Article courtesy of Durham Academy.
First-graders explore philosophy with UNC professor, students
Can philosophy and first grade mix? Michael Burroughs, visiting professor and outreach coordinator for UNC Chapel Hill’s department of philosophy, thinks they can. Listening to a discussion about “love” in Rosemary Nye’s first-grade classroom would make you a believer, too.
Three of Burroughs’ philosophy students spent 35 minutes with the first-graders on March 1, reading them The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and engaging them in a discussion about love. They asked the first-graders: How do we know the tree in the story loves the boy? How do we know when we love someone? What does it mean to love another person?
The first-graders listened carefully, answered earnestly and seemed to agree on three things:
View a video of the students’ thoughts on love, created by Nye, at http://bit.ly/13CLjXm.
Burroughs and his students have visited Nye’s first-grade classroom three times and will continue the midday Friday sessions throughout the spring. In the first session, the first-graders listened to Burroughs read Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel and discussed what it means to be brave. On the second visit, they heard Burroughs readFrederick by Leo Leoni. They talked about the nature of work (“Is thinking working?”) and decided that work can be fun and playing is sometimes work.
Working with young children is nothing new for Burroughs, who led an outreach program for students in kindergarten through grade 12 when he was at the University of Memphis.
“In the United States, philosophy is rarely offered pre college,” Burroughs said. “We’re helping them develop a philosophy skill set, helping them learn at an early age how to develop an argument.”
Some parents may argue that their children are already quite accomplished in that area!
Durham News on Outreach Work at Durham Academy
Article courtesy of Matt Goad and The Durham News.
Philosophy Takes A Field Trip
For Michael Burroughs, philosophy isn’t just something found in a musty old book.
As coordinator of UNC’s Department of Philosophy Outreach Program, he takes the lesson out into the world and spreads it among all ages.
He and a group of philosophy graduate students head out to meet with the first-graders at Durham Academy on Fridays. They also teach older students, up to high school and community college, and at retirement communities and juvenile correctional facilities.
The program was founded in 2004, but did not have a full-time coordinator until Burroughs, a visiting professor, took over the program this year. He’s been expanding it and finding additional grants.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Burroughs and graduate students Kate Nolfi, Molly Josephson and Vida Yao visited Rosemary Nye’s first-grade classroom to read and discuss “The Important Book” by Rosemary Wise Brown and Leonard Weisgard.
The deceptively simple book discusses what makes familiar objects – an apple, the rain, a spoon – what they are.
The UNC delegation gathered on the floor in front of the whiteboard at the front of the class with the first-graders.
Burroughs and the graduate students used the book as a jumping-off point to discuss what makes each of the students what they are.
Burroughs started a list that includes hair, body and genes, but the discussion kept turning back to personality.
On other visits, Burroughs has used “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein to discuss what love is – determining that it means empathy, helping to take care of another person, and helping a person with projects or tasks.
He’s also used “The Frog and Toad” series to discuss bravery. They’ve also discussed how to tell dreams from reality, what makes something art and how to judge good art versus bad art.
“It’s fascinating to see children’s new ways of thinking about old topics,” Nolfi said.
Burroughs draws some of his ideas for the first-graders, including book selections, from a colleague’s website, teachingchildrenphilosophy.org.
Burroughs started his career as a high school philosophy teacher in Maryland and then did similar outreach work at the University of Memphis before coming to UNC.
“I think any philosophical topic can be discussed with any age group,” Burroughs said.
Yao said many of the biggest issues she deals with now as a graduate student, such as free will, for instance, are the same issues she wondered about when she was a child.
“I just find it truly refreshing to engage with people who aren’t professional philosophers on those questions,” Yao said.
Burroughs and the graduate students take pride in imparting problem-solving and critical-thinking skills to the youngsters that will help them later in life.
Nolfi noted that from teaching undergraduate students at UNC, she has found that most have trouble thinking about big, universal questions.
“The educational system that most go through don’t stretch their brain in that way,” she said.
Other area schools where Burroughs teaches include Cary Academy, Chapel Hill and Carrboro high schools, Carolina Friends School, Woods Charter School and the North Carolina School of Science and Math.
Nye said the philosophy lesson has become one of the highlights or her students’ week.
“I really like answering big questions,” said student Charlotte Newman, “and I like not having right or wrong answers. It makes me feel good when I answer the questions.”
High School Ethics Bowl
What’s your dilemma? New course trains coaches for national ethics bowl
It’s a different kind of after-school club.
In a small room in Caldwell Hall, home to the Parr Center for the Ethics, a group of high school students pored over ethical cases, preparing arguments for the dilemma at hand.
A UNC philosophy graduate teaching assistant, Jen Kling, moderated and acted as judge.
It was all in preparation for the North Carolina High School Ethics Bowl at UNC last fall, the third year Carolina has hosted a statewide competition.
Recently, there has been a rising interest in the formation of high school ethics bowl teams across the country. In ethics bowl competitions, small teams of students debate real-world situations, such as a lifeguard leaving his post to save someone outside of his zone or using Facebook to determine job applicants or giving first aid training to Taliban fighters.
UNC is taking the lead in creating a national bowl for high schools this spring.
Carolina’s outreach has led to the creation of Philosophy 592: “Pre-College Philosophy,” a new course that trains undergraduates as coaches for high school ethics bowl teams. Under Michael D. Burroughs, visiting lecturer and outreach coordinator for the Parr Center, undergrads learn the rules of competitions and various ethical theories, while developing teaching and coaching skills.
Months prior to the competition, the teams analyze 15 cases that could be used in the ethics bowl.
The home-schooled team, made up of five students from around the Triangle, tackled two of those issues in their practice with Kling.
When a round was finished, Kling gave each team her critique of their arguments — from tips for addressing the judges, to passing the argument to a colleague.
Respect is key for the ethics bowl: It’s not about polarizing, but promoting civil discourse.
“It’s not a debate,” said Adam Schaefer, assistant director of the Parr Center. “They’re judged on philosophical and critical analysis.”
Applying lessons learned in class
Students in Burroughs’ class spent the first half of the semester learning major ethical theories, which they applied in coaching sessions with their teams in the second half.
Burroughs’ students were assigned in pairs to coach six local high school teams. Although many of the schools were in the Triangle, the Charlotte team corresponded with their undergraduate coaches via Skype and email.
“The class was easily one of my favorites here at UNC, not only because of its innovative endeavors, but because working with such a marvelous set of younger minds proved to be continually moving and meaningful,” said Kelsey Kaul, a senior philosophy major and chemistry minor, who helped coach the Carrboro High School team.
The response from the high school students and community has likewise been positive, said Jan Boxill, director of the Parr Center and a philosophy master lecturer.
When it came time for Kling to question the presenting team again, she was pleased with how they handled it.
“You are never going to get questions that hard,” she said. Laughing, she added, “That was mean.”
But they stuck to their argument, all the while tackling complex moral situations and applying philosophical reasoning, discussing consequential wrongs and if ethical theories can be applied to things like war.
Kiran Bhardwaj, graduate student and Royster Fellow, noted the same things with her team.
“I was lucky to have a philosophy course in high school; most students don’t take philosophy until college, if even then. Yet my students in ethics bowl have the opportunity to engage with practical ethics in a really meaningful way,” she said.
Bhardwaj has coached the East Chapel Hill High School team for the past three years, taking home the win in the highest level of competition for two years.
“They debate what would be right or wrong to do in cases that run the full spectrum: environmental ethics, the way that technology changes the way we interact with the world, the criminal justice system, reproductive issues and so on,” she said.
The East Chapel Hill High School team will go on to compete in the first National High School Ethics Bowl at UNC April 19-20. The bowl will feature regional champions from at least 12 different states.
The Parr Center for Ethics was established in 2004-2005 with a gift from the Gary W. Parr Family Foundation.