Outreach: Open Minds by Brian Woods
Open Minds: Find Your Own Answers
Growing up, I was always incredibly curious about the world around me. But I never thought of this curiosity as philosophy. It just seemed like a natural part of life. Ask questions. Find out what’s true, what matters, and how to live a life of real value. To me, philosophy, the love of wisdom, is one of the best names we have for this sort of process. What is wisdom if not the ability to find the truth and meaning in life?
Sadly though, philosophy is often not seen as this beautiful process of seeking to understand life. Instead, it is frequently dismissed as an esoteric exercise conducted in ivory towers. Partially this is due to some intellectuals who act as though thinking about life is reserved for those who can tolerate an endless stream of opaque jargon. But it also is due to a failing of our educational system. So much of what is taught is about giving students the answers, and so little is about giving them the courage and the skills to find the answers for themselves.
Remedying that situation is our goal with Open Minds. For the past two years, we have worked with people across Harvard to develop and deliver our K-12 programming to local Boston schools that teaches students how to think instead of what to think. At the high school level, we focus on teaching students higher-order skills in analytical writing, logic, and argumentation. At the elementary level, we focus on building skills in critical inquiry, dialogue, reading comprehension and oral language and reasoning. Across the K-12 programming, Open Minds gives young people a safe and supportive space to have ethical and philosophical discussions regarding issues we face as a country, issues they face at their school, in their communities and in their personal lives.
We want to provide philosophy and ethics education that is useful, topical, relevant and engaging. We want to democratize education in thinking analytically, giving students the skills and courage to find their own answers in the classroom and in life. And we have followed through on this mission. As one of our students noted: “The Open Minds philosophy program was one of the highlights of my time [in high school]…Both you and this program have given me the opportunity to realize qualities and abilities in myself I didn’t even know I had.”
Currently, at Open Minds, we are incredibly excited about our newest method of outreach: online. We are planning on leveraging the lessons we have learned over the past two years of developing and offering our programming in Boston schools to create this online content. The Internet has immense potential to democratize and revolutionize education, and Open Minds is striving to be at the forefront of that movement.
We are in the process of developing our first online lesson, which will be a re-introduction to philosophy as something we all engage in that emanates from our natural curiosity about life. The lesson will also clarify where ethics fits into the picture. And it will provide an introduction to logic in the spirit of giving students the tools to more effectively question and find answers. Finally, it will draw on classic problems in philosophy and current topical issues such as gun control to give students a safe space to discuss their values.
If you have suggestions about what you’d like to see in this or future online lessons we’d love to hear from you at email@example.com. And check out our new website for our online curriculum project at openmindsnow.com. This will be a collaborative process to develop great content that helps students find their own answers. And everyone is welcome to contribute. We look forward to hearing from you.
Brian Wood is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Georgetown University and a co-founder of Open Minds. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org