The Penn State Philosophy Department Outreach Program
In the fall of 2013, a group of philosophy graduate students created the Penn State Philosophy Department Outreach Program. The Department’s Outreach Program provides access to a philosophical education beyond the borders of the University. We serve our community (whether in local schools or correctional facilities) by leading discussions, seminars, and other educational programming on beliefs, values, and concepts that help us understand our world and ourselves. Through our work we help participants to develop critical thinking, reasoning, and discussion skills that contribute to success and engagement across personal, social, and academic domains of life.
Method and Training
Two or more graduate students or faculty members from the Department of Philosophy at the Pennsylvania State University facilitate discussion sessions. Each discussion session is based around a philosophical theme and accompanying text. With our elementary and middle school students, sections of stories and books are used to stimulate discussion and to make abstract philosophical topics more concrete. For our adult students, we read and discuss excerpts of a philosophical text during a group meeting. In all sessions, after reading the text aloud, discussions begin with an open and inviting question posed by the discussion group leader. Our goal is to cultivate active and reflective dialogue through the questions and concepts that the text raises for the group.
In our efforts to bring open philosophical dialogue to elementary, middle school and adult students, our program supports and participates in various Socratic and dialogical teaching workshops. We encourage the members of the Penn State Philosophy Outreach Program to improve their teaching skills through group teaching, Touchstone’s teaching workshops, and by working with experienced guest workshop leaders. Before teaching sessions on their own, our graduate students attend workshops and/or work closely with experienced faculty members in order to receive proper training. While the Outreach Program’s mission is to provide a service to the community, we also become better teachers and philosophers through such practice and training.
The Outreach Program is currently working with two kindergarten classes at Park Forest Elementary in State College, PA. Park Forest is unique in that their mission is first and foremost to help their students develop as thoughtful and active members of a democratic society. Their teaching methods and classes reflect the need to balance individual values and community responsibility.
Dr. Burroughs and a group of graduate students hold weekly philosophy discussion sessions with kindergarten students. During these sessions, discussion facilitators spark philosophical questioning and discussion from themes in various children’s books. Participating students are given the opportunity to engage in dialogue and speak about their values, dreams, and beliefs (among other things).
The Outreach Program plans to begin weekly philosophy discussion sessions with middle school students at CLC Charter School. The CLC Charter School is an independent public middle school for children in grades five through eight. The school places a strong emphasis on project-based learning and their “Specials Program” offers students a chance to learn and cultivate skills – such as philosophical thinking – that many middle schools leave for high school and college students.
Projects in Progress
We are currently in discussion with SCI Rockview to offer bi-monthly philosophy sessions for inmates. During these sessions, we will read excerpts from various philosophical texts and facilitate discussion on the text and the questions and concepts it raises for group members. Outreach staff will provide an overview of the topic for 10-15 minutes, and then participate in philosophical discussion with the inmates for the remainder of the hour.
Michael D. Burroughs, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Philosophy, Assistant Director of Rock Ethics Institute, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ayesha Abdullah (PhD Candidate, ABD, Department of Philosophy), email@example.com
Claire Griffin (PhD Candidate, Department of Philosophy), firstname.lastname@example.org
Desiree Valentine (PhD Candidate, Department of Philosophy), email@example.com
Michael D. Burroughs