Child development psychologist Jean Piaget theorized that children cannot reason abstractly until they are 12. It's interesting, then, to read this exchange from a second grade class discussion in Massachusetts, after a group of philsophy students from Mount Holyoke College came to read them The Giving Tree. The students discussed the give-take relationship between the boy and the tree, and how humans treat nature (via The New York Times):
"It's only a tree," Justin said with a shrug.
"The tree has feelings!" Keyshawn replied.
Some reasoned that even if the tree wanted the boy to have its apples and branches, there might be unforeseen consequences.
"If they take the tree’s trunk, um, the tree's not going to live," said Nyasia.
Isaiah was among only a few pupils who said they would treat an inanimate object differently from a human friend.
"Say me and a rock was a friend," he said. "It would be different, because a rock can’t move. And it can’t look around."
This gave his classmates pause.
Philosophers argue that the discipline arms kids with reasoning skills that will help them make sense of a complicated world. In today's test-driven classroom, would you like to see more classroom time devoted to abstract thinking?