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The Ethical Young Child: Pipe Dream or Possibility

by David Elkind
November/December 2004
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Article Link: https://www.childcareexchange.com/article/the-ethical-young-child-pipe-dream-or-possibility/5016046/

You can teach any child any subject at any age in an intellectually responsible way.
Bruner, 1960

The idea that we can teach subjects like ethics, chemistry, and physics to preschoolers is attractive to both parents and early childhood educators. This is particularly true for ethics. Wouldn't it be loverly if young children could treat each other with respect, fairness, and empathy? It wouldn't be so bad, either, if these attitudes were kindly extended to us, their parents, and teachers. While the idea of teaching ethics, and the sciences, to young children is appealing, it is questionable whether this is possible in practice.

When we think of ethics, chemistry, or physics we think of a body of knowledge, or a science, which, over the years, has been systematically accumulated and refined. Young children can hardly be expected to learn this kind of knowledge. They have yet to attain the intellectual abilities, and the symbolic skills, required to understand abstract concepts. The attainment of these mental tools in adolescence will enable them to fully understand, say, Kant's moral imperative always treat others as one would treat oneself. This level of intellectual ability is also required to learn, and understand, the periodic ...

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