Nautilus

The Case for More Science and Philosophy Books for Children

If we, as a society, were serious about our children, then children’s education—especially for those beginning “the age of reason”—would be our highest priority.Photograph by Sharon Mollerus / Flickr

During my career as a scientist and a philosopher I have written and edited, thus far, 14 books. Of these, seven are for the general public. Of those, only one (my very first one, as it turns out) was for children. The same picture emerges if one looks at the lifetime production of major science (and philosophy) popularizers, from Richard Dawkins to Stephen Jay Gould in biology, Brian Greene to Janna Levin in physics, Nigel Warburton to Rebecca Newberger Goldstein in philosophy.

You might think aiming at a youthful demographic would be more appealing. Those early years, when curiosity runs high, are intellectually formative—it’s when we, my fellow educators, can hook young minds onto what philosophers call the of the world. Voltaire mischievously attributed to the founder of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius of Loyola, the saying, “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.” Voltaire was probably worried about the Church brainwashing the next generation (“Écrasez l’Infâme!”—“crush the infamous”—as he used to sign his letters). But Loyola had a point, if he ever uttered those words. The ancient Greco-Romans talked about “the age of reason,” the period around the age of seven when children begin to use their rational faculties, which they saw as crucial to the moral formation of an individual, an idea that modern developmental psychology .

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus6 min read
Why I Traveled the World Hunting for Mutant Bugs: A researcher who works through painting tells her story.
When Chernobyl happened, I knew it was time for me to act. Nineteen years earlier, I had first drawn malformed and mutated flies while working in the zoological department at the University of Zurich as a scientific illustrator. Zoologists had fed po
Nautilus5 min read
Why Working-Class New Yorkers Drop Their “R’s”
In George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, professor Henry Higgins says: “You can spot an Irishman or a Yorkshireman by his brogue. I can place any man within six miles. I can place him within two miles in London. Sometimes within two streets.” British
Nautilus9 min read
Let’s Play War: Could war games replace the real thing?
In the spring of 1964, as fighting escalated in Vietnam, several dozen Americans gathered to play a game. They were some of the most powerful men in Washington: the director of Central Intelligence, the Army chief of staff, the national security advi