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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Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Programs like this are wonderful and everyone involved in one deserves a round of applause. Philosophy is for everyone. Such programs are also liable to help with the gender imbalance in professional philosophy, since females seem to be getting turned off philosophy before getting to university.Report

anon adjunct
anon adjunct
5 years ago

This sounds like a great program. If the success of PIKSI (a philosophy camp for advanced undergraduates) is any indicator, students may get a lot out of doing philosophy that is clearly applicable to their (and other people’s) daily lives, so empowering students with incisive moral/social/political concepts and getting them to think about issues like authenticity, meaningfulness, and personal identity may be good strategies.Report

MrMister
MrMister
5 years ago

I’ve taught high school summer camp classes in philosophy before, at gifted youth camps (read: highly affluent youth). It’s good work if you can get it. Back when I used to, I found it was less work, better paid, more autonomous, and more fun than the semi-comparable work of teaching undergraduates a summer session class. So I recommend looking into it for people who are thinking about raising summer funds.Report

DocFEmeritus
DocFEmeritus
5 years ago

Sounds like a great idea – especially for us retired geezers who might like to keep a bit of a hand in teaching and want to stimulate younger students to consider philosophy and critical thinking! How does one get started and what might be needed to introduce the program to a local school district? Are there brochures, etc..? How receptive a school district might be and what resources they’d have is another question, of course.Report

Elly Pirocacos
4 years ago

Though I enjoy my academic post, I have long advocated the immense importance of philosophical discourse and the advantageous consequences of making this available to the general public. To this end I winder what’s the best route to found such a camp, or weekend programs, or retreats. I’m between Greece and Montreal so a retreat in Greece and summer camps in Montreal both seem possible. Launch ideas?Report