Current Initiatives

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The UNC-Chapel Hill Philosophy Department has one main resource: people with experience teaching philosophy. Here are examples of our current Outreach collaborations:

Youth Outreach Initiative

Young people are natural philosophers; their minds are infused with an open, questioning spirit. Therefore, we hope to work with administrators and teachers in area public and private schools to help bring the world of philosophical ideas into primary- and secondary- level education.

Our Outreach Coordinator, Steven Swartzer, will put teachers in touch with specialists who can consult with them on theoretical issues or discuss practical aspects of teaching philosophy. We can help teachers to devise lesson plans and classroom activities, or to develop strategies to promote critical debate and thoughtful discussion. We can teach a short course on logical reasoning over a week; lead group debates on ethical topics during a single class period; discuss classic philosophical works or philosophical literature; run role-playing games to elucidate themes from rational-choice theory; help students to reflect on the scientific method and the sources of knowledge, and more.

Begun in late summer 2004, our Outreach Program has expanded throughout North Carolina and flourished in many venues.

Cary Academy, Cary, NC

We began facilitating philosophical discussion groups in the fall of 2005 through Cary Academy’s Philosophy Club. Topics have included the problem of evil, moral responsibility, and the problem of free will. We have maintained tight connections with the Philosophy Club and hold monthly sessions on philosophical topics ranging from ethics to metaphysics.  In addition, the Outreach Program has sponsored members of the Philosophy Club in attending the annual Chapel Hill Colloquium in Philosophy.

North Carolina School of Science and Math (NCSSM) Ethics and Leadership Conference, Durham, NC

In 2009, we began working with NCSSM to develop break-out session topics for their annual Ethics and Leadership Conference. In the following years, we have not only developed break-out session topics for NCSSM’s use, but also led several of the break-out sessions at each annual conference. These sessions have focused on topics such as euthanasia, the ethics of food, the ethics of sport, the ethics of a market for organs, and the ethics of genetic testing.

Morehead Afterschool Program (MAP), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

We began this initiative in the fall of 2008 when we conducted two Saturday sessions with advanced elementary school children. We used the topics of scientific hypothesis formation and confirmation as a way of engaging the children in philosophical dialogue and critical thinking. In the spring of 2009, we returned to teach at the Morehead Afterschool Program. We focused on puzzles regarding the brain and the mind, which the children pursued enthusiastically. In recent years, our sessions for MAP have focused on topics generally related to philosophy of science, such as scientific explanation and our ethical responsibilities to the environment.

C. A. Dillon Development Center, Butner, NC

Our sessions on classic philosophical problems at the C.A. Dillon Development Center began in 2006, generating lively and thought-provoking discussions. Most years we run several sessions in two small groups, each with about 5 students. We meet each week with these young men, 14 to 17 years old, and we talk about many philosophical topics, including personal identity, the good life, euthanasia, trust, and moral action. The experience of doing philosophy — both the content discussed and the participatory, critical, but respectful environment in which the discussions are held — will continue to influence our students after they leave the Center.

High School Ethics Bowl

In the spring of 2012, UNC hosted the first annual High School Ethics Bowl (HSEB). Seven teams from six local high schools participated. The Outreach Program provided coaches to teach the teams about ethical theory and to help them develop effective lines of reasoning. Our students then applied those skills during the HSEB competition. Two more HSEB competitions are scheduled to take place at UNC in 2012-2013: (1) the North Carolina Regional HSEB and (2) the National HSEB. As the HSEB initiative grows, so too will the efforts of the Outreach Program: we will continue to provide coaches for HSEB teams, as well as judges and moderators for all HSEB competitions. For more information, visit the NHSEB website.

Triangle Area Homeschool Ethics Club, Apex, NC

The Triangle Area Homeschool (TAH) Ethics Club is an offshoot of the Triangle Area Homeschool High School Ethics Bowl (HSEB) team. Following the HSEB competition in the spring of 2012, members of the team wanted to continue to meet and discuss real-life ethical issues and dilemmas. To this end, we helped to create the TAH Ethics Club. As the Club’s partners, we help these homeschool students to develop philosophical topics for discussion and we attend Club meetings to facilitate the conversation. Discussion topics have included the ethics of dogmatism, the ethics of investigative journalism, rights to Facebook content after the account owner’s death, and the ethics of online relationships.

Durham Academy, Durham, NC

This initiative began in the spring of 2013. We visit 1st graders at Durham Academy once per week to explore philosophical concepts and questions together. Generally, we do philosophy with these students through the medium of children’s literature. For example, we might read The Giving Tree and foster a discussion on environmental ethics, or read Frog and Toad and discuss what it means to be brave, or read Frederick and discuss the nature of community and friendship. This initiative has been a great success, due in no small part to the excitement and wonder of the young philosophers at Durham Academy.

Morris Grove Elementary School, Chapel Hill, NC

Beginning in the spring of 2013, graduate student volunteers began to visit 2nd and 3rd graders at Morris Grove Elementary School. Our volunteers lead philosophy discussion groups with two classes at Morris Grove, sparking philosophical discussion through children’s literature and interactive games. Throughout this initiative, our volunteers have developed a great partnership with Morris Grove teachers. We model ways of introducing philosophy and philosophical skill sets into the elementary school classroom and they offer valuable feedback on working effectively with young students.



Senior Outreach Initiative

Young people are not the only natural philosophers. Often those with significant life experiences are well poised to reflect on philosophical issues. We have recently begun to help spread philosophical thinking among senior citizens.

Carol Woods Retirement Community, Chapel Hill, NC

In 2010, we began holding philosophical discussion groups at the Carol Woods Retirement Community. We gave presentations and facilitated discussion about several philosophical topics, including the nature of philosophy, the good life, and the problem of evil. In 2011, we broadened our scope to include topics from several branches of philosophy: graduate students led discussions of the right to healthcare (political philosophy/bioethics), the ethics of food (moral philosophy), and the pessimistic induction (philosophy of science), among others. The sessions have involved careful consideration of the relevant issues and have led some residents to see their life experiences from a new perspective. Some residents have even suggested that Carol Woods begin a philosophy club of its own in order to foster further discussion of philosophical topics.  Our initiative at Carol Woods is continuing throughout 2012-2013 and, we hope, for many years to come.

Carolina Meadows Retirement Community, Chapel Hill, NC

Modeled on our Outreach Program at Carol Woods Retirement Community, this initiative began in the fall of 2012. We currently meet with Carolina Meadows residents to give presentations on philosophical topics and to facilitate the ensuing conversation. Topics have included the relationship between the individual and society, the nature of power, and the place of friendship in a good life. Residents are excited about this new initiative and so are we!

Alta Walk Retirement Community, Durham, NC

For a number of years, Alta Walk residents have organized a weekly “Socrates Café.” At these meetings, residents suggest potential philosophical topics for discussion, the group chooses a topic, and discussion ensues. Beginning in the fall of 2012, we have joined with Alta Walk residents to help further the aims of the Socrates Café. We suggest fruitful topics for discussion, provide materials of interest to the group and, most importantly, participate as active members in the group’s conversations.


Community College Outreach Initiative

We aim to provide access to philosophy and philosophical materials to community colleges that, in many cases, do not have the resources or curriculum space to offer a philosophy class. In doing so, we aim to spread philosophical thinking to philosophically underserved members of our community.

Central Carolina Community College, Pittsboro, NC

Beginning in the fall of 2012, we have led philosophical discussions with students pursuing their GED at Central Carolina Community College. Our primary focus has been to work with students to develop philosophical discussions of interest to them and to help students cultivate philosophical skill sets (such as logical reasoning) that will be useful to them in their academic careers and beyond. Discussion topics have included the goals and methods of education, the good life ,and the nature of philosophy. This initiative has been a great success and we hope to expand our Outreach efforts into other local community colleges.


Interdisciplinary Outreach Initiative

As part of our initiative to expand access to philosophy, we look to partner with other programs, both at UNC and in the community. Through interdisciplinary and community partnerships, we benefit from the dedication, experience, and insight of the many North Carolinians working to serve others. Also, we are able to share our time and resources with those committed to Outreach and, in doing so, we continue to expand access to philosophy in North Carolina.

UNC Philosophy Outreach and LEARN NC

LEARN NC is an open web resource provided by the UNC School of Education for K-12 teachers. The site provides dynamic lessons plans for teachers to use in their classes and online teacher training courses. We are currently working with LEARN NC to add philosophical content to the site. First, we are developing philosophy lesson plans for the site. Teachers can use these lesson plans to introduce philosophical ideas into classes on World History, English, Mathematics and Physics (to name only a few). Second, we are developing an online philosophy-training course for teachers interested in philosophy. This course will guide teachers in incorporating philosophical pedagogy into their classes and, in addition, will provide teachers with access to philosophical materials relevant to their classes. Through this initiative, we will be able to introduce philosophy to a great number of students and teachers throughout North Carolina.


Philosophy Outreach Courses

Philosophy 261 (PHIL 261): Pre-College Philosophy (High School Ethics Bowl)

The primary purpose of this course is to train undergraduate students to serve as coaches for local High School Ethics Bowl (HSEB) teams that will participate in HSEB competitions (including the 2012 North Carolina High School Ethics Bowl and the 2013 National High School Ethics Bowl). To this end, undergraduate students receive instruction on rules, regulations, and competition strategies of HSEB and review forms of argumentation and relevant ethical theories. Class members also work with the instructor and each other to develop the necessary skills to work effectively and cooperatively with high school students and teachers. Throughout the semester, students take on the responsibility of preparing their assigned HSEB team for competition, facilitating weekly meetings and organizing mock HSEB competitions.  This course is offered in the fall semester, and is open to UNC-CH undergraduates with the permission of instructor.

Philosophy 292 (PHIL 292): Pre-College Philosophy (Philosophy in Schools)

This APPLES Service-Learning Course is composed of both theoretical and experiential learning components. Students examine the central place of the child in the Western philosophical canon. As present in the work of figures ranging from Plato and Aristotle to Rousseau, Kant, and Rawls, the child is discussed as an irrational being, incapable of philosophical engagement. In response to these accounts, students consider alternative conceptions of the child as well as justifications for doing philosophy with children. In turn, students learn pedagogical strategies for introducing philosophy to young students and review philosophical literature for use with young philosophers. Throughout the semester, students work with pre-college students first hand by leading weekly philosophy discussion sessions with 6th graders at McDougle Middle School in Chapel Hill. This course is offered in the spring semester, and is open to UNC-CH undergraduates with the permission of instructor.


Case-by-Case Consulting

The Outreach Program also seeks to help individuals on a case-by-case basis.  In the past year, Outreach has assisted a local high-school student in constructing an independent study course and has also helped a Chapel Hill resident to think through the philosophical issues present in his poetry.  If you are curious about philosophy but don’t know where to start, are looking for reading suggestions, want to know more about a historical philosopher, or are thinking through a moral dilemma, please feel free to contact the Outreach Coordinator.

Former Outreach Coordinators/RAs are Piers Turner, Clair Morrissey, Emily Kelahan, Cathay Liu, Felipe De Brigard, Matt Priselac, Jen Kling, Patrick Connolly, Michael Burroughs, and Jordan MacKenzie. Our current outreach coordinator is Steven Swartzer (Sam Reis-Dennis is the Parr RA for 2014-2015). Geoffrey Sayre-McCord is the Faculty Adviser. We are a part of the Carolina Center for Public Service.