The Young Philosophers | Letters | Chicago Reader

The Young Philosophers 

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To the editors:

This is to congratulate you on the excellent roundtable discussion concerning gifted education (May 21). The participants' statement of the issues, goals, and problems related to this area in education was comprehensive, clear, and, one hopes, educational.

I was especially edified to read Ellen Fiedler's comment that gifted children can frequently "grapple" with issues at an age when adults would not expect them to have such ability. For the past two years, I have been team teaching philosophy in grades six through eight in the gifted program at A.G. Bell school. We have been reading short selections from philosophers as diverse as Plato, Confucius, Maimonides, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Bell Hooks. This program has been all the more adventurous, since Plato and Aristotle (and other philosophers) went on record to affirm that young people should not study philosophy. I can state with certainty, however, that after 25 years of teaching philosophy to university undergraduate and graduate students, I have seen more enthusiasm, insight, and rationality from these young, gifted students than I have found in a typical college classroom. One of the lessons to be learned here is that gifted children should be challenged as much as possible, since their limits may extend even further than we might believe. Another lesson is that even a Plato or an Aristotle can make a mistake.

Professor Fiedler's cautionary remarks concerning what can be expected from gifted children were also well-taken. It is unreasonable to anticipate that young people endowed with multifaceted intelligence will, later on, be in positions where they can readily solve the world's ills. The point that should be emphasized when they are young is that everything must be done to ensure that the potential of these individuals should be realized as fully as possible. It is hardly utopian to believe that we will all be better off, in the long run, if the gifted young people in our midst have the facilities, instruction, and encouragement to make of themselves what they will. The claim that "smart kids will take care of themselves" is not only false in ways that will suffocate the abilities of such children, but also shortsighted in terms of the well-being of our society as a whole.

David A. White, PhD

Adjunct Associate Professor, Philosophy

DePaul University

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