The Success Story of a High School Philosophy Club (guest post by Kirk Wolf)

Last year, I posted about the efforts of the Philosophy Club at Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy to raise money for used textbooks. The club’s advisor, Kirk Wolf (Delta College), has now written an update about the club which he thought Daily Nous readers would appreciate.

Those interested in starting or maintaining philosophy clubs (not just at high schools) will find some good ideas here.

Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy Philosophy Club: An Update
by Kirk Wolf

The Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy (SASA) is a magnet high school for gifted and talented students in the Saginaw, Michigan Public School District. SASA does not offer any classes in philosophy, but in 2014 a small group of students formed a Philosophy Club and I agreed to serve as the faculty advisor to the club. In our first year, we elected officers, drafted bylaws, and developed a logo and a motto for club t-shirts and coffee mugs.

During our first year we also raised money to purchase philosophy textbooks. Students developed a GoFundMe account, and with help from Justin and the generous readers of Daily Nous, we quickly reached our goal and purchased used copies of a college-level textbook for all members.

Throughout our first year, both before and after acquiring textbooks, we met each week to do philosophy, quite a lot of it; we read about and discussed philosophical topics that students selected, from the pre-Socratics, free will, and Descartes, to Marx, Rawls, and the Trolley Problem. We also occasionally met on Saturday afternoons—with pizza—to watch and discuss philosophical films such as The Matrix and Ex Machina.

At the outset of our second year in 2015-16, we worked to increase our visibility and membership as a club. To this end, and as a kind of civic engagement project, students installed what came to be immodestly known as “The Truth Booth.” Some of my Delta College Honors students constructed The Booth, then SASA Philosophy Club members staffed The Booth during their lunch, and developed a list of basic philosophical questions that SASA students who approached The Booth could ponder and discuss.

The Truth Booth was a wild success, and so many students wanted to join Philosophy Club that we had to develop a competitive application process. The application consisted of three essay questions (Why do you want to join the SASA Philosophy Club? What can you contribute to the SASA Philosophy Club? and Explain the most interesting idea that you recently read about, outside of SASA). Anonymized applications were then evaluated by current members in order to select new members.

Having reached our membership capacity, we held elections for new officers, revised our bylaws, and continued to meet weekly.  Between October and January we focused on preparing for the 2016 Michigan High School Ethics Bowl. We fielded two teams of six students (and two alternates), and a few of my best ethics students at Delta College kindly met with us to help students prepare. For their first year in the Ethics Bowl, the SASA students did remarkably well.

After Ethics Bowl, the remainder of our second year focused on presentations. Students chose a philosophical question or topic that interested them, they spent a few weeks researching and writing about it, and then delivered polished presentations to the club. From the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to the philosophy of physics, students chose ambitious and wide-ranging topics, and delivered inspired presentations. Near the end of our second year, we also began to host guest speakers from the wider community, experts who talked about the philosophical aspects of their work or profession.

As we look ahead to our third year in 2016-17, the Philosophy Club has become institutionalized at SASA, it is now the largest high school philosophy club in Michigan, and the student members will continue to chart our course. I am, happily, just along for the ride, grateful to all those who have helped us along the way, certainly including Daily Nous and its readers.

Saginaw Phil Club logo

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