UNC-Chapel Hill’s Philosophy Department has a longstanding tradition of outreach and community engagement, dating back at least to 1979 when Maynard Adams founded Carolina Public Humanities (then called the Program in the Humanities and Human Values), which aimed to promote a culture of engagement within the humanities and to share the intellectual resources of the University with the community. Over the years, doctoral students and faculty members in philosophy were active in the program’s efforts to bring philosophical and humanistic reflection into schools and communities. In the early 2000s, Adam’s tradition of engaged philosophy received a welcome infusion of support that led to the creation of the present-day Outreach Program in Philosophy. In 2012 the Department and the Parr Center for Ethics together established the directorship as a permanent position, a reflection of their commitment to stable and lasting community partnerships.
The aim of our Outreach Program is to use the Philosophy Department’s and the Parr Center’s intellectual resources (i) to help people in the community think carefully and clearly about a broad range of ideas, commitments, and practices that shape their lives, (ii) to expand the scope and breadth of philosophical inquiry by bringing new voices into the fold, and (iii) to promote the university’s mission to produce and disseminate knowledge for the public good.
We are motivated by the conviction that philosophical activity contributes to a flourishing and autonomous life by helping us to develop a sense of ourselves and the world around us through reflection on our beliefs and values. We also believe that the skills and dispositions cultivated by philosophical inquiry are integral to a flourishing civic sphere. In addition to the intrinsic value of knowledge for its own sake, social science research highlights the instrumental benefits of exposing children to philosophy. We are fortunate to work with numerous community partners in the Triangle Area, ranging from schools to senior centers to correctional facilities. Our volunteers include UNC undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty from Philosophy, the Parr Center, and beyond.
During the 2020-2021 academic year alone, UNC undergraduate and graduate volunteers held more than 150 community discussions about ethics and philosophy in Chapel Hill and across the country.
“Ethics Bowl and Democratic Deliberation” is an undergraduate community engagement course in Philosophy offered in the fall semester by Dr. Michael Vazquez. In this course, UNC undergraduates have the unique opportunity to combine the philosophical study of ethics with service to high school students across the country. Students in the course master the major ethical frameworks philosophers use to think about the rightness and wrongness of actions, our obligations to others, and moral life more broadly. Students also learn how to distill complex philosophical ideas and to facilitate productive discussions with a young audience. With this training in ethical theory and pre-college pedagogy, undergraduates serve as coaches and advisors to new startup high school teams across the country who are competing in an annual ‘borderless’ competition event near the end of the semester. This new and innovative UNC program, entitled NHSEBBridge (our program launch video is available here), aims to promote equity and access within the National High School Ethics Bowl and within our education system more broadly. This program brings together first-year High School Ethics Bowl teams from those places across the country where NHSEB Regional Bowls do not yet exist. Participating schools are provided with a tailored experience for students and coaches who are new to the activity—with the additional provision of training, orientation, and formative feedback along the way. UNC undergraduates coach participants (both students and teachers) on moral theory, ethical reasoning, argument construction, bowl mechanics, and more in a series of virtually conducted 1:1 site visits. They also provide tailored feedback to NHSEB teams and students across the country by planning and administering NHSEBAcademy pedagogy clinics and by holding NHSEBStudio office hours on case analysis, team commentaries, and more.
The Ethics Bowl competition presents an opportunity to sharpen the participants’ ability to reason through complex moral issues, and invites us to consider the philosophical and civic foundations of education. Students also reflect on the ways in which our discursive practices can sustain and impede the health of our democracy.
Thanks to the support of UNC’s Humanities for the Public Good, the Outreach Program launched a multi-year program entitled “Dialogue and Transformation: Bringing Philosophy to Juvenile Justice Centers in North Carolina.” The program began in March with a virtual course on Plato’s Republic with high school students at Cabarrus Youth Development Center, to be followed by additional offerings to both students and teachers in the Juvenile Justice education network in NC and the production of classroom integration resources centered on the history of philosophy. Plato’s Republic is unique in that it serves as a nexus for some of the most enduring philosophical questions, including justice, human happiness, virtue & vice, the aims of education, the best political regime, gender & the family, art & morality, and the afterlife.
In this experiential course in philosophy, UNC undergraduates participate in regular discussions with older adults. During Spring 2021, our students met weekly with folks from the Retired Faculty Association at UNC and from the Galloway Ridge retirement community. Students also worked with ‘intergenerational peer reviewers’ to compose public-facing philosophical op-ed pieces, and planned an intergenerational philosophy capstone event for our community partners during the exam period. The experiential and intergenerational character of the course provides an occasion for students to reflect on the nature and aims of education, including the prospect and value of lifelong learning beyond schooling and the social and civic ends of education at all levels. By creating spaces for intergenerational dialogue, we hope to draw on the wisdom and experience of older adults in the community, and to facilitate understanding across generations. We also hope to resist the narrative that adults beyond schooling years are unable to exercise their minds fruitfully, or unable to contribute to the ongoing projects of humanistic inquiry and public deliberation. Through in-class discussions, writing assignments, and community interactions (both written and verbal), students practice inviting others into a shared space of reasoning and thinking. It is in this space that we can make mutually intelligible claims about the world and our place in it and encounter a diverse range of voices and viewpoints.
We work with a number of primary and secondary schools across the Triangle Area to integrate philosophy and ethics into the classroom. With some of our primary school we partners we use picture books (such as Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad stories, Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon, Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, and Leo Lionni’s Frederick, Tillie and the Wall, and Fish is Fish) and fun activities to generate conversations with children about values and big philosophical questions. With our secondary school partners we introduce students to the practice of philosophy, the basics of philosophical methodology, how to construct arguments in support of one’s positions, and how to critically evaluate reasons. We also provide coaching assistance to teams preparing for the North Carolina High School Ethics Bowl, as well as structured programming around ethics that extends beyond the NHSEB competition season.
Our team is available to consult on ad-hoc basis with teachers who wish to integrate ethics into the curriculum. We have worked with teachers to produce curricular resources, assignments, and lesson plans that promote ethical inquiry and deliberation in the classroom. Our aim is integrate ethical reflection into K-12 schools and to create opportunities for pre-service and in-service teachers to integrate ethical reflection into their classrooms and to reflect on the normative dimensions of their professional practice by using deliberative pedagogical techniques. The groundwork for this project has been established through ongoing efforts to explicate the pedagogical core of Ethics Bowl, to codify the norms that should govern our discursive practices in and out of the classroom, and to create student and teacher-facing opportunities for philosophical reflection, ethical growth, and the exercise of civic agency. Our strategies are rooted in pedagogical practices that have emerged from the Philosophy for Children (P4C) movement and from recent work on deliberative democracy.
Outreach Director Michael Vazquez shared some strategies for facilitating deliberation in the classroom during the inaugural UNC Faculty Symposium on Deliberative Pedagogy:
Thanks to a new partnership with North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety, the Outreach Program offered six philosophy-by-mail programs (in particular, three for-credit courses and three extracurricular discussion programs) with prisons across the state. The basic aim of our most recent partnership is to facilitate philosophical reflection on questions and issues at the core of human existence and social life through asynchronous mail correspondence. Recent readings have included Jennifer Morton’s “Philosophy as an Antidote to Injustice”, Martha Nussbaum’s “Beyond Anger,” Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of Anger,” and María Lugones’, “Playfulness, ‘World’-Traveling, and Loving Perception,” Albert Camus’ “Myth of Sisyphus”, William Clifford’s “The Duty of Inquiry,” and Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”
We partner with retirement communities across the Triangle Area to provide philosophy programming. We also partner with local agencies and organizations to reach adults who did not live in congregate facilities. Most recently we have partnered with Bartlett Reserve, Carolina Meadows, Carol Woods, Galloway Ridge, the Retired Faculty Association at UNC, and the Orange County Department of Aging for regularly-recurring philosophy programming.
Outreach volunteers work with community members to choose topics, select short readings, and facilitate the weekly or bi-monthly conversations. Topics have included (among others): Loss, death, and grief; The evolution of morality; Why do we punish people?; Do we have obligations to aid developing countries?; Moral luck; Is there a right to privacy?; Freedom as a political ideal; The philosophy of education; Mercy and justice; and Do we have obligations to future generations? Thanks to a new partnership with the Orange County Department of Aging and a grant from the Society for Classical Studies, Ancient Wisdom provided a historically grounded entry point into ethical and philosophical reflection about happiness, virtue, aging, and justice.
In partnership with UNC Human Resources, the Outreach Director (Michael Vazquez) offers a training module on ethics in the workplace, centering on case studies and intentional discursive practices that aim to promote a collaborative and vibrant workplace culture: “In this learning module, you will learn how to analyze, discuss, and navigate ethical decisions that arise in the workplace. Participants will be equipped with a toolkit of ethical concepts including consent, autonomy, confidentiality, honesty, conflicts of interest, and professionalism. After learning how to approach seemingly intractable questions with rigor and charity, teams of participants will have the opportunity to engage in deliberative dialogue with one another on a case study that draws upon our foundational commitments as professionals. In doing so, we aim to model constructive dialogue, to show respect for diverse viewpoints, and to promote a collaborative working environment.”
The Outreach Program also works with other organizations, including the City of Durham, to provide ethics training workshops and philosophy programming more generally. We stand ready to work with specific organizations to craft a tailored plan for integrating ethics programming into the workplace, and to providing workshops on ethical leadership.
For a wider adult audience we offered a three-part public philosophy series at Northeast Regional Library in October 2020, wherein UNC doctoral students shared their research and facilitated discussions on the practical implications of philosophical theories about knowledge, skepticism, and identity.
“Understanding the nature of our existence has been a pursuit for which many have dedicated their entire lives. If you have ever questioned your existence, join us for this exciting discussion series. Each program features a short overview followed by a scholar-led discussion.”
A complied archive of books and online resources to assist in teaching and learning philosophy.
Pedagogical resources and lesson plans for bringing philosophy into the classroom.
Participants, program coordinators, and educators share their experiences with the Philosophy Outreach Program.
If you have suggestions, philosophical questions, or if you are a school administrator, teacher, program coordinator, or program administrator with an interest in philosophy, please contact Michael Vazquez to discuss the prospect of partnering with UNC Philosophy or the Parr Center for Ethics.
A brief history of our outreach program is available here.