In my work I get to hear children discuss subjects like gender identity, vegetarianism, doping in sport and free speech. On the one hand, controversial topics like these can stir up, provoke, and engage. On the other hand, they can trigger a defensiveness in students that stifles thoughtful inquiry. Is there a way to keep the benefits without the downsides? Is there a way to support honest inquiry where children can reevaluate their ideas and avoid intellectual stasis?
As a Philosophy teacher in Primary schools I notice that children are surprisingly willing to offer quick answers to challenging questions. ‘What is fair?’ or ‘Is the mind the same as the brain?’ have readily accessible concepts and this triggers an initial feeling of complacency; they think they get it. If I ask a child ‘What is 24 x 367?’ or ‘What is the capital of Bolivia?’ there is no danger of such complacency; when they don’t know they know they don’t know, and they are more concerned about getting it wrong.