University of Washington’s Center for Philosophy for Children
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"The University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children has thought out a plan to provide philosophy lessons to adults and make teachers feel comfortable with the uncertainties and ambiguities of having philosophical conversations with young students. We are able to build faith among ourselves to have the conversations with our students and use the same processes that we have learned from the University's student teachers. As we move further into this process, these philosophy lessons are something that is an option for schools and an option for teachers so we can use it in our classrooms in a variety of ways. For example, when we use more techniques from philosophy to teach literature, the students find more much meaning in what they are reading."
- Fourth grade teacher at John Muir Elementary School, Seattle

© Susie Fitzhugh

The “Philosophers in the Schools” program at University of Washington, begun by the Center for Philosophy for Children in 1999, educates graduate and undergraduate students about ways to introduce philosophy to pre-college classrooms, and then sends these UW students into Seattle public schools to conduct philosophy sessions.

Through a partnership with the University’s Pipeline Project, the UW outreach program that connects students with tutoring and mentoring opportunities in local schools, placements are arranged for students to lead philosophy sessions in a number of local public schools, from elementary through high school.

The program includes three Philosophy for Children seminars, one each quarter. The intensive fall quarter 5-credit class meets twice weekly and the winter and spring “Inner Pipeline” seminars (2-4 credits) meet weekly. All three courses require weekly sessions in local schools. The courses are team-taught by Center Director Jana Mohr Lone, Education Director David Shapiro and Program Director Sara Goering. Students are welcome to take all three classes, each of which involve different topics and materials.

Our Philosophy for Children seminars introduce UW students to methods of doing philosophy with young people by stressing the formation of a philosophical community of inquiry, in which students are encouraged to ask their own questions, develop views and articulate reasons for them, and learn from one another. Students facilitate philosophical discussions on a variety of topics, including the nature of mind, time, knowledge, identity, ethics, art, and freedom. The emphasis is on learning by doing. Students discuss their experiences in local classrooms and are assisted in developing engaging ways to introduce philosophy to K-12 students.




“Philosophy helps me calm down if I am mad.”
- Second grade John Muir Elementary School student

With a three-year grant from the Squire Family Foundation, beginning in 2013-14 the Center will expand its “Philosophers in the Schools” program by creating the first Philosopher-in-Residence project in the Seattle School District, at John Muir Elementary School. John Muir is a culturally diverse K-5 school in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, and many students there are among those least likely to have access to academic enrichment programs. The Center has been working closely with teachers and staff there to bring philosophy into most of the school’s classrooms over the past three years: philosophy has been introduced into every grade level at the school, Center staff have facilitated a monthly philosophy professional learning community for teachers and staff for the last two years, and many John Muir teachers have now attended one of the Center’s summer workshops.

We have found that when teachers have ongoing philosophy sessions in their classrooms, frequently they become inspired to make philosophy a regular part of the curriculum. This can happen either through recurrent sessions facilitated by Center personnel, or by teachers themselves following up with their students to explore further topics discussed in philosophy, eventually leading entire philosophy sessions on their own, and attending our summer workshop for more training. The philosopher-in-residence project will deepen immeasurably our ability to develop strong and sustainable philosophy programs in schools, by providing an ongoing model for teachers of philosophical engagement, regular support and training, and outreach to the school’s parents.

The philosopher-in-residence will have responsibility for facilitating regular philosophy sessions in all or most of a school’s classrooms, running a monthly professional learning community for teachers, mentoring UW undergraduates who come into the school’s classrooms, and running evening programs for parents.

From the Teachers:

“Philosophy has been an authentic way to connect the children and their thoughts about the world, allowing for meaningful conversations. I have seen significant social and emotional development throughout the year, which I believe has been positively influenced by the philosophy sessions.”
- Second grade teacher at John Muir Elementary

“Philosophy in my first grade classroom has been a powerful means through which my students have been able to wrestle with questions and express their thoughts in a safe yet challenging environment.”
- First grade teacher at John Muir Elementary

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