Ideas for a 7th Grade Philosophy Club


Emily is a seventh grade student who chimed in on an earlier post where she mentioned, “I am trying to get more people to join my philosophy club, but no one wants to. They don’t want the answers. I do though.”

[art by Zola Weinberg]

Readers, can we help out Emily? In the comments, please share your suggestions for:

  • how to encourage 7th grade students to join a philosophy club
  • activities such a club could take part in
  • especially good philosophical topics or questions for 7th graders
  • books, articles, shows, movies, podcasts, etc., that would be of interest to 7th graders
  • other related ideas.

Thanks very much!

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Kevin
9 days ago

This book can help kids discuss philosophical questions together without needing to know anything special. Maybe a parent or teacher could buy it for the club. If not, you could also ask your school librarian to buy the book: Amazon.com: Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions That Help You Wonder About Everything!: 9781882664702: White, David: Books

To bring in new members, maybe try pairing club meetings with activities like knitting or baking cookies. While you learn how to knit or bake, you could ask each other questions about what makes a sock a sock or how you know what a cookie is.Report

Elizabeth
9 days ago

I think a ‘giving game’ would be good. You can use “The Life You Can Save” as a template (or if you run one of their games they might give you some money). https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/giving-games/Report

Gordon
9 days ago

Sophie’s World might be a good book to start with.

Try contacting your local philosophy department(s) to see if any professors or grad students want to help you out. They might want to come and discuss certain topics with you and your group. I’ve recently started leading philosophical discussions at a local school and it’s been a lot of fun for everyone involved. (Are you in Tallahassee? If so, get in touch. 🙂 )

I hope your club gets off to a good start soon.Report

Guy
Guy
Reply to  Gordon
8 days ago

I want to second the suggestion of getting a local grad student to talk to the club a few times. This would likely look very good on a CV used to apply for community college jobs.Report

Emily
Reply to  Guy
6 days ago

The club is run by five local JCU students. No one is interested in philosophy though. Do you guys know any ideas of things that could make philosophy appealing to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders?Report

Guy
Guy
Reply to  Emily
5 days ago

Hi Emily!

I wonder if maybe you could center some of the topics around shows/movies that people of that age would have watched or be fans of? For instance, are there any fans of The Good Place there? It wouldn’t be too hard to turn something like a “Good Place fan club” into a philosophy discussion group.Report

Preston Stovall
9 days ago

Hi Emily! It’s good to start, if you can, with a friend or two who will definitely show up. That way, there will at least be two or three of you to talk. A week before a meeting, you might advertise a “problem” or a “debate” that the group will discuss, and put flyers up around the school. You know, something like “do objects keep their colors even when the lights are turned off?”.

In the U.S. the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children (IAPC) is probably the first place to turn for additional resources:

https://www.montclair.edu/iapc/

In the U.K., SAPERE plays a similar role:

https://www.montclair.edu/iapc/

Mathew Lipman (founder of IAPC) wrote a book called Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery that is a classic in the field of philosophy for kids. It’s written for people about your age. Another classic is Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder. It is for kids a little older.

But I’ve had success talking about Plato, Aristotle, and Kant (all philosophers for “adults”) with kids your age, and you might reach out to your local university and see whether there are any philosophy instructors or students who are interested in helping you or giving suggestions. I suspect you’ll find people willing to help!Report

Emily
Reply to  Preston Stovall
6 days ago

Yeah! There is one other person in the class who I won’t name for privacy reasons. I usually go to different study hall classes to tell kids about the club, but no one is interested so it only takes two minutes. Is there anything I can say to make it more interesting? There are 5 JCU students teaching the class, but they can’t do much with only two kids.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Emily
6 days ago

Hi Emily. My experience has been that there’s only so much you can do to draw interest in a philosophy club. That’s okay, this sort of thing isn’t for everyone. But I think flyers/posters on the topic you will discuss, put up around the school the week before, will help draw in people who might be curious. Try to think about images or pictures that would stand out and draw attention, or do a google search and see what comes up. If you do that regularly, and in regular locations, people will start to look for them.

You also might ask your school administrator whether you could have a weekly announcement over the loudspeaker, say on Monday, with the details of when and where the club meets, and what the discussion topic will be that week.

But don’t be too discouraged if only a couple of people show up. Better to have a small group of engaged participants than a big group of eye-rollers.Report

Jacob
9 days ago

I like the book Provocations: Philosophy for Secondary School, which has a lot of questions and interesting passages.

Sometimes more people will want to join if you make it an Ethics Bowl club–that’s mostly for high school but there is middle school Ethics Bowl in a few places.

When I teach students your age, everybody seems to have a bunch of burning philosophy questions (though they might not realize they are philosophy questions)–about school, ethics, politics, God, and all sorts of things. When they talk about what they want to talk about, they end up doing really good philosophy! (It helps when somebody in the conversation knows the philosophy side of things.) But it’s always hard to get new people in the door. Good luck!Report

Madeleine Ransom
9 days ago

Hello Emily,

One topic that might generate interest is whether teachers should assign grades. Laurie Santos has a good podcast episode that makes the case that we shouldn’t. Maybe you can get some teachers to argue in favour of assigning grades! https://www.happinesslab.fm/season-1-episodes/making-the-grade

Another idea is to create a team to participate in a high school ethics bowl. I was a judge at such an event last year and it was really amazing, I would highly encourage you to try to go this route:
Canada https://www.ethicsbowl.ca/en-ca/
USA https://nhseb.unc.edu

Also, there is this site that has some arguments that might be of interest to your peers (the course is paid content though some resources on the site are free) https://argumentmaps.orgReport

Sara
8 days ago

Print out the interesting questions you want answered. Post the questions around the school with the date/time for a club meeting. Leave it mysterious. Then do some meetings on say video gaming (Is doing something wrong in virtual reality as bad as doing something wrong outside the virtual world? Why not?) or have classmates bring in a song they like to play for everyone and do a meeting on the philosophy of music (Is there a different experience hearing music live versus from a recording? Does music express emotion, if so, how?). The cool thing about philosophy is that it can be on anything you and your classmates find interesting (truly!). So, find out what your classmates are into (x, y, z)–then search “x and philosophy” and you’ll find interesting questions for meeting discussions. Movie nights followed by discussion are always fun. There’s so much you can do!

Question: How many people need to attend the meetings before you have a club?Report

Emily
Reply to  Sara
6 days ago

Answer: We have a club because the students like doing it but we need more people to do the activities. I don’t have control over the lessons they made and the only problem is getting people who don’t have a club at the same time to come and be interested.Report

Daniel Weltman
8 days ago

Julian Baggini has two good books with topics to talk about: The Pig That Wants to be Eaten and The Duck That Won the Lottery. Printing out posters (or, making Instagram posts or whatever the kids do these days) with a picture + a question from one of the books + the meeting time/place could be a good way to get people to come. Then you can talk about the topics in the books.

It might also help if you do not frame the club around getting answers but rather around discussing interesting things. Nobody wants to go to a club to get told what to think, but people might be interested in going to a club where they get to think for themselves.Report

Emily
Reply to  Daniel Weltman
6 days ago

Usually I say something like “we find answers to the world’s biggest questions and debate different topic.”Report

Jason Buckley
8 days ago

Great question! You can get a free, weekly bulletin of ideas from my website, http://www.thephilosophyman.com (it’s aimed at teachers). http://www.philosophy-foundation.org have lots of good ideas on their blog, and there are some great books by their Peter Worley, especially “The If Odyssey” which combines philosophy with the adventures of the Greek hero Odysseus. I do run Zoom philosophy classes as well at http://www.p4he.org but they’re mostly aimed at home educators so times probably won’t work for you in the US – unless you’re willing to get up very early for your philosophy fix! Good luck with it. Here are a few of the hundreds of questions that I find get people going:

Can it ever be wrong to forgive someone?
Is mathematics invented or discovered?
Is the hole in a lifebuoy part of the lifebuoy? (Or Polo for Brits!)
Is is braver to do something you’re scared of, or not to be scared of it?
If there are only enough lifeboats for half the passengers, who should get the spaces?
Could the world around you just be a simulation?Report

Emmanuel
8 days ago

7th grade means 13-14 years old right? You’d be old enough to read some writers from the existentialist movement. You could shape your club as a reading group around Camus’ The Stranger, novels by Sartre, Milan Kundera, etc… Especially if you explore the literary side of philosophy you would be exposed to important questions that matter at your age (e.g.: What’s the meaning of life, what should you do with your life, etc.).

I think this website might have some resources but I’m not sure if the audience they target is too young for you: https://www.philosophyforchildren.org/resources/lesson-plans/

In all cases don’t be afraid to explore literary classics as a group. Good luck!Report

Emily
Reply to  Emmanuel
6 days ago

7th grade is usually 12-13, but it is also for 6th and 8th graders too.Report

Agnes Callard
8 days ago

Emily,
I might suggest starting by trying to rope in one or two friends. If you have weekly meetings others might show up, and you can always have fun talking among the 2-3 of you if they don’t. Movies make a good basis for philosophical conversation–The Matrix is a classic (what if we’re not living in “reality”? do we care?)–but most good (and even nongood!) movies open up space for philosophical conversation. If you can arrange the showing of a movie–even on a smallish screen, for a few people, that might be a bit of a draw.
yours,
AgnesReport

Evan
8 days ago

When I was 13/14 I asked metaphysical questions like, “Why is there something, but not nothing?”; “What would nothingness be like?”; “How would things look if we removed all objects out of existence such that humans can still observe this space? Would it be all white or black?”

My older cousin responded: “I think about those things too. You should be a philosopher.” I never knew it was a profession. I used to go around asking my friends to describe a color beyond using the words “bright” or “dark”: How do I know that my yellow is the same as your yellow?

Of course, they just brushed it off and thought these questions were trivial and unimportant. I do find teenagers are more drawn to moral and political questions than metaphysical and epistemological ones. We had some libertarians at my high school. We also had the social justice art and musical theater students.

I would recruit the debate team, multicultural group, LGBT and Alliance group, and/or other students from different clubs. I went to two high schools: my first was a medical centered one which could attract students who are interested in biomedical issues. In fact, we had a seminar on this once and a teacher taught us about the legality of malpractice. My other high school was primarily an art school and so philosophy of art/aesthetics/film could attract students.

I would create an intro to philosophy worksheet with questions. Hand them out to students. At the bottom, write: “If you are interested in these sorts of questions and discussions, then join philosophy club. Please contact X for more info.”Report

Last edited 8 days ago by Evan
Mason
8 days ago

It might be useful to break down this query into a couple questions:

  1. What would be good topics/resources for a middle school philosophy club.
  2. How can I persuade other students to be interested in such a club.

On 1, I think Sophie’s World is a good idea. I’d also consider Riddles of Existence by Connee and Sider, and some early Socratic Dialogues. I’d also suggest getting in touch with some people who can help in a more ongoing way, either by participating/facilitating discussions, or by suggesting readings and topics. Philosophy is a big field and it can be overwhelming to try to navigate without some guidance.

2 is tougher! In my experience, philosophy is an unusual interest for middle schoolers, and you may not be able to convince people that these topics are interesting if they don’t feel that way already. Talk to your school about getting some money for snacks—people love free food! Maybe try some more ‘fun’ topics at the start—time-travel, flirting, video games, etc.—there’s cool philosophical work on these topics and they might be an easier sell.

But finally, if you’re struggling with 2, you may find that the best thing to do is participate in a philosophical community not composed of your peers from school. Consider making a twitter account and following philosophers, go to some free online talks—if you’re reading Daily Nous, you’re already pretty plugged in to the philosophy world. It can be okay if, for the time being, philosophy is your thing, and most of your friends from school aren’t into it. As you get older, you’ll find more people getting interested in philosophy, and you’ll find many of them are jealous of how long you’ve been learning about this stuff.

Keep it up! I hope it doesn’t sound patronizing to say that you’re an inspiration to me. Your intellectual curiousity will serve you well throughout your life.

Best wishes,
MasonReport

Margaret Scharle
7 days ago

Dear Emily,

Like a couple others above, I recommend Ethics Bowl. It’s like a debate team, except the goal is more explicitly understanding and respectful dialogue. Here is the information about the middle school program we have in Oregon and the way it adapts the high school model:

https://oregonethicsbowl.org/middle-school-ethics-bowl/

One idea is to combine an Ethics Bowl program with Agnes’s idea above: why not pick a movie that would help people think about one of the topics, and go from there. If there is not a middle school program in your area, why not email a distant school to invite them to a bowl event on zoom? Also, if you live in a city with a high school Ethics Bowl team, I’m sure one of the high school students would love to come get you started and help you drum up some enthusiasm, perhaps by doing a short presentation to the classes. 

Best wishes,
MegReport

Emily
Reply to  Margaret Scharle
6 days ago

The thing about ethics bowl, if it’s a competition, we may not be able to get to it or sign-up might be closed. We also need a certain amount of people that we probably can’t get. Some people at my school aren’t really competitive. I would probably scare off people by saying there was a competition involved. Also, is there a certain age limit or area we have to stay at?Report

Emily
6 days ago

Hi Guys! It’s Emily! Thanks for all the suggestions! I have some questions.

Ethics bowl:
We may not be able to sign-up if that’s closed. Also, How many people do we need and do they have to be a certain age? Can someone explain the ethics bowl process below?

Book recommendations:
I saw a lot of book recommendations. Keep in mind that I’m not the one making the lessons, I’m just someone in the club. I can’t really decide what the JCU students want to teach. I can recommend stuff, but they are much older than me.

What Happens in the club:
We usually discuss a topic like the painting ‘the death of Socrates’. We do a slideshow and then we do a game called argue where do questions like does pineapple belong on pizza.

What I Need:
I need a way for middle schoolers to be interested in philosophy topics. I go to a gifted school and apparently gifted kids aren’t interested in debating and finding answers. I think they really do want answers but they don’t want to seem ‘nerdy’. I could try to get some people to join, but no one wants to. Is there a way to make philosophy sound fun without it sounding nerdy?

Thank you guys,
EmilyReport

Lisa
Lisa
Reply to  Emily
6 days ago

Hi Emily,
I am not sure where exactly you are located. I google JCU, and I get a bunch of options. If you are in Queensland, reach out the Critical Thinking Project folks at UQ. They are doing great work in schools, at all levels. https://critical-thinking.project.uq.edu.au

Ethics Bowl is fantastic, and while there are teams, the goals is not to debate so much as it is to discuss, listen, and respond, and build consensus about what consensus can be built on. There is are national networks in both the US and Canada. Here is the link for the US: https://nhseb.unc.edu
And this is the key passage (scroll down to get the links): If you would like to start a high school ethics bowl team or regional competition in your area, please check out the resources on this site for more information, and to find the contact information for your nearest regional organizer. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at [email protected].

There is no real limit on the number of teams, and even if you are too late for regional competitions, you can still take advantage of the resource materials: there are cases with questions for students to research and prepare positions, about which you can have a discussion.

Best of luck, and congratulations for really taking the initiative!Report

Emily
Reply to  Lisa
5 days ago

I’m in Northeast Ohio. you can Search John Carrol University. I would have to talk to the people running the club, but the club is really just an intro to philosophy for middle schoolers.Report

Justin Kalef
5 days ago

Hello, Emily. Goodness, you sound like an impressive and interesting person. Your story brings back memories of my own first tries at getting these things going (though I was never as organized as you seem to be). I was in 8th grade when I first found a couple of friends who wanted to talk with me about these things. Two things I remember talking about were: how can we know whether others see the same colors that we do? And is it always wrong to tell a lie? (I was especially interested in cases where people ask questions that are none of their business, and you just make something up). I had also thought on and off for years of a story my 3rd grade teacher gave us. This teacher was quite elderly, and had survived the Nazi Holocaust, which was perhaps why she had so many philosophical things to ask us about. In her story, a village of sinners is punished by having their well contaminated, so that they become more and more stupid. The one good man there is spared this punishment: an angel shows him another, safer water source. The villagers don’t realize that they’re becoming less and less intelligent, so they think at first that the good man is becoming brilliant, but later they can’t understand him at all and agree that he’s gone insane. The question she asked was whether it would ever be good for him to drink the contaminated water, and lose his intelligence just to become a part of their community again. I found that story very disturbing to think about, but I thought of it often.

To the point: like some others in this thread, I think that you’re better off finding a small group of people — maybe even one or two friends — to have those conversations with, rather than a bunch of people who really aren’t that keen on it. If you have to fight hard to get them to join, they’re probably not the best people for your conversations, anyway.

Here’s something I’m curious about: why do you want to have a club? I think that trying to surround yourself with friends you can philosophize with is a great idea; but I’ve stopped thinking that most people want to have these conversations at all. Perhaps I’m projecting my younger tendencies onto you — I’m sorry if I am — but I’m pretty sure that I used to think that philosophy is so exciting, everyone would love it if only they knew what it was all about. I don’t think that any longer. I’ll bet there are enough people at your school for you to have some good conversations, but maybe it’ll only be four or five of you. Do you have some reason for wanting it to be a club rather than a few friends who spend time together?

One thing that jumps out to me from what you’ve said so far is this:

I go to a gifted school and apparently gifted kids aren’t interested in debating and finding answers. I think they really do want answers but they don’t want to seem ‘nerdy’. I could try to get some people to join, but no one wants to. Is there a way to make philosophy sound fun without it sounding nerdy?

Do you find it disappointing that others at a gifted school are so afraid of seeming ‘nerdy’ that they don’t want to join a philosophy club? I would! I mean, what’s the point of going to a gifted school if you aren’t there to make the most of your abilities? I never went to a gifted school, but I would have expected better from my peers than that if I had. It sounds as though some of these people have to grow up a little and stop caring so much about what other people think of them, especially when those other people seem to care about such silly things. Unfortunately, based on what I’ve seen over my years since 7th grade, I wouldn’t count on that happening at any time soon. I really feel that you should give up on those people and not pander to them. Have your club, or group of friends, or whatever it turns out to be in the end; and if they turn out to be worth having in your conversations, they can seek you out on your terms. I don’t think you’ll get much good out of them if you have to cater to their fears of seeming nerdy just because you’re having some interesting conversations about something deeper than they’re used to talking about. But again, maybe you have some other reason for wanting to make it a big club.

Oh, by the way — there are many games that you might enjoy playing together. One of them is called ‘counterexamples’, and involves one person coming up with a principle (like ‘If you have no evidence that something exists, you should assume it doesn’t exist’) and other people trying to come up with real or invented things that prove the principle wrong. Activities like this get people into the fun of thinking like a philosopher without making them do a bunch of reading in advance.

Good luck with it all!Report

Emily
Reply to  Justin Kalef
5 days ago

Thanks! I wasn’t the one to come up with the idea of philosophy club, it was one of the clubs provided. I joined and three other people signed up, but only one other person has come to the meetings. I think that my classmates do want answers. There is another club that a lot of people are in and the times overlap. I can try your suggestions. I’ll update you guys when I get some people to join.
I’m also thinking of using different wording when I tell them about the club. Instead of just saying ‘hey, this is philosophy club, do you want to join?’, I might say ‘Have you ever had a question that someone couldn’t answer’ or ‘Do you question things? Do you like answers?’Report

Mike R.
5 days ago

I think Baggini’s The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: And 99 Other Thought Experiments would be age-appropriate and would do a good job stimulating discussion. One or two thought experiments per meeting? https://www.amazon.com/Pig-That-Wants-Eaten-Ninety-Nine/dp/1847081282/ref=asc_df_1847081282/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=312695266310&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=1019376414640527727&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=2840&hvtargid=pla-475347400753&psc=1Report