UVA Today’s Rebecca Arrington reports:
While most high-schoolers were heavy into spring semester studies and extra-curriculars last February, a few students (85 to be exact) decided to take on an added challenge – write a 5,000-word philosophy essay – to put them in the running to win a first-ever nationwide contest.
Students could write on one of five topics: foundation of rights, moral obligations, foundations of free will, moral relativism and the concept of thought.
“The level of these submissions was very high,” said Mitch Green, a philosophy professor in U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences, who along with graduate philosophy students Ana Balan, Galen Barry and Charles Rathkopf narrowed the field and announced the winner and runners-up in April.
Ryan Teehan, now a junior at Delbarton School In Morristown, N.J., won for his essay, “On the Objective Moral System,” and received $300 (and nice coverage in the school newspaper). Runners-up were James Blood, a senior at Atlantic Community High School in Delray Beach, Fla., who wrote on “Moral Relativism vs. Objective Moral Truth,” and Noah Fitzgerel, a senior at Annandale High School in Northern Virginia, whose essay was on “Aid: A Moral Imperative.” They each received $100.
The contest is part of U.Va.’s Project High-Phi, the brainchild of Green, who is on a mission to bring philosophical education to America’s high schools.
The project came to be in 2008 thanks to support from U.Va.’s Teaching Resource Center, the Squire Family Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
It is inspired by the idea that you don’t have to be in college to engage productively with philosophy, Green explained. It is also motivated by the fact that many American secondary-level students have little or no access to philosophy classes, and that philosophy is a difficult subject to study on one’s own, he said. “That’s why we’re here.”
The project includes a scholars’ forum, an Epic Questions summer institute for high school teachers and college student internships, and next summer, Green hopes to launch a Socratic method online tool — “a website that talks back” is how he describes it.
The essay content, open to all U.S. high school students from both public and private high schools, as well as students being home-schooled, will be repeated in the future, Green said.
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