back to news Feb. 18, 2019

Philosophy summer camp introduces philosophical thinking to high schoolers

Philosophical inquiry often finds its way into the budding, inquisitive minds of adolescents.

Unfortunately, there are few opportunities for high school-aged students to pursue and cultivate an interest in philosophy.

This is the rationale behind the Philosophy and Critical Thinking (PACT) Summer Camp, an outreach initiative spearheaded by the Department of Philosophy that introduces philosophical thought to teenagers. For one week during the summer, the department invites high school students to campus, where they engage in various projects, activities, and interactive lessons and lectures with philosophy faculty and students. The deadline to apply for summer 2019 is April 12.

“We thought it was a shame that most people don’t get to encounter philosophy until they get to college, if then,” said PACT director and Department of Philosophy Associate Professor Julia Jorati. “A lot of children ask all these deep questions, and they usually don’t get much by the way of guidance to answer them. … The camp is a fun way to introduce them to philosophical ideas.”

Jorati had the idea to reach out to high school students in fall 2016. She enlisted the help of Jamie Fritz, a graduate fellow in the Department of Philosophy, to help plan and market the camp. That spring, Fritz traveled to high schools around central Ohio, setting up information booths and speaking with students.

With help from the Vigoda Fund in Philosophy, which is intended to support the instruction of high school students in critical thinking, PACT kicked off in June 2017, centering its activities and projects around the theme, “Rights and Liberty.” Campers spent five days working on various activities and listening to guest lectures before the week culminated in a final project. The camp followed a similar structure in 2018, centered around “Justice.” This summer, the theme will be “Identity.” The camp received additional funding last year courtesy of the Office of Outreach and Engagement’s Connect and Collaborate Grant, which supported tuition for 50 percent of the camp’s students. The first summer camp attracted 23 high school students to campus, while the second camp saw 39 students attend.

Every spring, Jorati teaches the course, “Teaching Philosophy,” which is catered toward advanced undergraduate and graduate students. Part of that course’s curriculum includes a service component, which some students complete by volunteering as PACT instructors. Students in Jorati’s class also help come up with lesson plans and themes for the upcoming camp. 

“That’s something a lot of high school students are naturally interested in,” Jorati said. “At that age, they are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. So, we’re going to tap into that interest and give them some ideas and ways to think about that.”

For high school students, PACT is an opportunity to forge friendships and encounter new ideas, all under the mentorship of Department of Philosophy faculty and graduate students. According to survey data collected at the end of the week, the campers all indicated that they enjoyed the experience. The campers aren’t the only ones, however, to get value from the camp.

“I just found it enormously rewarding, particularly when it’s clear the students also get a lot out of it,” Fritz said.

“Anything one can do to inspire more critical thinking in young people is so valuable,” added Department of Philosophy Chair Lisa Downing, “and I think this camp has been doing a great job of that."