Our Courses

Beyond Success

Preparing Students to Thrive and Flourish in School and in Life

YOUNG PHILOSOPHERS OF NEW YORK is committed to helping students become not merely academically successful and subsequently employable, but intellectually versatile, emotionally resilient, socially sympathetic, and civically engaged people.  We want our young people to thrive: to develop their emotional and intellectual abilities so that they flourish as complete human beings. Our Think to Thrive curriculum is designed to help them do so.

Children initially arrive at school full of wonder about themselves and the world they inhabit. They routinely ask questions that often stump and occasionally frustrate the adults to whom they are directed. “Why does the world exist?” “Are numbers real?” “Is lying always wrong?” “What is fairness?” These are philosophical questions, and what makes them challenging is that they are open-ended and without any single, correct answer. As such, they do not comfortably fit into the crowded curriculum of the classroom, and the pressures to impart to students the information and competencies required to reach pre-determined benchmarks.  An unfortunate consequence of having their questions left unanswered or even dismissed as unimportant is that children ask them less frequently as they progress through school, and many eventually stop asking them at all, becoming concerned only with what they need to know to pass the next test.

Far from being idle and irrelevant, however, the philosophical questions that come naturally to children are central to their development as persons. As adults, we know that much of human life concerns making choices and charting courses where there is no one ‘right’ choice nor ‘correct’ direction to take. There is no one single recipe or solution that will guarantee either individual happiness and fulfillment, or social and political harmony. Important as what children are taught in school obviously is, it does not adequately prepare them for this dimension of their lives.  As an essential break from learning what to think, our children’s questions are invaluable opportunities for them to learn how to think through a problem with different possible answers, critically exploring and probing them until they become more adept at arriving at an answer that seems best, all things considered.

As satisfying as finding a reasonable solution to a philosophical problem is, the search itself is just as rewarding. Within the communities of philosophical inquiry our facilitators help establish, young people become open to rethinking their answers and refining their questions in light of the constructive criticism of others. They also come to appreciate how other people’s experiences inevitably shape their perspectives, and when they do so they become less likely to think that a perspective different from their own has got to be wrong. Learning to think creatively and critically about what is possible, in respectful collaboration with others, helps them become better at living in community.

Our Courses

Elementary School

The Power of Why?!

For children in the K-2 grade band, this course nourishes young children’s natural wonder about the world they inhabit, especially its normative, ethical, epistemological, and metaphysical dimensions, through the use of well-loved children’s books. From The Gift of Nothing to Knuffle Bunny to Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, children’s stories are full of philosophical themes that children are eager to discuss and understand.  By exploring the often profound questions these stories raise, children develop both their critical imagination and their ability to more clearly communicate their thoughts and ideas.

What’s the Big Idea?

Designed for children in the 3-5 grade band, this course introduces students to the exploration of big questions in a fun and provocative way, with a focus on developing their capacities to reason critically and analyze arguments.  Through discussion on such topics as the nature of time, existence, sound, and the limits of knowledge, students will work on evaluating the reasons we give in support of our beliefs.

Philosophy of a Wimpy Kid

Greg Heffley knows that being a kid can really stink.  And so do we, the millions of children who identify with him. We know that there’s a lot of stuff that kids have to make sense of and that most of it doesn’t make much sense at all. For starters there’s family. They are the people who take care of us and who we most need to help figure things out, but they are also the ones that most drive us crazy, making up all sorts of rules and demands that seemed purposefully designed to limit the amount of fun we can have.  And that’s just the parents. Siblings seem to exist for the sole purpose of being ANNOYING. Friends, as a rule, are better, but even they aren’t always reliable (nor are they always friendly). Then there are all the other kids who aren’t friends at all (and sometimes seem like enemies), that we are forced to interact with, mostly at school. Ah, school! The single greatest threat to a child’s happiness. Seriously, why is there school?  Yes, everyone know there are things everyone needs to learn, but there’s got to be a better way of learning them! The whole thing is an ecosystem (a word we learned in Snooze, um, we mean Science) of incompatible personalities, irrelevant requirements, and very BORING subjects. And homework. Why homework? Don’t we do enough work in school? It just adds to our stress, and we’ve got enough of that. What we want is to have more fun! At least in this course kids can try to get to the bottom of all this and figure out ways we can fix it!

Middle School

Being Human

This course aligns with the 6th grade Social Studies curriculum and offers students the opportunity to critically consider some of the fundamental concepts and questions that they are encountering in their survey of world religions and civilizations. Students will discuss perspectives on cosmology (the origins of the universe), the nature of body and soul, personal identity, free will, explanations of evil, the existence of God, and the nature and possibility of justice, among others. Students in this course will develop a respect for other perspectives and an understanding of some of the reasons why others hold views different from their own.

Making Sense of America

This course aligns with the 7th grade Social Studies curriculum by providing students the space to explore the philosophical ideas and debates that informed the founding and subsequent development of the United States.  Reading and discussing the seminal texts such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Federalist Papers, Gettysburg Address, MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and more, students will think through the ideals and tensions that continue to shape the society in which they live.

Putting the Phlower on the STEM

Appropriate for middle and high school level students, this course invites students to investigate some of the philosophical and ethical issues that result from scientific investigation and our increasing reliance on the technological developments and innovations that result.  From questions such as the fundamental “What is science?” and “Does Mathematical Reality Exist?”, to dilemmas about whether self-driving cars should be programmed to kill and what genetic modification might mean for the future of sports, students will come see the relevance of science and related subjects in a new light.

The DNA on ELA

In this course, which is appropriate for middle and high school, students will move beyond a conception of art (including prose and poetry) as something we enjoy consuming and creating and instead explore the purposes and power of art.  Students will investigate the ways that different works and media can influence and manipulate our thinking, how they can shape our identities, and communicate our values to others.

Mysteries of the Mind

“If I only had a brain,” the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz wistfully dreamed, “I’d unravel any riddle, for any individ’le, in trouble or in pain.” But here’s a riddle: how can a scarecrow (or anything!) without a brain have thoughts about what it would do if it got one? An easy answer is: It can’t! It’s just a movie! But there is another, far more interesting possibility: perhaps the brainless scarecrow has something more important: a mind. Maybe it’s not having a brain but rather having a mind that enables you to think, imagine, remember, and reason. But isn’t the mind just the brain? Well, there are reasons to think the matter isn’t so simple: For one, you’ve probably seen pictures of a brain, and maybe even seen one in a jar; it looks like a big lump of macaroni. But what does a mind look like? Have you ever seen one? Has anyone? Minds aren’t the sorts of things that appear on X-rays. Here’s another thing to consider: we share thoughts and ideas with each other all the time, we come to agreements, and say we are of ‘one mind’ on an issue. But we never are of one brain! But if the mind isn’t the brain, then what is it? And could a mind exist without a brain? Will my mind exist after I die and my brain no longer functions? Can a machine have a mind? Can my mind be downloaded into a computer? And what is the moral significance of having a mind? Do we treat creatures with minds differently than those that don’t? Should we treat them differently? These questions and many more will be explored in this course that takes us to the very center of what it is to be you and me. Suitable for both middle and high school students.

High School

Whose City? Your City!

This high school level course aims to have the future leaders of our city engaging critically, creatively, and normatively with fundamental issues of city life.  By exploring the underlying ethical, economic, aesthetic, and political questions that determine the wellbeing of any community, students will gain a deeper understanding of the kinds of issues they need to consider as thoughtful and active citizens and community leaders.  Working collaboratively with their peers, our young philosophers develop a vision of what the city could eventually become and how they will figure in it.  As a culminating project, students will develop a participatory budgeting proposal that is informed by their previous discussions and which will address a need they have identified in their community.

The Ethics of Healthcare

The fields of healthcare, including those of scientific research, development of biotechnology, and medical practice, raise many difficult ethical, or moral questions. The aim of this course is not to provide students with answers to these questions, but rather to help them to understand why these questions don’t have easy answers, for this is what makes them difficult!  The problems, challenges, and hard questions that researchers, practitioners, and patients often face are often the result of conflicts and disagreements among what we most value and care about.  Thinking philosophically about these problems, about what creates them, and about the different reasons that people give for their different answers can help us to develop a deeper understanding about the questions we face in healthcare.  This understanding will hopefully guide us to form better – though not ‘the right’ – answers, as well as to help us to better manage the very difficult and often emotional discussions we have about them.