Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Bridge Between American Pre-College Philosophers and the International Philosophy Olympiad

IPO 2011 students in the quad at the University of Vienna.

I have just written a post for the PLATO-Pre-college Philosophy email list and its Facebook group page about the IPO Vienna 2011. I thought I’d put a version of it here, too. Since I lead the US Delegation to the IPO Vienna 2011 in May, I am seeing one of my roles as a pre-college philosopher as a bridge between American pre-college philosophy and pre-college philosophy outside the United States.

PLATO-P-CP was inspired by the first conference of the PLATO: Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization that was held at Columbia University last month. I will quote PLATO’s mission statement here as Jana Mohr Lone (Chair of the APA Committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy) has stated it on the FB page:  

“PLATO (Philosophy and Learning Organization) is dedicated to being a national voice for advocating the introduction of philosophy into pre-college classrooms and to connecting the education and philosophy communities through programs, resource-sharing and the development of a national network of those working in pre-college philosophy.”1

After a ten year absence, the USA was represented at the International Philosophy Olympiad in Vienna this year. The IPO is a philosophical essay writing competition for high school students of philosophy from around the world. Each participating nation is permitted to send two students to compete. It was my great honor and pleasure to lead the US Delegation to the IPO Vienna 2011. With the support of the American Philosophical Association (, I brought two American high school students – Kelly Greiss and Andrew Loeshelle – to Vienna in May.

Early this year, I was thrilled to hear about the PLATO-Pre-college Philosophy conference to be held at Columbia University. It couldn’t have been more convenient for me since I live only about 20 minutes away from CU in Teaneck, NJ. I teach Philosophy and Ethics at Dwight-Englewood School where I chair the Ethics (and Philosophy) Department. During the summer, however, I lead a five week academic immersion trip to Spain. We left on June 24th. I am writing this now from Salamanca, Spain where I have 33 students studying at the third oldest university in Europe, the Universidad de Salamanca, founded in 1218. (By the way, both Kelly and Andrew did summer immersion programs at USAL in Cursos Internacionales.)

I asked my colleague at Dwight-Englewood, Ben Fleisher, to represent us at the PLATO conference. Ben is the linchpin from the D-E Ethics Department in our Middle School, where we have a budding HomeBase Ethics Program beginning its third year in September. Ben will give me his impressions in person in September, but in the meantime, he wrote two guest blogs from the conference, which you may find below in June 30th and June 28th posts in this blog.

There were thirty countries from three continents represented at the IPO in Vienna this year. Sixty-four students competed and there were at least fifty teachers and professors of philosophy leading students and organizing the Olympiad. My roommate was a Rumanian philosopher who also works at the Ministry of Education in his country. One night, another Rumanian philosopher, a Turkish philosopher and I went to an Austrian Kneipe for a beer. They were two of the original founders of the IPO. In our conversation I discovered that Matthew Lipman was a major inspiration of the IPO. It was an emotional moment for me to see major events in my life come full circle: I worked directly with Matt – he was my mentor – teaching Philosophy for Children in the mid 1970’s and now I was leading the American Delegation to the IPO in 2011, which he inspired.

A meeting of some of the Delegation leaders at IPO Vienna 2011
In a nutshell, the competition is a four-hour, blind essay writing contest. Students are given four topics from which to choose to write their philosophical essay directly in a language which is not the language of their state or nation. The languages in which a student may write are English, French, German and this year for the first time, Spanish. The students I brought wrote in Spanish. There is more about them in early posts in this blog.

There is much more to tell – about grading the essays, the students from 30 countries and how they got along, the winners, the languages, the topics, the philosophical walks through Vienna and Sacher Torte und Melange mit Schlag at Café Central, where the Vienna Circle used to meet – but I will do that over time in blogs and at the APA Eastern Division conference in Washington D. C. this December where the students I took to Vienna and I will present our experience of the IPO in Vienna to the APA community. In the meantime, take a look at the IPO website and read more in this blog, which will lead you to other sites and a world of information.

1You may click here to go to the PLATO site: