Programs for Young People

Philosophers in the Schools

Description

Philosophers in the Schools

PLATO’s “Philosophers in the Schools” program introduces young students in Seattle-area classrooms to philosophy in classes led by PLATO philosophy instructors and UW students. We use children’s literature and a wide range of activities to encourage curiosity and wonder and inspire exploration of some of life’s essential and unsettled questions, such as: Who am I? Is justice possible? What is a good life?

Young people are eager for engagement about the big questions that matter to them, and encouraging this interest helps them learn to trust their own ideas and questions. Because of its emphasis on constructing well-reasoned arguments, anticipating alternative points of view, and thinking analytically, there is no better education than philosophy for learning to think well. It is imperative that children develop the critical thinking and listening skills necessary for participation in a democratic society. 

Philosophy sessions create a community of philosophical inquiry — an intellectually safe environment, in which students develop confidence in expressing their own perspectives, listen to one another, and challenge and build on one another’s thinking. We are not teaching philosophy to young people — we are doing philosophy with them. These young philosophers come to appreciate that there are many ways to understand the world and that their own voices are uniquely valuable.

 
Philosophers-in-Residence

In 2013 the Philosopher-in-Residence project was launched in the Seattle School District at John Muir Elementary School with a grant from the Squire Family Foundation. The program expanded in 2018 to Thurgood Marshall Elementary School with help from additional donor support.  These are culturally diverse K-5 schools in Seattle’s south end; many of these students are among those least likely to have access to academic enrichment programs.

The philosopher-in-residence project helped to develop strong and sustainable philosophy programs in these schools by creating ongoing relationships with faculty members and staff, many of whom have engaged in professional development opportunities, and have attended summer workshops at UW.  Parents are also involved.    

As a result, both schools now offer philosophy in multiple classrooms across many grade levels, enabling students to benefit from philosophy discussions throughout their elementary school careers and fostering a philosophical culture throughout the schools.

Thanks to the success of the philosopher-in-residence project, PLATO hopes to launch similar programs in schools in Seattle and around the country.

 
University of Washington Students

UW graduate and undergraduate students who take Philosophy for Children courses learn to “do” philosophy with young students by facilitating discussions on issues such as the nature of ethics, art, freedom, time, knowledge, and identity. These courses emphasize the “community of philosophical inquiry” model, according to which elementary school students are encouraged to ask their own questions, develop views and articulate reasons for them, and learn from one another. The emphasis is on learning by doing. 

UW students then placed in local schools where they facilitate discussions on subjects such as the nature of art, freedom, time, knowledge, and other topics, supervised and mentored by experienced instructors. These placements take place in part through partnerships developed with the University of Washington’s Riverways Education Partnerships, an outreach program that connects students with tutoring and mentoring opportunities in local schools, and the University of Washington College of Education

What Students Say

“I understand my own thoughts so much better after philosophy!”
– Ten-year-old philosophy student
 
“I now have a more refined ability to look at the things I think and do and say and figure out why I act the way that I do.  I think this ability is extremely useful because it provides a new way of viewing oneself that can help me become a better person in the long run.”
– High School philosophy student
 
“A lot of things are possible. A lot more things than we think.”
– Nine-year-old philosophy student
 
“I really like how it makes people think in a somewhat new way, such as looking inside, instead of just looking out.  It’s a different kind of thought process.”
– High School philosophy student  
 
“There are no barriers in our minds we can think of anything.” 
– Eight-year-old philosophy student
 

 

                                         

What Teachers Say

“Philosophy has been an authentic way to connect the children and their thoughts about the world, allowing for meaningful conversations. I have seen significant social and emotional development throughout the year, which I believe has been positively influenced by the philosophy sessions.”
— Second grade teacher at John Muir Elementary School, Seattle

“I have watched students who never participate in anything at school become excited and exuberant over the chance to express their ideas.”
— Teacher at Nova High School, Seattle

“Philosophy in my first grade classroom has been a powerful means through which my students have been able to wrestle with questions and express their thoughts in a safe yet challenging environment.”
— First grade teacher at John Muir Elementary School, Seattle

“In philosophy my students have learned to listen to others’ ideas and add to them or disagree respectfully.  I hear students who hardly raise their hands in class give intelligent, thought-out opinions or challenge others’ ideas.”
— Fourth grade teacher at Whittier Elementary School, Seattle

When teachers have ongoing philosophy sessions in their classrooms, frequently they become inspired to make philosophy part of their curriculum. This can happen either through regular sessions facilitated by PLATO personnel, or by teachers themselves following up with students to explore topics discussed in philosophy, eventually leading entire philosophy sessions on their own, and attending PLATO workshops for more training.

Zoom Philosophy Classes

Description

Our online classes explore some of life’s big questions, including topics such as friendship and loneliness, the treatment of animals, boredom and creativity, the environment, identity, and happiness. We use books, videos, games, and thought experiments to inspire discussions of the questions that matter to us.

Continuing students are welcome! Each series will use different prompts and explore different questions.

Philosophical inquiry is often valued for the way it promotes critical thinking. Just as important, it nurtures other essential skills, including empathy, creativity, civil dialogue, listening, and open-mindedness.

A typical one-hour session begins with the introduction of a prompt. Students then generate questions that the prompt inspires them to wonder about, and they choose the one that they would most like to discuss. The rest of the session is spent exploring the philosophical ideas involved in that question. No homework is involved.

We encourage students to help guide the direction of the conversation, and we use a combination of small group and larger group discussion formats.

To learn about our success doing philosophy online with children and youth, read this New York Times article.

Schedule of Classes

Online classes will resume in autumn 2022. Information will be posted here in early September.

 

What Students Say

Registration and Payment

Online classes will resume in autumn 2022. Information will be posted here in early September.

Register Here








    Family Programs

    Description

    As part of our commitment to expanding access to philosophy with young people, PLATO organizes events specifically geared towards families. These events are free, open to the public, and located in accessible community locations (such as libraries and public schools).

    Families are welcome to bring children of all ages to these events where we provide snacks and drinks and create an inter-generational community of philosophical inquiry. After briefly introducing attendees to philosophy with young people, we facilitate a philosophical discussion using a prompt that is appropriate for a wide variety of age groups.

    Past prompts have included the picture books The Other Side (Woodson), Gaston (DePucchio), Why? (Camp), The Big Orange Splot (Pinkwater), and The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend (Santat), and an activity about happiness. Following the prompt, we facilitate a philosophical discussion in much the same way we do in classrooms around the country.

    These programs empower families to engage philosophically with their children at home— while reading, working on homework, doing chores around the house, or any time a deep question arises. For families who have students in schools served by our philosophers-in-the-schools program, they get a glimpse of the deep and enriching discussions their students are experiencing in philosophy during their school day and gain tools for continuing those discussions once the children are home.

    Contact

    For more information, contact info@plato-philosophy.org.