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The Surprising Reason Schools Should Teach Philosophy

A study in the UK finds that philosophy classes improve academic performance in elementary school students.

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Wouldn't it be great if just talking about topics like truth, fairness, and knowledge could make your kids smarter?

Turns out, it probably can.

A recent study of 9- and 10-year-olds in England showed that kids who participated in a philosophy class once a week for 40 minutes over the course of a year improved their progress in math and reading by an average of two months—even though the course was not designed to improve either of these skills. Pretty amazing!

And that's not all. The kids who came from disadvantaged backgrounds showed even more significant gains. Their reading skills improved by four months, their math by three months, and their writing by two months.

The study was conducted by the Education Endowment Foundation to test the effectiveness of philosophy intervention to help close the gap between families from poorer backgrounds.

More than 3,000 kids in 48 schools across England participated in the weekly philosophical discussions. In a typical session, students and teachers would sit together in a circle to watch a video clip to stimulate their interest in a particular subject. Then after a short period of silent thinking time, they'd split into small groups to discuss questions related to the topic, before coming back for a whole-class discussion.

In addition to the boost in academics, teachers reported seeing some pretty surprising behavioral changes in their students.

"It has been fascinating to see children who are usually quieter or more reticent developing their thinking and becoming more confident," remarked one teacher.

"Children are much more willing to listen to each other and are able to articulate their ideas towards each other," mentioned another.

They also reported changes in their own teaching methods, because as the kids grew more comfortable questioning their teachers, the classroom became a more collaborative environment.

Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF, told Quartz that he hopes the study will convince heads of schools to make room for philosophy in their budgets; the program costs schools £16 ($23) per student to run.

Because as Plato put it: "We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light."

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.