Course Consideration: Philosophy 4 Children

Ian Tash, Podcaster

In this episode, Podcaster Ian Tash interviews Dr. Senem Saner about the CAFS 2620 – Philosophy 4 Children course offered here at CSUB.

Available on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Music @TheRunnerOnAir


Hi, my name is Ian Alexander Tash, and you’re listening to course consideration brought to you by the runner. CSUB has a lot of different degrees and even more classes. But most of us don’t know what’s being taught on our campus. And we might be really missing out on some of that. So that’s why I decided to interview some professors to hopefully see what sort of interesting, odd things our campus thinks might be cool to learn. I hope you enjoy the interview.

Could you introduce yourself to the listeners and tell them a little bit about who you are?

Of course, my name is Senem Saner. I’m a faculty member in the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department. I’ve been here for quite a long time; I came to CSUB in 2006. And I teach many courses. I teach both introductory courses, Introduction to Philosophy, and critical thinking. But my main area of interest is 19th and 20th-century continental philosophy. So, I teach courses in like modernity, and its critics, Marxism, existentialism, political philosophy, but the course that we’re about to talk about is Philosophy for Children. And that’s a course that I’ve been teaching since now 2006 16. Yes.

Yes, yes. That is the course you’re talking about. Although I’m, I personally am interested in all the stuff you mentioned before that as well. But for the sake of this interview, yeah, let’s we’ll focus in on Philosophy for Children, because that’s something that seems sort of not something people I think, think about a lot when they think of philosophy that you can teach it to a child. So for this class, CA FS 2620. How would you describe that to someone?

Yeah. So, a couple of things right before I started talking about the class itself. It’s a CAFS course, but a child that does and Family Studies course. But it has been close listed with CAFS only for the last two or three years maybe. Yeah, it started out as a philosophy department course. And actually, it’s interesting, because it’s, I think, unique in the sense that it was my students who really wanted that this course. Professor came and gave a talk on Philosophy for Children for our annual undergraduate philosophy conference. And my students were like, what Philosophy for Children? You know, what is this thing? So they want to do an independent study, and we ended up doing an independent study, and they loved it. And two of my students said, hey, you know, we’ll learn about all this, like, can’t we try it out? Can we go and do philosophy with children somewhere, and this is somehow and then, you know, all departments are trying to do service-learning courses, experiential learning courses, and we thought in philosophy, or this is a perfect area in which we could give our students an opportunity, right for community engagement and service-learning. So we established this course Philosophy for Children. The upper-level course, I’ll hopefully talk about that a little bit later. But then we noticed, hey, you know, this is not only for philosophy majors, but this will also be really helpful for any major who would be, you know, interested in working with children or doing social work or counseling, you know. So that’s how this course came about and got cross-listed with CAFS. And thank thanks to Dr. Elaine Curry, who’s the Chair of the CAFS department actually, really helped us with that. But you’re right, like Philosophy for Children, right? Like, why should adults study philosophy for children? And what do you know, CSUB students do in Philosophy for Children course? I think those are very legitimate questions. This is not really about teaching children philosophy. It’s more about facilitating philosophical conversations with children. I don’t know if that makes sense to you.

So so more than like a not that you’re teaching them hey, this is what Karl Marx had to say about this. It’s more like getting them to sort of think and ask questions and respond to prompting maybe,

Exactly. Instead of giving them let’s say, you know, Karl Marx and manual icons, they’re like essays and which would be possible. We would actually talk about let’s say, work, you know, what is work? What counts as work? Do we always require or need compensation for our work? Is only work that’s compensated count as work? You know, like, I mean, children are really interested in raising these kinds of questions. And I think that’s where I wanted to start actually. To answer this question, like Philosophy for Children exists because some of these philosophers coming from the American pragmatist tradition, they thought, you know, philosophy begins in wonder, and children have this wonder towards the world. And they ask questions of the world, and they want to, you know, communicate their answers and, you know, have dialogues about them. But a lot of times we adults were like, oh, you know, you know, what do you understand from? Or, you know, questions, children ask why, you know, why, why? And we’re like, because I said, so. Okay, like very typical, right adult attitudes. And the idea is that no, actually, there’s something really refreshing about this questioning that children bring to the table. And it’s kind of sad that we adults, forget about this. When we go up, that we come to accept some of the things as they are right and not ask questions about them anymore. So Philosophy for Children kind of capitulate on this natural wonder that children have actually they call them like natural philosophers, some of these, you know, philosopher, children, theoreticians, they say children are natural philosophers. And, you know, we let the children speak, ask their questions, and share their intuitions. What I teach my students is how to facilitate such a question, right. And for that, of course, they need to have an idea about what philosophy is and what philosophical methods are, and how to facilitate a philosophical conversation. So that’s what the curriculum brings to them.

Yeah, so that actually sounds like a really cool process of just that. Getting people to think about getting children to think and asking questions and answering those questions. But so what is the workload for student work? Like then like, what should they expect going into this course on that aspect?

Right? First of all, something that’s very important, the students who come into this class, they do not need to know anything about philosophy. So no, like prior knowledge of philosophy is required or needed. What is the word workload like, they will learn about philosophy, right? They will learn about the basic sub-disciplines of philosophy like metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy. And it’s kind of cool, because a lot of my students, after they’ve gone through the course, or even in the midst of it, they’re like, Oh, my goodness, like when I was a kid, I asked these kinds of questions. And I thought I was the weird one. It turns out that, you know, other people also ask these questions. And not only is it the case that other people ask these questions, but these questions have a discipline dedicated to them. So they, they learn to kind of associate some of these questions with, for example, if we’re asking about, you know, how to judge a work of art, this would be the sub-discipline, that’s called aesthetics, right. Or if we’re talking about, you know, children’s rights are something that would be the sub-discipline of, you know, political philosophy, etc. So they learn about the different sub-disciplines of philosophy and some of the basic questions raised in them. But they learn it not through reading traditional philosophical texts, but through the P for C literature, and P for C textbooks and P for C pedagogy and methods, right? So we learn about P for C methods, and while learning about them, we apply those methods to activities in class where we do philosophy together. So really, this is a very, I think, practice-based class. So that’s the main part of the workload that they have to keep in mind, the students who want to take they take this class, it’s all about like participation exercises we do in class, the way we apply the skills we learn, and have conversations together so that when it’s time to have these conversations with children, we have a lot of practice, right, that we can fall back on.

Okay, cool. So a lot of practical application and a lot of actual sort of, I guess, hands-on is that a way of sort of looking at it or?

Right, right. So let me give you an example. The culminating kind of assignment in the class is this P for C on-campus events. We used to hold it in the water Steam library in that beautiful December room since COVID. We’re holding it on Zoom, unfortunately, but what happens is the whole fifth grade class of Ramon Garza elementary school, they come. So we have like 150 5th graders on campus. And they come in and have philosophical conversations with my students. So they, you know, sit on the floor, they sit in circles, and my students choose a picture book, plan, a discussion, plan, right? A lesson plan of sorts, try it out in class in a mock session gets feedback from their peers and me. And then finally kind of put it into practice, right in that event. And to prepare for that event. We have many such mini sessions in class. So they go back to their childhoods and choose a picture book that was really influential for them, and try to figure out what philosophical questions that picture book raises, and, you know, give a little oral presentation in class. So, it’s kind of like a scaffolded assignment, right? Slowly, slowly, they get, you know, exercise and practice in relating to philosophical ideas, and using them in their conversations. So at the culminating event, this is all put into practice. So exactly, it’s a hands-on class, it’s hands-on every step of the way.

Honestly, I love just hearing about this class, I think it’s so fun and interesting to just think about just the kids coming to the CSUB library, like you said, it’s on Zoom now, but, and just dealing with all this thing. I love that so much. Um, and so the next question I want to kind of transition into though is that, um, you know, the classes being offered right now, although you are on sabbatical, currently. But how often is this class offered for students who are interested in taking it?

It’s offered every fall. But what we have is we offer the, the 2000 level course in the fall, which is kind of like a prerequisite for the P for C practicum, which we offer in the spring. And P for Cpracticum is? Well, you know, it’s a practical training class, where students use the knowledge that they gained in the lower division class, and actually design a whole eight-week curriculum, and go and work in classrooms. So we have a couple of classrooms that we have partnered with in local elementary schools around here, and they go and hold people see sessions with, you know, a real class. It’s, it’s a really rewarding experience. It’s, it’s, you know, it’s a lot of work. But I think, especially for those students, especially those that I’ve worked with, right, who said this, to me, it has been an invaluable experience, because they get to work with real kids, and design lesson plans and get feedback both from you know, their peers, and for me, it’s designed the whole curriculum themselves, right, not just choosing one or two topics. So, it’s, it’s a really cool class.

Yeah, it sounds really cool. And it’s cool that it’s like kind of, it’s got that year-long process to where you really get to be so in-depth about it. So, who would be encouraged to take a course like this, then at CSUB?

I mean, I would encourage everyone to take it because most people want to become parents. And I think as a parent, the best thing you can do is to engage your kid in conversation, open dialogue, and not feel like you have to know the answer to a question to be able to continue that conversation. But rather, that’s, you know, thinking together with your child is a valuable exercise in itself. I mean, I have to say, the whole methodology of P for C is called a community of inquiry. So, the whole idea is to foster thinking together and figuring out answers or you know, preliminary answers together through dialog, right? So any parents can take this class, but if we’re looking at, you know, vocation or profession-related advice here, I would really recommend people who want to get into education to take this class. And also, I had, I’ve had some psychology majors take this class and love it because this biologic I think back and forth, is very helpful in you know, therapeutic sessions or in counseling kind of sessions. And, you know, philosophy majors. This is an excellent opportunity to, you know, put philosophy into real-world practice, right? To see how it really affects thinking and how it works.

Definitely, yeah, It’s definitely super important in that aspect for sure for plus major kind of see how it touches the lives of people, I admit that a little bias is religious studies major, which like this, but you can take this class as a, you know, and kind of, I don’t know, explore some of the issues that are in religious studies, you know, like culture, and ideas of God, ideas of redemption. There are so many interesting concepts that come from religious studies that you could get into without, you know, pretending to teach children religion, which would be, you know, problematic, perhaps, but, but just the conceptual content. Right.

Right. Yeah.

Okay, that makes a lot of sense. In that aspect, you know, philosophies a lot is a lot of different things. At the end of the day, a lot of different questions, people can ask it that. But, lost my train of thought for a second. So, I do have another question for you, though, here, which is, are there any warnings you might have for someone who is taking this class, anything that they should keep in mind before they maybe sign up for it? Something to keep in mind?

Yeah, um, I mean, I have some recommendations, and yeah, predictions. But I wouldn’t call them warnings, because I never saw my students to be disappointed about these recommendations. So, I would say, you know, bring intellectual humility, that, you know, open-mindedness and, and an openness for changing your mind. And also bring with you the trust that children have a lot to offer, I mean, that this is, so this is probably one of the most fun parts of my class, after their sessions with the children, my students are like, Oh, my goodness, like these, these kids, they’re so smart. And they’re so insightful. And I think we as a society tend to underestimate, you know, kids, capacities and their, their, you know, curiosity, their, their interest in being part of the conversation and what they can contribute to that conversation. And I think my students, a lot of times love that, but so big, be prepared to have your, you know, mind blown off with their interaction with the kids. And also, you know, be ready to, to think, open-mindedly and perhaps more deeply about some of the issues.

We definitely, that deep thinking one is a very important one, I think, for a lot of people for sure. Because, yeah, I think that’s a very healthy way to look at it. So it’s good for people to keep this sort of stuff in mind. But I do have one more question for you. And this is the question I used to wrap up all of my interviews, and it’s a bit of a two-parter. What has been your favorite moment, and least favorite moment in teaching this course?

Okay. Um, favorite moment. Moments are always my student’s in-class presentations. So there are many opportunities for them to choose a text or picture book. And then in groups usually devise a lesson plan and kind of put it into practice, put it into action in class, right? I’m going to give you one example one year, one group did the Dr. Seus has green eggs and ham. I’m pretty sure all of us know, their focus was on epistemology, right? The question of how our experiences form our beliefs. And of course, the idea is the narrator in Green Eggs and Ham. He refuses to try to, to decide whether to like or not, like green Eggs and Ham, how he’s he’s going to not like it. So they designed a lesson plan. It was I mean, the whole lesson plan was, I think, really excellent. But towards the end, they brought in different foods that they deemed yucky. And they brought it to class. So one was orange juice and Oreos, and one was peanut butter and jelly with Doritos was the There was one there was some like spicy, Cheetos, Hot Cheetos or something, maybe with cream cheese, something like that. And I know, he’s like, Whoa, I don’t want that. But they invited people to try them out. And the whole exercise was about, you know, how, how we make up our mind about, you know, whether we’re going to like something or not like something? And then how eager are we to give it a try? Or to change our mind? And once we try it are like, How open are we to a new experience? And like, what’s the result of that experience? So this was an amazing, amazing exercise. And it’s, it’s beautiful, because like, it’s like philosophy put into practice, right? Put into action, like we have a thought experiment. But instead of a hard exam, we’re kind of really doing the experiment with our taste buds there. So that’s, and I have many others like this, my students never fail to amaze me with the interesting ideas they come up with. I really don’t have like really bad experience in this class. Maybe, you know, it was kind of unfortunate that we had to turn everything to zoom. But even that’s had its own I think upsides we could engage the children in more creative ways. With zoom, they did Google Forms or jam boards, in their sessions with the children. So like there was something that actually the virtual environments added to the conversation rather than completely take away from

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