Journal of Educational Controversy


Monday, February 22, 2010

Philosophy for Adolescents : the Teachers College Philosophy Outreach Program

Author David Hansen, whose article, A Response to a New Book about Maxine Greene’s Philosophy, appears in our current issue of journal, writes to tell us about a new project between the Philosophy and Education Program at Teachers College and the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University that is engaging young adolescents in the wonderful world of philosophy. David points out that most high school students throughout Latin America and Europe study philosophy . One wonders why such an important discipline is largely missing in U.S. schools. David describes the project below:

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.

The Program is supported by recurring grants from The Squire Foundation, as well as from the Teaching Center at Columbia and the Arts and Humanities Department at TC. The Squire Foundation’s long-term goal is for U.S. schools to follow the European and Latin American example, making philosophy part of the core curriculum in all high schools. Though Guillermo and Tim appreciate that this goal is “extremely ambitious,” they note the recent adoption of philosophy as a required course in Ontario, Canada. To further their aims, the students in the Outreach Program are organizing a conference for this coming October, 2010, on teaching philosophy in schools.


Dr. S. L. Anderson said...

Drs. Hansen and Laverty are excellent people to be undertaking such a thing (and I can say nothing against the others, since I have not met them.) As one of the people in the forefront of the Ontario program, I can offer a few insights on the effect of Philosophy on adolescent learning.

Firstly, I would argue that it has an important corrective effect against the intellectually paralyzing relativism regnant in media and in our political discourse.

Secondly, I see it as providing important logical "tools" by which students can do all sorts of work they care about. And they do care -- in my experience, adolescents are not only *capable,* but actually *long* to undertake philosophical tasks of many kinds.

Lastly, I have found that teachers in many subjects tell me that they can quickly recognize students who are in, or who have been in the philosophy course, by the quality of their thought and the care they show in shaping their own views.

I would suggest that an after-school program is not going far enough; we ought to regard the promoting of philosophy in high schools as a general educational objective like literacy and numeracy.

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