquisitiveness or sparking curiosity. Rarely do we ask children to put themselves in someone else's shoes so that they can consider an idea differently.
Children need philosophy.
Questions as mirrors
Have you ever asked a seven-year-old "What is the meaning of life?" or "What is existence?" Do you think children are ready for these questions?
They may be hungry for them.
What we believe about children's capabilities -- and even about their dignity as people -- is reflected in the types of questions and conversations we invest with them. When we explore with them tougher, meaningful issues, even very young children recognize and appreciate this. We notice that they sit up a little straighter, with eyes a little brighter, as they dig deeper to rise to the challenge.
Conversely, when we don't talk to children or only ask them trite questions about inconsequential matters, they internalize this too. They may respond in a similarly disengaged or dismissive fashion to mirror or please. Worse, in some cases, they construct their identities around our limited view of them.
For this reason, it's important to be aware of the types of questions we address with children. This is the first step. The next step is to help them harness their ability to meaningfully deal with heavier topics.
So, what to ask children? Most open-ended questions of deep human importance are a great place to start. Keep in mind that philosophical questions are not to be confused with just "hard" questions (like what is the square root of 456,784?) and they are not scientific questions (such as "How many stars are there in the universe?"). Questions like these, worthwhile though they may be, are not philosophical as they can be empirically explained.
Rather, for philosophical questions there may be more than one right answer. They inspire debate and invite us to construct reasons and offer proofs.
- What is beauty?
- What is happiness?
- What is justice?
- What is the right way to live?
- Is it ever right to tell a lie?
- Could there ever be a perfect world and what would it be like?
- Could something exist outside of time and space?
- Can two people disagree and both be right?
- How do you know you are not dreaming right now?
- If you could eliminate one emotion from the world, would you? Which one? Why?