Learn about the established and successful Iowa Lyceum Program, which runs a pre-college philosophy camp each summer for high school students at the University of Iowa.
PLATO: Can you describe what the Iowa Lyceum program is all about?
Iowa Lyceum: We are a group of philosophers who introduce critical reasoning and philosophy to pre-college students in the area through a free, five-day summer program. Our primary aim is to get pre-college students interested in philosophy
PLATO: What does your pre-college philosophy summer camp generally look like?
Iowa Lyceum: An Iowa Lyceum day is broken into four forty-five minute sessions. Each session is related to a theme for that year: in 2016, our theme was philosophy and society, and to that end, we had sessions on propaganda, charitable giving, Mill’s Harm Principle, and related issues. The year before that, our theme was science and technology. Every year we have students do a critical reasoning component as well as a final presentation.
PLATO: How did you come up with the idea for a pre-college philosophy camp?
Iowa Lyceum: When some folks in the philosophy graduate program at Iowa heard about the Illinois Lyceum, it inspired them to start a sister program. The Iowa Lyceum, a sister program of the Illinois Lyceum, was co-founded by Kris Phillips and Greg Stoutenburg in 2013.
PLATO: Can you tell me a little bit about the Illinois Lyceum program in which your program is based?
Iowa Lyceum: The Illinois Lyceum was founded in 2010 by Alexis Dyschkant and James Jeffries with the mission of providing a unique kind of education to Champaign-Urbana’s youth – philosophical evaluation and critical thinking. In 2011, Illinois Lyceum debuted as a summer philosophy academic program for local high school students.
PLATO: Why did you believe it is important to offer high school students the opportunity to learn and do philosophy?
Iowa Lyceum: Through the service we offer to the students, we think the program contributes to the life of the philosophy department, of the University of Iowa, of Iowa City, and of the state of Iowa. This is because we believe philosophizing is valuable in itself, especially when one notes that a great portion of philosophy is critically thinking for oneself. There is good evidence that philosophizing has lots of practical benefits too.
PLATO: How did you go about creating the program and getting the University of Iowa on board?
Iowa Lyceum: It took a little time to find the right people at the University, but it took virtually no effort to convince the University of Iowa that the program would be worthwhile. These are the steps we took:
- Find a faculty sponsor for the program
- Secure funding for the program
- Receive the necessary approvals from the university to host the program
- Create a program proposal and get it approved by the university’s Summer Programs committee
Everyone we met was enthusiastic about the project and the University of Iowa has from the start pointed to the Lyceum to indicate what successful humanities outreach initiatives look like.
PLATO: Who runs the Iowa Lyceum program?
Iowa Lyceum: Our pre-college philosophy program is organized by graduate students in the philosophy departmen at the University of Iowa. Graduate students do the logistical work and present many of the sessions, but we are grateful that our philosophy faculty teach a number of sessions every year.
PLATO: Who can attend the pre-college philosophy camp each summer?
Iowa Lyceum: Any high school student from the community can register to participate in our summer programming at no cost. The University of Iowa has given us their much-needed financial support for the program, which helps us keep the Iowa Lyceum free to Iowa’s students.
PLATO: How do you structure your pre-college philosphy camp?
Iowa Lyceum: One of our co-founders, Kris Phillips, founded the Utah Lyceum program and has since written about the different approaches to introducing pre-college students to philosophy. Here is a rough summary of what Kris’ analysis tells us:
This is the approach followed mainly by the Iowa Lyceum Program, and focuses on developing skills through broad philosophical topics. For example, we focus on building analytical skills, like producing counterexamples as a way of helping students internalize the critical mindset of a philosopher and engaged citizen.
The downside of this big picture approach is that we may not fully introduce students to the primary writings of famous philosophers (and some students are eager to read Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, or Plato). The “big picture” approach focuses more on the broader issues within philosophy and the skills of philosophizing, rather than on a particular philosopher’s position or theory.
This is the approach followed mainly by the Utah Lyceum Program, and focuses on developing an understanding of philosophical texts and theories. This is typically done by structuring a day around a short reading assigned the night before. The day is spent analyzing, discussing and comparing ideas within and across short excerpts of philosophical texts. Students are able to learn what philosophers think about particular issues as well as develop their own ideas about the topics.
The downside of this text based approach is that it can sometimes be overwhelming to students; especially finding the time to do the reading homework each night. The Iowa Lyceum tried this approach for one day of our summer program, and thought that integrating it with our big picture approach was valuable.
PLATO: What have your learned from running your program that could be helpful for others who may want to start a Lyceum of their own?
Iowa Lyceum: The entire week was quite intense for both the teachers and the students, but there were a few things that really stood out to us as highlights from our time together:
PLATO: Will you be offering camp again next year?
Iowa Lyceum: Yes, we plan to have a Lyceum in 2017! Once the spring semester arrives, you can check our website for our 2017 theme and updates to the schedule. And any pre-college Lyceum alumni are welcome to return!
PLATO: How can people get involved (if they are not high school students)?
Iowa Lyceum: We are not looking for help with Iowa Lyceum program at this time BUT we would be happy to assist others in starting Lyceums in their own neighborhoods! Anyone eager to start a Lyceum should feel free to contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PLATO would like to thank Landon, Nik, Greg & Kris for taking the time to contribute to this blog post and for sharing his program’s insights on running a Lyceum pre-college philosophy program.
Iowa Lyceum Program Leadership:
Landon Elkind is a PhD student at the University of Iowa and is the current President of the Iowa Lyceum Program.
Nik Maggos is a PhD student at the University of Iowa and is the current Director of the Iowa Lyceum Program.
Greg Stoutenburg and Kris Phillips are the original co-founders of the Iowa Lyceum Program at the University of Iowa.
Photo Credits: Greg Stoutenburg