Sunday, December 16, 2012

HS Ethics Bowl at Stevens Institute of Technology

L to R: Josh Davis, Phoebe Mattana, Joe Murphy, Jamie Spingeld, Matt Wang
at Stevens Institute of Technology

The Stevens Institute Ethics Bowl on Saturday 12/15/12 was a great experience for my students. It was Dwight-Englewood School’s first. Now we have one under our belts and will proceed to deepen our knowledge and practice.

I had been skeptical of Ethics Bowl events, competitions. My a priori opinion was that they were competitive events similar to high school competitive debates in which an affirmative or a negative side is defended regardless of one’s own real considered view. One in which a position is defended because it is the one assigned to the speaker or her team.  I imagined them to be more argumentative for the sake of it and positional rather than open, sincerely considered, and reasoned philosophically. I was wrong. Ethics Bowls are competitions, yes, but they are genuine, well reasoned and philosophical. They are competitions in which both competitive sides may actually agree, bow to the other’s greater reasoning or, perhaps, adopt the opponent’s argument and try to further it. Their energy and excitement, even maybe their passion is competitive, but their spirit, their deeper motivation and reasoning is philosophical to the best of their pre-collegiate, adolescent, but intelligent ability.

I am grateful to Roberta Israeloff of the Squire Family Foundation for being persistent with me. She listened to my a priori skepticism about Ethics Bowl competitions and understood and paid attention to some of my concerns. But she was gently tenacious.  After about a year of discussions, Roberta invited me to judge an Ethics Bowl event at Malloy College on Long Island in New York. I did that last year. I came away not only with an understanding of Ethics Bowls, but with enthusiasm for their goals and the process. Also, I can now imagine what the High School Ethics Bowl may become and how it may evolve. I appreciate it now and am committed to its further development.

The week after I returned from Malloy College I spoke to one of my students. Josh Davis had taken my Ethics course that year as a sophomore – it’s a required course for all sophomores at Dwight-Englewood. In a Friday afternoon conversation I briefly explained to Josh what an Ethics Bowl is, as I had come to understand it. I gave him an essay about it and a few websites addresses with videos for him to watch over the weekend. I told him to take a look at the essay or one of the videos. If he found himself becoming intrigued, pursue it, I encouraged him. Then talk to me on Monday if you're interested. When Josh came in to see me on Monday, he asked me how we could form a Ethics Bowl team at our school. He was intrigued and I smiled.

We created an Ethics Bowl Club through the normal channels at school. Josh recruited more than 20 club members. About half of them have become serious members. Since September we've been meeting once or twice a week. The most serious members read two books I recommended (a brief history of philosophy and an introduction to ethics beyond the book we used in our sophomore course). They also watched college and high school videos about Ethics Bowls and some actual events. We talked a lot and eventually started to prepare some cases for the Ethics Bowl at Stevens.

On Saturday, 15 December, there were 18 teams that came together at Stevens to ‘compete’. Each ‘debate’ or formalized dialogue could end in a win, tie, or lose. Beyond that, teams were also assigned points for various aspect of their discussion style and philosophical argumentation. I will quote from the Stevens Institute of Technology HS Ethics Bowl description of How to Debate. This is found on the SIT website. Dr. Michael Steinmann is the director of the Ethics Bowl at Stevens.

“Discussions are not structured as pro/con debates. Therefore, teams do not have to defend one specific position, and they also do not have to disagree. Rather, they have to compete in their analysis of the problem and in bringing about the best answer or solution. A team's performance will be judged according to the following criteria:
·         Clarity of the presentation
·         Awareness of the complexity of ethical problems involved in each case
·         Feasibility of practical solutions
·         Creativity in imagining the different stakeholder concerns related to a case, and in presenting a solution that is both sensitive to these concerns and opens a new way of thinking or acting
·         Capacity to engage in a fruitful and serious discussion with the other team and the judges.”

Of the 18 teams who met at Stevens on this Saturday in 2012, only four had two wins each. D-E was one of them. The 18 teams were divided into two groups, one of eight and the other of ten teams. Group 1 had two teams with two wins each: Middlesex 1 with 92 points and Piscataway 1 with 91 points. Group 2 had two teams with two wins each: Middlesex 2 with 96 points and Dwight-Englewood with 93 points. So, depending on how one looks at this, D-E placed either second – with number of wins and points – or third – because the top team from each group debated in the final. But there were also two schools with one win and one tie each with high point scores, too: Ridge 1 and Ridge 2 with 101 and 97 points respectively. Middlesex 1 and Middlesex 2 did the final debate. Middlesex 1 will go to the National Competition in North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the spring of 2013.

But for us at D-E more important than any of the competition was the actual preparation in ethical thinking and discussion at school and also the consideration we gave to the cases. Finally, the actual formal discussion/dialogue/debate between the two teams at the event deepened our team's thoughts about the ethical problems presented in each of the cases and about the language and concepts we used to address the problems. After the event was over we started to do some self-reflection that took into consideration our own thoughts, feelings, values, language style and conceptual framing of the problems and the event. We'll continue this and deepen it in our Ethics Bowl Club meeting on Monday.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Appointment to APA Committee

I have just been appointed to an APA committee that is relevant to my daily work and to this blog:

"Dear Joseph Murphy:
I am writing to give you formal notice that the American Philosophical Association’s board of officers has appointed you to a  term as member of the APA’s Committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy, starting on July 1, 2013 and ending June 30, 2016. Congratulations on this honor!
Please note that only members in good standing of the APA are eligible to serve on APA committees, and thus all members of APA committees are expected to pay membership dues in full and on time for each year of their committee service. If you have any questions about this policy or anything else related to your committee appointment, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
You have the sincere thanks of the board of officers for your willingness to serve the APA in this way. I look forward to working with you in your capacity on the committee.
All the best,
Amy E. Ferrer
Executive Director
The American Philosophical Association "

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

IPO Oslo 2012 on Euronews TV

I am in Salamanca, Spain this month leading a group of students at the University of Salamanca. So I haven’t had much time to write for this blog, but recently I’ve received notice about a Euronews TV program in which the IPO Oslo 2012 event was highlighted. It is a good, general overview of the Olympiad in Oslo this year with some nice video clips. I hope you enjoy it.

If you want to see what I’m doing in Salamanca (USAL), you can go to my Twitter account @Salamazing or to my facebook page. On fb look for JoseLuisMurphy. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

High School Philosophy in the USA?

Some of the IPO 2012 Int'l. students at Frogner Park, Oslo. 
There is a lot of creative energy that is a result of this year’s International Philosophy Olympiad (IPO). The 39 countries that have participated in Oslo are supplying country specific information about pre-college philosophy data to the IPO Webmaster. This information is also going into pages on Wikipedia and, potentially, to other media.

I am the American Delegation Leader to the IPO and, therefore, the source of the data from the USA. Because of the limitations on my volunteer organization (essentially me at the moment) and time, I supply what information I have at almost a moment’s notice off the top of my head to the IPO. I have just done this for a page that we are creating on the organization of teaching philosophy in high schools around the world. But this blog post, more than a report, is a request for help from my countrymen who are working to advance the teaching of philosophy in schools before university.

One of my colleagues at the IPO in Oslo last month asked me the following question. “Why is it that in a country (the USA) that has such an important and creative philosophy profession, there is so little philosophy taught in the high schools?” It is an embarrassing question. It has to do with our culture, our educational system, and, actually, with some assumptions made by some of our very own professional philosophers! But, fortunately, some of us are working very hard and, I’d even say, dedicating our lives to changing this. I remember a conversation I had with Matthew Lipman in the mid 1970’s at Montclair State College. He was mentoring me as I was teaching a course in Philosophy for Children to fifth graders. They were the early days of the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children. He told me that children already have genuine philosophical questions. We teachers have to help children pursue their questions by giving them the language and method to discuss them well. And, by listening carefully and following their train of thought while gently guiding them in a true line of inquiry. This is also real Socratic dialogue. It seems to me to be irresponsible of the adult community in our society not to help our young develop the true philosophical thought that they are already struggling to pursue.

But, as I have said, this post is a request for help. Please read what I have supplied (below) to the IPO Webmaster and send me information that you think should be included. You can do that by commenting at the end of this post or by emailing me at Thank you, colleagues!     

The actual request for information from the IPO came in the following form of topics on which to respond.


The following is a version of the information from the USA that is being added to an IPO Wikipedia page. This is how I responded to the IPO request today.

Organization of Teaching Philosophy in High Schools
Overview from Participating Countries at IPO Oslo 2012


            There are no national or even state required philosophy courses taught in high schools in the USA. There are some philosophy and ethics courses taught in some high schools across the country, but they are created and taught by particular schools.

Two examples of schools in which philosophy and ethics courses are taught are the following.

Dwight-Englewood School in New Jersey

Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York

There are, however, groups or associations that have as their mission to create and / or promote philosophy and / or ethics courses or clubs for high schools. Here is a very brief list of some of them.

The American Philosophical Association’s Committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy and PLATO-Pre-college Philosophy, a facebook page:

The Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children at Montclair State University in New Jersey

The Squire Family Foundation, Advancing Philosophy Education

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What is the International Philosophy Olympiad?

IPO Students & some teachers in 2012 at Oslo Handelsgymnasium.

The International Philosophy Olympiad (IPO) is an annual essay writing competition for high school students from around the world. Students and philosophy teachers from as many as 40 countries gather in a different host country each year and have done so since 1993. The main event is the four-hour student essay writing completion, on one of four philosophical topics written in one of four languages; English, French, German or Spanish. Any one of these languages may be chosen except the student’s national language. So, for example, a Frenchman may not write in French. In Vienna in 2011, the two students from the USA wrote in Spanish.

To quote from the IPO Website (

“The objectives of the IPO are:
- to promote philosophical education at the secondary school level and increase the interest of high school pupils in philosophy;
- to encourage the development of national, regional, and local contests in philosophy among pre-university students worldwide;
- to contribute to the development of critical, inquisitive and creative thinking;
- to promote philosophical reflection on science, art, and social life;
- to cultivate the capacity for ethical reflection on the problems of the modern world; and,
- by encouraging intellectual exchanges and securing opportunities for personal contacts between young people from different countries, to promote the culture of peace.”

The United States has participated in the IPO six times in the 20 years of IPO history including Vienna 2011 ( and Oslo 2012 ( Before Vienna 2011, the USA competed four times until 2003. In 2001the IPO was hosted by the USA in Philadelphia. From 2003 until 2011, however, the USA did not participate.

This is the front of the IPO presentation area at Oslo Handelsgymnasium.

As I have written recently for the IPO Website about the IPO national selection process in the USA, prior to 2010 I was unaware of the IPO. At the 2009 December conference meeting of the American Philosophical Association (APA), Eastern Division (of which I have been a member since about 2007) I met with APA executive director, David Schrader. I told David about the curriculum for a course I was creating; A History of Western Philosophy taught in Spanish for American high school students in their last two years before university. Over the next year, the course was approved by the Curriculum Committee at Dwight-Englewood School (D-E). I began to teach this course in 2010. At the APA December conference that year, I updated David who then told me about the IPO. As I discovered, William L. McBride, president of the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés de Philosophie (FISP) and David Schrader had been discussing ways to reanimate the US philosophy community to re-enter the IPO competitions. Adding Spanish as an official IPO language was seen to be a possible key to doing this. Spanish was added to English, French and German on a trial basis before IPO Vienna 2011. At the IPO Oslo 2012 business meeting, Prof. Mc Bride formally proposed that Spanish be added to the only three previously official languages. It was approved overwhelmingly and is now the fourth official IPO language.

After 2003 there has been no US National Competition to prepare for IPO. In order to participate in IPO Vienna 2011, I chose two of my best philosophy students who also studied Spanish at D-E. I interpreted the regulations of IPO very strictly and chose two non-Hispanics to form the US Delegation. (I had students who were heritage speakers of Spanish born in the USA. I did not ask them to apply. I now believe that a more liberal interpretation of the IPO regulations might be possible.) Together my two students and I formed the 2011 US Delegation with the blessing of APA. This kind of selection is allowed by IPO regulations for countries that are newly entering the international competition. It is not, however, a condoned, long-term methodology.

The preparation for IPO Vienna 2011 was limited in time and format since I was only aware of it as a real possibility since December of 2010. We did have the help and support of both the APA and FISP. David Schrader at the APA and Bill McBride at FISP were invaluable in their support and guidance. They have continued to be supportive in the preparation for IPO Oslo 2012. Beyond this, I hope they will support and guide me as I prepare a proposal to create a format, set of standards, a plan and strategy for competition management, communication and grading for a United States Philosophy Olympiad (USPO).

I was de facto leader in the new participation of the USA in IPO 2011. I am now the official US Delegation Leader. As a member of both the International Committee and the International Jury of the IPO, I vote at annual IPO business meetings and am a reader and judge of IPO essays in English and Spanish, but obviously not the essays of my own or any US students.

Some IPO Philosophy teachers after reporting essay marks in Oslo.

I will continue to work now to development the necessary infrastructure and organization to establish an ongoing USPO. I am also working toward developing sponsorship to pay for the travel expenses for a maximum two US students, one teacher and one delegation leader in future IPO annual competitions. In-country expenses at the host country site of the annual IPO event is paid for by the hosts. I anticipate the continuing non-financial support of the APA and the cooperation and partnership of the APA committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy. The development of a national philosophy essay contest for American high school students is under way through the partnership of various organizations. I will discuss this further as well as local and regional essay contests in a near future blog post. In the months leading up to IPO Vienna 2011, I created a blog ( to be a hub of information and communication about pre-university education in philosophy in the USA, but also to be the source of information, thinking and communication about the US participation in the IPO.

Before Oslo, one student contacted me through my blog and I identified two students out of a pool of ten at D-E as possible US IPO candidates. But, of course, there remained the travel financing problem that we will have until we find serious and on-going financial sponsorship. So far the travel expenses have been paid by the families of the student participants and from D-E for the delegation leader. The one student who contacted me from Virginia fell out of communication after February 2011. He had read my blog and had been in email communication with me to request information about possible participation on the US team in Oslo. Throughout this academic year my own students were very interested and excited about the possibility of participating as a part of the US Delegation to Oslo. Unfortunately, neither of my two students was able to finally commit to participation this year. One of them advised me before my invitation to her that she could not participate. Since the other student had indicated high interest – I had met with her parents – I had assumed she would participate once invited and I was working under this assumption while making my own plans as the U.S. Delegation Leader, but as the absolute deadline approached, the candidate told me of a scheduling conflict. She ultimately could not attend.  Under these extraordinary circumstances and since I was already the official American IPO Delegate, I actually did participate in IPO Oslo 2011 as both an International Committee member and as a member of the International Jury.
Once the USPO organization is established, I have no doubt the number of students who will want to compete will grow and we will have at least a regional if not a national USPO essay competition from which we will choose two students to participate in IPO Denmark 2013.

The IPO essay contest and its various local, regional and national contests is one way of promoting and motivating pre-college philosophy instruction and explicit academic activity in the United States. The international aspect of it adds an important linguistic and intercultural dimension to the whole enterprise, which has both intrinsic and extrinsic value. To see a group of high school students from nearly 40 countries speaking scores of languages while sharing perspectives, music, stories and having fun together seems to be an event that can be transcendental in their lives.

Please consider becoming a follower of this blog by joining this site. By the way, I would love to read your comments. 

Now, to end, take a look at the assessment criteria we use at the IPO.  

IPO Essay Assessment Criteria.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Anticipating IPO Oslo 2012

This is IPO XX!

Pre-College Philosophy students and their teachers from 39 countries will be gathering in Oslo, Norway between May 16th and 20th for the twentieth meeting of the International Philosophy Olympiad. Here's the link: For ten of these countries, this is their first participation. They include China, Guatemala Nigeria and Spain, to name a few. The United States participated last year sending two students and one teacher to Vienna, Austria. You may see a report on this event in one of my previous posts in this blog. This year the delegation of the USA is constituted by only one teacher, last year's delegation leader, yours truly.

I will be participating in the IPO 2012 as a member of the International Committee and the International Jury. There are no students going this year. The US student who was chosen to go had a conflict. It was too late to make another decision. This points to the lack of a US national IPO infrastructure and organization. Writing this blog is one of the ways in which I am working to build the infrastructure and organization we need to create and sustain a US national philosophy Olympiad. My presence at Oslo this year is important to continue the momentum begun last year with our participation in the IPO 2011.

We need a national essay writing contest. I am in communication with Barbara Israeloff, Director of the Squire Family Foundation (, to create such an essay contest.

We need a national infrastructure and organization. I am a member of the American Philosophical Association and have been in communication with the Committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy, to which I have submitted my membership nomination. There is a lot to do, but the work has begun.

Since all IPO essays must be written in a language other than the student's national language (for the US that would be either French, German or Spanish, three of the four IPO official languages), I will be in contact with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), an organization in which I have been a member in the past as a language teacher and a language department chair.

Sponsorship: We also need one or more sponsors to finance all the American IPO efforts including travel to host countries for the IPO, annually. Host countries always pay all expenses for a national delegation's participation, but the visiting national delegation must pay for its own travel. For IPO Vienna 2011, the two American students paid their travel expenses and Dwight-Englewood School ( paid the travel expenses of the Delegation Leader. (Full disclosure: I am the Ethics [& Philosophy] Department Chair at D-E) Dwight-Englewood is also paying for my travel expenses this year! But we need an organized and sustaining sponsorship for the students and the teacher going forward.

I will be leaving for Oslo on May 15 and returning on May 21st. I'll be blogging from there to keep you informed. I'll include pictures, too. That's all for now, but I'd love to read your comments.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Savater's History of Philosophy for HS Students

Me gusta este articulo que acabo de encontrar acerca del libro de Savater. Leemos este libro en mi asignatura de la historia de la filosofía en en Dwight-Englewood School en EEUU. Este articulo da muy buena idea de la meta de este libro y unas de las razones porque lo he escojido para leer en mi asignatura. Vea más abajo elenlace al articulo.

(I like this article about Savater's book. I have just come across it. I use this book in my History of Philosophy course at Dwight-Englewood School, which I teach in Spanish. The article gives the reader a good idea about Savater's goal and some of the reasons why I use the book in my class. Over the next few years I hope to help to inspire American high school teachers to teach a courses something like this in their own schools. I will be talking to Spanish teachers through ACTFL and pre-college philosophy teachers through various venues including the APA. Take a look at the article – it’s in Spanish. The link follows.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

IPO US Delegation Report to APA

(l to r) Andy Loeshelle, Bill McBride, Joe Murphy, David Schrader & Sandy Schrader after the presentation at the APA  

The Squire Family Foundation has posted my PowerPoint report from US Delegation to the American Philosophical Association on the International Philosophy Olympiad, Vienna 2011. SFF believes, as I do, "... that all students should have the opportunity to study philosophy before graduating from high school." My PPT is the skeleton of actual report, but you can get a good idea of what the IPO Vienna 2011 was like for our US national delegation. I'll flesh it out soon and post it on this blog. Meantime, take a look at it on the SFF website.