Philosophy Outreach Program
Teachers College and Columbia University
New York City
By David Hansen
The Philosophy Outreach Program is an after-school project designed to engage middle and high school students in philosophical discourse. A collaboration between the Philosophy and Education Program at Teachers College and the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University, the Program currently involves eight high schools in New York City. Its faculty sponsors are Professors David Hansen and Megan Laverty at TC, and Professors Philip Kitcher and Achille Varzi at Columbia. The Outreach Program’s teachers visit the schools in pairs, one student each from TC and Columbia, in order to engage middle and high school students in philosophical inquiry. Tim Ignaffo and Guillermo Marini, who are Philosophy and Education Ph.D. students and co-founders of the program, say that the collaboration between TC and Columbia has proved to be an exceptional opportunity for benefiting school communities.
In justifying the program, Guillermo points out that most high school students throughout Latin America and Europe study philosophy. These experiences have inspired many international students in TC’s Program of Philosophy and Education to pursue the field as a career. He wonders if this opportunity “happened to American students, what might it lead them to?”
The Philosophy Outreach Program believes that adolescents are in a wonderful place to begin studying philosophy, as the decisions many of them make at that age about life, self, work and college are closely related to universal questions addressed by philosophy. Tim Ignaffo, who is currently the coordinator of the Outreach Program, suggests that young people ask themselves difficult questions about life’s meaning and purpose. Providing students arguments and the vocabulary to discuss these questions can be very empowering. He also notes that at a certain point in these discussions a realization dawns that “the questions that are popping up in my head have been engaged by every generation.” Students’ testimonials about their enjoyment of philosophy have increased participation in the Program at every school. The Outreach Program’s teachers have also been invited to be guest lecturers in some of the high school classrooms, speaking, for example, to science and English classes.