The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Philosophy in Public Schools (PiPS)

The current Philosophy in Public Schools program at UMass was created in 2016 (with help from Thomas Wartenberg, of Mount Holyoke College), but it is a natural continuation of outreach work by the Department that has been happening, off and on, since the 1960s. (Gareth Mathews, Paul Boyer, Vere Chappell, Karen Warren, and Heather Reid all played important roles in efforts to bring philosophy into primary and secondary schools over the years.)

The purpose of the PiPS program is to bring philosophy students from UMass (and the other Five Colleges), under the supervision of UMass faculty, into public schools in Western Massachusetts to do philosophy with students from grades K-12. The guiding idea behind the program is that everyone can do philosophy, including high school, middle school, and even elementary school students. (Indeed, we are convinced that younger people are especially suited for thinking philosophically, and are among those who can benefit the most from thinking about philosophical questions and learning philosophical methods.)

What We Offer

We currently offer a variety of different modules, each of which would be suitable for 1–3 meetings of about 45–60 minutes each.

Sample topics include:

  • What Makes Right Actions Right?
  • Time Travel
  • Art and Aesthetic Value
  • Philosophy and Food
  • What Are Friends For?
  • Do You Know That You Are Not a Brain in a Vat?
  • Is it Okay to Kill a Bug?
  • What Is Happiness?
  • Philosophical Questions About Fiction
  • Am I Dreaming?
  • Logic Puzzles
  • What Is the Meaning of Life?
  • Responding to Systemic Injustice: Malcolm, Martin, and Beyond.
  • The Problem of Freedom and Determinism

Most of our modules can be adapted for any age group from kindergarteners to 12th graders.

Why Do Philosophy?

Philosophy is distinguished from other disciplines by (a) its content and (b) its methodology. The content involves such perennial questions as What am I?, What can I know?, Am I free?, and How should I live my life?. And the methodology of philosophy includes the imaginative formulation of questions, open-minded brainstorming to find potential answers, and careful consideration of reasons in support of the different views.

We believe that anyone can do philosophy, and that in fact everyone is already doing it – for everyone wrestles with questions like the ones mentioned above. Our program is meant to facilitate discussions of philosophical questions, with the goal of encouraging participants to develop their own answers.

Meanwhile, everyone benefits from participating in this ancient and central part of all human cultures. For the questions we ask in philosophy are intrinsically interesting, and practicing philosophy makes one a better critical thinker, and so better equipped to handle all of life’s challenges.

How to Get Involved

For more information, contact the co-directors of the PiPS program, Julia Jorati and Ned Markosian.