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 .

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