Thursday, June 30, 2011

PLATO Institute Pre-College Philosophy Conference: Part 2

It was amazing to see and hear all these professors and teachers speak for 2 days on the state of philosophy education in the country. It is an uphill battle, as it seems that many people in education don’t see the practical applications of teaching philosophy, but if this conference showed anything, it’s that there are many dedicated professionals out there with a passion for sharing big ideas and big questions with their students.

Today, Ethics did not come up in our discussions, but what was discussed were the mediums in which we could bring ethical, aesthetic, and metaphysical questions to students: children’s books. Though this theme was often repeated, it seems like a really good idea. Debora Tollofsen of the University of Memphis suggested the use of children’s books to discuss metaphysics, while Thomoas Wartenberg (Mount Holyoke) and Ariana Stokas (Bard College) suggest using art and the creation of art to spur students to think critically about what makes one piece of art good and another bad.

There was talk as well of developing models for the collaboration of middle and high school teachers with professors of philosophy. Also, the creation of Philosophy Outreach Programs seems like an interesting thing – philosophy grad and undergrad students going out to schools and discussion philosophy with students who would not normally encounter philosophy education in their everyday lives.

The trend here seems to be that we need to teach students about philosophy when they’re young and keep them reflecting on themselves and the big questions as they grow. This conference is hopefully the beginning of many. It is certainly an exciting time to be an educator.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

PLATO Institute Pre-College Philosophy Conference: Part 1

Today was the first day of the PLATO institute’s first conference at Columbia Teacher’s College. The 4 panel discussions covered the applications of Ethics, Epistemology, and Social and Political Philosophy in the classroom, but also the idea of developing Philosophical Sensitivity in teachers. This is the ability to pick out philosophical questions from curricular material as a way to integrate philosophical ideas into content discussions and promote reflection.

Basically, the day boiled down to these main points:

1) Teaching students to think critically and philosophically about their world should be an important part of schooling

2) Certain teachers should look towards developing their “philosophical awareness” or the ability to pick out philosophical questions from the material in his or her classes. Consequently, philosophy can be attached to pretty much any subject taught in schools. It’s all about finding the right questions to ask.

3) Teachers must be guides and facilitate a discussion, but the topics should be dictated by the students and their interests. The big ideas and big thinkers of history are there for the students to find at their behest. We, as teachers, can help guide the students to those questions using the students' own experience as a platform.

Also, there’s apparently something called a Philosopher in Residence at some schools, which totally blew my mind. This is a person who helps students and teachers find and develop philosophical ideas within the curricula, and are a resource to develop these discussions in the class itself. I'd love to see how this works in practice.

All in all, a good day with some excellent ideas. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s discussions.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Viennese Linguistic Polyphony

Barbara Conrad, Chair IPO Vienna 2011 & other IPO leaders
On our first day in Vienna, I walked into the IPO Meeting of the International Committee to a polyphony of languages. More than 50 philosophers from 30 countries gathered for our first planning session. Since I was in Vienna, I wondered what the 'official' language of the gatherings would be. German, French, English? Finally, Barbara Conrad, from the University of Vienna spoke up to begin the meeting. Now all the national languages  merged into a concert of major accents. I studied German in college and I can get by in French. I teach two philosophy courses in Spanish, but International English was music to my ears!

Over the next few days we would wonder, wander and walk all over Vienna together. I felt like we were some kind group of late medieval scholars who spoke Latin at their lectures, but their own vulgar languages when they had more intimate conversation with their compatriots. That alone was a wonderful experience.

Over the next weeks and months, I will write more about the International Philosophy Olympiad Vienna 2011. In December at the APA Eastern Division conference, the American students from the US Delegation to the IPO and I will describe and discuss our Viennese experience and International Pre-College Philosophy. In the meantime, the Columbia University Pre-College Philosophy Conference is about to begin. It will take place at CU during the last week of June. Since, most unfortunately, I cannot attend -- because I will be in Barcelona leading a group of 30 American students on an academic immersion trip with the University of Salamanca as our final destination and home away form home for a month -- my colleague, Ben Fleisher, will attend in my stead. He will be a guest blogger in this space and write about the Columbia Conference. Good luck to everyone at CU and to Ben.