by Landon D. C. Elkind, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Western Kentucky University

In my involvement with pre-college philosophy, I have been blessed in more ways than one. First, I had excellent mentors in Kristopher G. Phillips and Gregory Stoutenburg. Second, I learned (then borrowed and deployed here at Western Kentucky University) the excellent Lyceum model for pre-college philosophy camps. 

Third – something I knew but did not fully appreciate at the time– I was blessed by our R1 context at the University of Iowa. When I organized the Iowa Lyceum for three summers as its president (though in no year did I do the job alone), we had a saturated labor market – an abundance of philosophers eager to volunteer their time for rewards partly extrinsic (the sub-minimum wage of a t-shirt) but mostly intrinsic (the limitless joy of doing philosophy with a very motivated and bright self-selected group of high schoolers conversing philosophically in a structured academic setting for the first, or almost the very first, time). 

In a department with 10-to-15 faculty and 20-to-30 doctoral students, we would always have enough people to teach the 12-or-so sessions we needed despite the usual summer vacations and research trips that deplete the ranks of available volunteers. This is particularly the case given that the two or three folks who organized the camp each year could teach the recurring sessions, such as introduction to logic and reasoning. Teaching a few logic sessions and a few others did not place a problematic burden on the organizers who also had all the administrative tasks to do (reviewing applications, setting up breakfasts, meeting the lunch deliveries, etc.). 

Not so at a regional public university with no philosophy graduate program. At Western Kentuckey University, we currently have three philosophy faculty, down from four in the 2017-2018 academic year. This means we are talking about some long days staffing and teaching the program for the folks organizing the summer camp. As well, one or two volunteers may be away during the summer on research leave or doing grant work that doesn’t really give them 40 spare hours in any given week. (As if to illustrate the point, one of my wonderful colleagues has an NEH Summer Stipend this summer – congratulations again, Audrey!). At programs without graduate students (whether MA or PhD), the labor surplus just is not there – in the summer.

However, ever since the philosophy students here at Western Kentucky University found out about my summer program (it only started two years ago, and the word is now very much out), they have demanded opportunities to get involved. In their eagerness, however, they often forget they don’t have summer housing, having sublet their apartments or committed to internships or study abroad or [you fill in the blank]. It is a sore loss, to both on-campus and off-campus students, not to be able to offer on-campus students the rare opportunity to share their love for philosophy with pre-college students. 

Plus, if your program is on-campus like mine, and if your university’s fall break or spring break does not coincide with the public school schedule, you can (as I plan to do) incorporate actual college philosophy classes into the pre-college philosophy program.

Accordingly, my (admittedly anecdotal) experience leads me to the following recommendations:

  • If your university (a) has a philosophy graduate program or (b) has fall or spring breaks that align with the school district’s breaks, then hold the camp in summer.
  • If your university (a) has no philosophy graduate program and (b) has fall or spring breaks that do not align with the school district’s breaks, then hold the camp during the academic year.

The 2024 Lyceum-style pre-college philosophy program at Western Kentucky University, the Hilltopper Philosophy Academy (which is generously supported by PLATO and the Kentucky Humanities), will run in 2024-2025 from October 8-12 and will incorporate some sessions from our fall course offerings, such as Philosophy of Language. It will also include philosophical conversations with Western Kentucky University philosophy students as facilitators and interlocutors. Interested pre-college students can apply here.

If anyone wants to converse about the merits and demerits of summer and academic year pre-college on-campus philosophy camps, my inbox is open.

NOTE: This will be the last Wondering Aloud blog post for the 2023-24 school year. We will resume publication in September. Happy summer!

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