Philosophy is a discipline known for its deep thinking and famous figureheads such as Aristotle, Plato, and St. Augustine. However, one thing philosophy is not known for is appearing inside the K-12 classroom. Addressing this absence became a calling by Dr. Sarah Vitale and her students who have set out to bring philosophy into high school classrooms across the state of Indiana.
A Brief History
In the early 1970s, an educational movement named Philosophy for Children was birthed by Matthew Lipman through the publication of his philosophical children’s novel Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery. Introduced to the public school system in New Jersey, the novel about a young boy “thinking about thinking” soon inspired a movement. The book was written with the idea that just like math and grammar, philosophy should be introduced to young children in order to develop constructive arguments, new perspectives, good listening and discussion skills, and an openness to modifying one’s beliefs and schemas. The movement also encourages students to not only think on their own, but to think with others and encourage a community of questioning within the classroom.
While many adults believe children are not ready for rational or philosophical thinking, this belief was proven misguided by the Philosophy for Children initiative. Through this movement, it was clear that the natural wonder and curiosity of children is cultivated and further developed by the introduction of philosophical topics at a young age.
The Philosophy Outreach Project, or POP, has roots in the Philosophy for Children movement. POP a immersive learning initiative for high school students that focuses on marrying philosophy and learning theory. Spearheaded by Dr. Sarah Vitale and the Ball State members of the POP club, BSU Philosophy students conduct site visits throughout Indiana, an annual philosophy conference at Ball State, and the development of a philosophy club in Muncie Central High School.
“The purpose of POP is to reach out to high school students and educators to grow philosophical discourse in high school curriculum.” – Cierra Tindall, Legal Studies and Philosophy Major
Dr. Vitale notes that this program was started to close an educational gap that they experienced in high school. Philosophy is rarely a student’s first major because of the lack of exposure the discipline has to prospective or incoming students. But once a student takes a philosophy course, they are hooked.
Site visits are the bread and butter of the POP initiative. Dr. Vitale and her students travel to high schools around the the state of Indiana with tools and resources strategically planned to aid in developing a philosophy movement in the school. Before leaving campus, students dedicate extensive time to curate future lesson plans for teachers, creating a starter pack for students, and practicing teaching an introductory philosophy lesson. The purpose of the sight visits it to provide an open space for high schoolers to take time out of their day let them think differently.
“It is so fun to watch my students in action within a classroom. They love teaching the materials and you can see the lightbulbs going off inside [the high schoolers] mind.” – Dr. Sarah Vitale, Professor of Philosophy
The site visits also allow students like Parker Grey, a Political Science major & Philosophy minor, to “have a deeper understanding of the subjects I am learning in my classes and learn more about philosophy as a field.” By going inside high schools, both college and high school students learn a lot about respectful disagreement, constructive arguments, and productive conversations–important skills in the 21st century.
Site visits are not the only way students can get involved in POP. Each year, POP hosts a free, day long, interactive conference that welcomes high schools from all over the state to participate. During the conference, Dr. Vitale’s students lead presentations about philosophical topics and engage with high schoolers during small discussion sessions.
“We have a great time each year. I love watching all the work that leads up to the conference and celebrating with my student’s when it’s over. They pull off something amazingly successful each year.” – Dr. Sarah Vitale, Professor of Philosophy
POP students also take part in a weekly philosophy club at Muncie Central High School. Parker Grey loves how this club has allowed him to build relationships with students and see how development of knowledge from week to week.
Inside the Classroom
The students involved in POP are not only helping high schoolers learn about philosophy, but they are also developing and learning new skills that they can take with them into their future careers. They also get an opportunity to work with with faculty members and get real experience with research and teaching. But this immersive learning class is not only for those who have a calling to philosophy as a profession. Students from any discipline can benefit from studying philosophy and getting involved with POP.
“This class has helped me learn professional and teamwork skills that are applicable to any profession. Dr. Vitale also taught me how to disagree with someone in a productive way and the value of getting involved in your community.” – Emma Hamilton, Philosophy Major
Other important skills students develop through POP are communication, event planning, and critical thinking skills. A first year member of POP, Rachel Johnson, stated how POP is much different that a normal college class, but it more realistic and helps prepare her for her future working life in the fields of history and philosophy. Finally, POP is a place where students can discover their calling.
“This class gave me an opportunity to find my passion and solidify my future career goals.” Grant Ryan, Philosophy and Religious Studies Double Major
Through the hard work of Dr. Vitale and her current students, the ground work is being laid to expand POP as an immersive learning opportunity at Ball State. She hopes that in the future this class will expand beyond the scope of Indiana high schools and allow philosophy to become accessible for anyone at any age.