Having been the Columbia Philosophy Outreach Program Coordinator for almost a year now, I am faced with the responsibility of finding funding which inevitably must be found to sustain and grow such a program. I could go on and on about my qualms with trying to “sell” philosophy to schools, but rambling must sometimes give way to clear ideas. Here are some:
1)Education is meant to be useful to students insofar as it enables them to survive in our society.
2)Schools are meant to be a place for this education to take place, but schools are limited severely by the economic reality of our society (ie our schools are not evenly funded from neighborhood to city to state to nation, and they are modeled on efficiency standards rather than on what works). Further, philosophical inquiry is the tool by which we can discuss economic realities and the purpose of schooling in order to solve problems which they entail.
3)The students who face the greatest obstacles when it comes to becoming educated to sustain themselves post-graduation are those who do not come from economically well-off positions.
4)Schools could skip a few steps, and actually be community centers where the students sustain themselves and their communities while they are in school, much in the way that John Dewey proposed in Schools of Tomorrow. This does not reduce to schools as vocational enterprises, but as sustainable communities within which students work to support one another and their families through gardening, plumbing, electrical engineering, cooking, medicine, physical education, architecture, etc. By keeping philosophy central to the curriculum and design, a school can be self-reflective and prevent inequities from arising.
5)Every student deserves a chance to sustain themselves.
Good, I’ve touched on some idealist stuff. Now, to get to the immediately practical:
1)There are ways that an outreach program can apply for funding that are centered on the benefits that philosophy has for students (ie it builds virtue, critical thinking, and democratic-skills, it fosters empathy, etc.) but which, in my view, are disingenuous to the above points (because they amount to selling philosophy as a tool which in itself can help students sustain themselves, without addressing the economic issue). Outreach in itself may be assumed to be premised on this, because you are reaching out to already-existing schools and students. However, the impetus for this reaching out is the desire to bring philosophy to K-12 students (for which we may all have different reasons — mine is justice-centered).
2)Rather than making dents in existing schools, and before we get to the stage where we can open up our philosophy-based high school, we can make a philosophy program for the economically-disadvantaged. (I know from talking to them that many parents struggle to afford afterschool care for their children, even though they need this care in order to work full-time). Here’s how:
- Obtain grant for start-up of the Afterschool Cooperative
- Students will come to campus, where graduate students who are enrolled in a philosophical pedagogy course will instruct high school students in pedagogical methods. These high school students will offer tutoring to elementary and middle school students who are also in the Afterschool Cooperative.
- Students will be enrolled in the Afterschool Cooperative through lottery in our DOE zone (and district)
- Initial grant money ensures that students do not have to pay to enroll. Graduate students essentially pay for their course (which will fulfill graduation requirements), study pedagogy, and practice what they are learning through their work in the cooperative.
- Training of various sorts (including philosophy-for-children) is done with stakeholders of varying schedules and interests, so that adequate coverage of the cooperative is available at any given time.
- Stakeholders (parents, graduate students, high school students, and faculty) sign up for their shifts in the cooperative, to ensure that at all times there are adequate numbers of screened adults present with children, and that there are adequate activities planned for students.
- High school students gain experience working as tutors, reinforcing their lessons from school. Graduate students crystallize and critique the theory they are learning. Parents are relieved of economic burden and feel good about sending their children to an enriching and constructive program (which will also offer recreation!).
- The cooperative functions through philosophical dialogue, self-reflecting to meet it’s needs as a sustainable community service.
Now, tell me your thoughts!