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What is Philosophy? High schoolers learn first hand

A group of seniors from West Genesee High School recently spent a week on the Le Moyne campus, discussing Plato’s Republic, examining some basic philosophical questions and exploring some of their own writing.

The class titled “What is Philosophy?” – led by Assistant Professor Jeremy Bendik-Keymer, Ph.D. – allowed the students to learn about a discipline that was new to them, hone their writing and critical-thinking skills, and experience life on a college campus.

“It’s an opportunity for us to broaden our horizons beyond the narrow views that teenagers sometimes have and to examine what we believe to be true,” said student Michael Cruz. “And I really wanted a college experience before I actually go away to college.”

The course was required of students in West Genesee’s Odyssey Program. Coordinated by Le Moyne alumna Anne Sierotnik ’79, it is similar to an International Baccalaureate program in that it seeks to broaden the students’ perspective of the world through academic, social, extracurricular and volunteer components. It is unique, though, in that it is homegrown.

“The students in the program are very thoughtful and willing to consider other points of view,” Sierotnik said. “They have a very mature outlook, and they step back and think about where they fit into the world.”

This was the third time the class had been offered. However the content of course has changed each year, from the texts that are used to the projects the students complete. Prior to the start of the class, Bendik-Keymer visited West Genesee to gain a sense of what the students were interested in studying. In addition to reading The Republic, each of the seniors kept a journal of his or her experiences in the class and reflected on the reading.

This year the students were engaged in discussing evil and the problem of evil in the world, such as oppression and suffering, as well as what makes a true friend and why people behave they way they do. They also addressed the question, "What is time?" Class discussions were free flowing and evolved from whatever was on the students’ minds.

“I think of teaching as a live event, not as something that can be carefully scripted,” Bendik-Keymer said. “This method makes each class completely fresh for me.”

The class also provided the students with skills that will be invaluable well beyond their high school or even their college careers.

“It’s definitely taught me how to read more critically,” said student Sierra Stuckey. “It’s helped me learn how to question things.”

posted on: 7/12/2010