Israeli academic named head of international philosophy body

Dr. Arie Kizel will serve as the president of the International Council for Philosophical Inquiry with Children for two years.

Prof. Arie Kizel (photo credit: RUTHE ZUNTZ)
Prof. Arie Kizel
(photo credit: RUTHE ZUNTZ)
Dr. Arie Kizel, head of the Department of Learning, Instruction and Teacher Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Haifa, was elected last week as the next president of ICPIC – The International Council for Philosophical Inquiry with Children.
Kizel has been an integral part of Israeli education for several decades, and is the first Israeli to hold this position. A former principal in elementary, middle and high schools in Haifa and Zichron Yaakov, he has authored three books and now educates future educators.
His latest position as president of ICPIC is for two years.
He will continue the council’s mission to encourage critical thinking in the classroom from a young age, placing an emphasis on classrooms in the developing world.
Kizel spoke with The Jerusalem Post on the importance of teaching philosophy at an early age.
“When parents see their young children asking questions they are not nagging,” he said. “On the contrary, they are showing signs of developing important critical thinking skills.”
These skills are what Kizel and ICPIC want to harness in the classroom by engaging in philosophical inquiry with children as young as five years old.
Kizel told the Post: “We are not teaching philosophy – we are doing philosophy.”
“This method is based on ‘caring thinking,’” he said. “It’s a very Socratic approach. The children are placed in a circle, and together they start to open a philosophical discussion based on text provided by their teacher.”
The first step is finding good questions.
“Kids can ask anything,” Kizel said. “We are trying to help them develop reasoning and self-correction [skills, and the ability to make] coherent and reasonable arguments. Kids at that age are naturally quite good at this.”
The new ICPIC president sees that children engaged in this method are less violent, more empathetic and less competitive, because they are not fighting for grades or to prove they are “right.”
“After two months the children are more friendly to one another” Kizel said. “After four or five years the whole atmosphere of their learning environment has changed significantly.”
“Thinking is like a muscle,” he said. “We are trying to cultivate [critical thinking] at an early age [and] to achieve this through community based activities. It’s not the answers that are important, but the questions. Preserving this approach will allow for more innovative thinkers and more innovation for the future.”
ICPIC is an umbrella organization that implements its programs in elementary schools all over the world.
The approach of reaching small children as young as five years old was originated by Montclair State University professor Matthew Lipman in 1965.
Following extensive research, he found that children at that age are much more capable of abstract and critical thought.
Twenty years later, ICPIC was established as a way to put his research into practice.
Today, ICPIC’s methods can be found in many countries including South America, South Korea, Japan, Iran and Israel.
According to Kizel, however, the philosophical approach is less prevalent in Israel.
Although this can be compared to the hevruta method of partnered talmudic study, the critical thinking approach has not caught on as much in Israel as it has in other countries such as Mexico and Brazil where this is a mandatory part of their public education curriculum.
“In Israel we are good at complaining; this is not the same as being critical. Critical thinking is being able to see the reality from multiple perspectives and not being threatened by it.” Kizel said.
He does remain hopeful though: “We have good cooperation with the Education Ministry – they want to encourage critical thinking. And I think as a nation we will benefit from very innovative, philosophical sensitivities.”
Despite the global impact ICPIC has had in classrooms, Kizel laments that the teachers themselves prove to be the biggest obstacle in bringing philosophy to children. “Many teachers are very conservative and stuck in their ways. They believe that because the kids are asking questions, [the teachers] are already doing it. But this is not entirely accurate; they are not encouraging the same self-examination or self-learning, and this is a huge challenge for us.”