TH!NK Class

TH!NK

TH!NK: Philosophy for Early Adolescents

“Philosophy is thinking critically about something.”
- Student from Mariners Elementary (Newport Mesa USD) (2018)

“The TH!NK program has changed my life. It now makes me consider objects
differently in class and out of school [...] I am getting to notice a little bit of
philosophy in the outside world as well.”
-Student from Canyon View Elementary (Irvine USD) (2015)


“I will always remember the time that my [TH!NK] philosopher talked about time and what it is.
This is so memorable because it is the first time I ever thought really really hard about something.”
-Student from Canyon View Elementary (Irvine USD) (2015)

These are a few, representative reflections on philosophy that the fifth graders who participate in TH!NK give us.

“TH!NK is a program designed by the Department of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine, with the support of Humanities Commons, to introduce early adolescent students to philosophical thought and discourse,” explains Associate Professor of Philosophy and TH!NK creator, Marcello Fiocco. While we normally associate philosophy with grand and esoteric systems of thought, the students who participate in TH!NK come to recognize philosophy and its many applications in their everyday lives. Some students associate it with “life,” others with “love.” Fiocco and his graduate students attempt to teach that “philosophy is critical thinking, it is the skill of examining presuppositions, recognizing connections, seeking justification – all towards the end of providing insight into something of interest” (Fiocco).

For students unfamiliar with this understanding of philosophy, TH!NK facilitators begin with illustrations of what it is to inquire and what it is to inquire critically, that is, philosophically. To develop critical thinking skills, each session of TH!NK is based on a short text, which is read aloud and then discussed. From Aesop’s fables to Shel Silverstein’s poems to the Little Prince and Encyclopedia Brown, some the text is engaged, from various perspectives, for 45-60 minutes. TH!NK facilitators invite and challenge students to draw from their own experiences to look deeper into texts that they might think they already completely comprehend. One of the goals of the program is to dispel the myth that philosophy is an academic discipline for scholars or geniuses.

During Fall 2017 and Spring 2018, over 500 fifth-grade students participated in TH!NK. These students were requested to complete a survey prior to their first session, asking, for example, if they had ever before heard the word ‘philosophy’, if they knew what philosophy is, who does philosophy and whether philosophy can change the world. After their final session, students were given the same survey to determine how TH!NK changed their views. Ater the program, most students come to appreciate that they can use philosophy to think deeply and critically in many ways, for many ends. Students report that they use philosophy for, among others tasks, solving problems, making decisions, or for thinking differently about familiar things. Some state that they think critically in all these ways!

However, the primary goal of TH!NK is not merely to teach students what philosophy is, but rather to enable them to continue to do philosophy once the program ends. The real success of TH!NK goes beyond what is quantifiable in a mere survey - it is evident in the words of students, teachers and administrators who have participated in TH!NK in prior years:

You may be thinking why they ask such questions. Well, they want to challenge our minds (so we become successful). In my opinion I hope that every grade will be able to participate in this program!
- Justin, Fifth Grade Student, Canyon View Elementary

I’ve found out that I am good at Philosophy. My favorite parts are him reading and him asking me and my table-mates questions that we just can’t figure out right away. If I am stressed out about something, Philosophy really helps me forget everything and focus. I’ve kind of been thinking like a philosopher outside of school.
- Alicia, Fifth Grade Student, Canyon View Elementary School

As an administrator, I believe this program will help our students engage in
productive conversations, synthesize information, and support claims with evidence.
- Mrs. Christina Aguirre, Principal, Canyon View Elementary


Many students shared how they grappled with the many conundrums of the world.
Parents were pleased that students were exposed to rich discussions
regarding philosophy and how it relates to the students’ everyday lives.
- Katiana Harvey, Brooke Hunter, and Jenina Morada, Fifth Grade Teachers, Canyon View Elementary (2017)

The growth of the students who participate in TH!NK goes beyond how they answer survey questions. These students become aware of new abilities and new challenges. This is apparent not only to their teachers, but their parents as well. TH!NK shows that anyone can be a philosopher, and that a life that includes critical thinking is enriched and expanded. The students who participate in TH!NK come to see that philosophers do not wear togas in some long-ago era, but that they wear skirts, shorts, hoodies, or flip-flops and surround us today.

Budding Philosophers feature by UCI Communications:
Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSFrCm2UYow
Article https://news.uci.edu/2015/05/18/budding-philosophers/

Contact Amanda Swain at ajswain@uci.edu for more information.