Philosophy Across the Ages, an after-school seminar-style program at Orono High School created three years ago by Associate Professor Kirsten Jacobson, is a “wonderful way to take philosophy out of the ivory tower,” said Jim Bulteel, OHS English teacher and program coordinator.
“The atmosphere is informal and there are no teachers, so students feel free to enter into rich and fruitful discussions on topics including gender equality, ethics, and power and politics,” he said. “The program also promotes collaboration between OHS and the University, something to which the high school is committed.”
Led by University of Maine philosophy students, Philosophy Across the Ages exposes high school students to what is arguably the oldest academic discipline, showing them that philosophy can help them explore important questions such as how we ought to live and what is right and wrong. Participants meet once every three or four weeks for an hour and a half, either at the high school or at UMaine, discussing writings by a variety of philosophers including Plato, Descartes, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus.
“I want high school students to see that philosophy belongs to everyone and isn’t just for people in academia,” said Professor Jacobson.
A knowledge of philosophy can help young people navigate life and make decisions, she added. “The questions that young people ask themselves often are fundamentally philosophical questions.”
The philosophical discussions help prepare young people for all aspects of their lives, according to Bulteel. “These discussions make students’ thinking more rigorous,” he said. “I see deeper, better ideas emerging in their writing. And, since philosophy deals with the bigger issues of life, these discussions will go a long way towards helping them be better workers, family members, and community members.”
Philosophy Across the Ages has expanded to include members of the retirement community living at Dirigo Pines in Orono, said Professor Jacobson. Sessions with retirement community members have included both undergraduate and high school students and have covered topics ranging from art to issues surrounding aging.
“In this way, Philosophy Across the Ages works to connect — and in some cases, reconnect — retirement community members to lively, engaging, and life relevant discussions with younger members of their community,” she said. “My interest in holding these cross-generational discussions reflects my convictions that questions of philosophy belong neither to people of a certain age nor to people of a certain profession, but to us all, and that these questions are most fruitfully discussed in a cosmopolitan context in which we are challenged to recognize that the diversity of ideas is a reflection of a reality that will forever need to be interpreted.”