Center for Philosophy for Children
In 1996 the Northwest Center for Philosophy for Children was established as an independent nonprofit organization in Seattle, Washington, by Jana Mohr Lone, its founder and director. That year, working with David Shapiro, she started the Philosophers in the Schools program and ran the organization’s first workshop for teachers at the University of Washington. In 1997, the Center became affiliated with the UW Department of Philosophy.
Over the next 25 years, the Center developed undergraduate and graduate courses about philosophy with young people, a philosophers-in-residence program in the Seattle Public Schools, the Washington State High School Ethics Bowl, a graduate fellowship and certificate of mastery program, and an array of programs for educators, schools, and families. The Center also became a hub for visiting scholars and educators from around the world. In 2013 the Center changed its name to the University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children, and in 2016 became an official UW academic research center.
PLATO began with a 2009 conversation between Jana Mohr Lone and Roberta Israeloff, who directs the Squire Family Foundation (SFF), founded in 2007 by philosophy student-turned-businessman Gary Squire. The foundation advocates introducing philosophy to young people, and co-founded the National High School Ethics Bowl.
Jana and Roberta wanted to create an organization where all those interested in and committed to doing philosophy with young people could share ideas and resources. In 2010, SFF, the Center for Philosophy for Children, and the American Philosophical Association (APA) combined their efforts to create PLATO, launched under the umbrella of the APA’s Committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy.
In 2012 PLATO became its own 501(c)(3) organization incorporated in Washington State. Its Founding Board of Directors comprised all eight members of PLATO’s original Advisory Board: Arik Ben-Avi, Steven Goldberg, Mitch Green, Roberta Israeloff, Jana Mohr Lone, Joseph Oyler, Wendy Turgeon, and Thomas Wartenberg.
Over the next ten years, PLATO developed programs to support educators engaged in philosophy with young people: a biennial conference, webinars, a biennial teaching and learning seminar for teachers, grants supporting innovative philosophy initiatives, two journals, and a resource-rich open access website. PLATO remained a volunteer-run organization, with minimal staff support.
As PLATO grew, its leadership recognized the need for it to be based in a community, with a paid staff who could work on the ground – in schools and with teachers, as well as in the larger community – while expanding its national programs and maintaining its character as an independent organization.
In 2021, it became apparent that both PLATO and the Center for Philosophy for Children would benefit by merging into a single, independent nonprofit organization: their missions and goals were fundamentally aligned, many people were involved in both organizations, and both served the same constituents. The merger became official on January 1, 2022.
The enlarged organization, based in Seattle, has expanded its work nationally and internationally and become more sustainable. Maintaining a more informal affiliation with the University of Washington Department of Philosophy, PLATO continues to offer courses and other programs at the university. Thanks to its enhanced capacity, PLATO is significantly increasing its impact on the growing field of philosophy with young people.
Center for Philosophy for Children founded in Seattle
Squire Family Foundation founded
PLATO created as an American Philosophical Association project
PLATO becomes an independent nonprofit organization
PLATO and Center for Philosophy for Children merge