High School Summer Philosophy Program

High School Summer Philosophy Program


I’ve been teaching high school students a week’s worth of philosophy each summer for the past three years, and I’ve had tremendous success doing it.

So writes Kristopher G. Phillips (Southern Utah), in a post at Philosophical Percolations on the Lyceum Program for High Schoolers, which he co-founded as a graduate student at the University of Iowa with Greg Stoutenburg after hearing about a group of philosophy grad students at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign who were running a philosophy camp for high schoolers.

The Lyceum program offers a free week of philosophy instruction and activities to high school students, with programs offered in Utah and Iowa, along with the original one in Illinois.

They are summer-camps aimed at introducing high-school aged kids to critical thinking and philosophy, they are free, and they run for 5-6 days during the early summer. We bring area students to campus for a few hours a day for just short of a week, start off each day with a brief introduction (usually about 40-45 minutes) to some core issue in logic/argument evaluation, provide the students with a free lunch each day and do a little philosophy. We also give students at least one philosophy text and a t-shirt. At the end of the week, students give very short presentations—in groups or individually—on a philosophical issue of their own choosing.

Teaching a week of philosophy to high schoolers differs from teaching a semester of it to college students, and Phillips describes some of the techniques they used. I liked this:

One of the more effective tools we used to get students involved and thinking critically about necessary and sufficient conditions was to ask them to tell us what a sandwich is. We brought this up in part because it had been a long-running argument within the grad program at Iowa, and because it’s such a low-stakes example of conceptual analysis.  This stupid example allowed the students to tease out, on their own, notions of necessity, sufficiency, scope, and counter-examples. After spending some time arguing about this, we tried to tie it together, noting that if it’s this difficult to define what a sandwich is, just imagine how difficult abstract concepts such justice, or goodness are going to be. This resonated relatively well with the students, and it was really impressive just how much these lessons seemed to stick.

The camp is a work in progress, and the organizers are looking for ways to strengthen the program:

The question I’m wrestling with is just what exactly I want students to get out of the Lyceum. The stated goal is to introduce students to philosophy generally, and specifically logic and critical thinking. We are, without question doing both of those things with both the Iowa and Utah Lyceums, and the logic portion is consistently strong. We’ve introduced formal and informal fallacies, validity, soundness, cogency, strength, and tied all of this to the enterprises of science, philosophy, mathematics, and so on. The question concerns the best way to introduce students to philosophy generally.

One of the disadvantages philosophy departments face in keeping sufficient numbers for enrollment and majors is that most high school students (in the U.S.) are unfamiliar with philosophy, and that unfamiliarity can be a sufficient deterrent. The Lyceum programs are a step in the right direction. (via Pete LeGrant)

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