High school students learn how to think at ‘Utah Lyceum’

High School students Jillian Sorah and Sam Cook, discuss morality studying the works of Plato at the Utah Lyceum, a philosophy summer camp at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, June 9, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George News/Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY- How many high schoolers today, or for that matter people in general, are adept at wrestling with such topics as good versus evil, what is necessary for morality to function properly and whether values are universal or differ from person to person? These issues and many more were tackled by a group of 17 high school students at Southern Utah University last week at the “Utah Lyceum,” a five-day philosophy summer camp for students ages 13 and older.

“We spend too much time teaching students what to think,” Dr. Kirk Fitzpatrick, philosophy professor at Southern Utah University and co-founder of the Utah Lyceum, said, “and we spend so little time teaching them how to think.”

Fitzpatrick said he doesn’t understand why basic logic is not taught in Utah high school classrooms.

In 2015, Dr. Kristopher Phillips, SUU professor of philosophy and member of the American Philosophical Association Committee for Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy, and Fitzpatrick founded the Utah Lyceum aiming to do just that – teach high school students how to think.

During the summer camp, students engaged with philosophy professors, passionately discussing: logic; the works of David Hume, Socrates and others; reasoning; argumentation and ethics. Each student was provided philosophical literature, daily lunches and seminars all free of charge.  

Dr. Kris Phillips engages students in a discussion about utility and benevolence, Cedar City, Utah, June 9, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George News
Dr. Kris Phillips engages students in a discussion about utility and benevolence on the Southern Utah University campus, Cedar City, Utah, June 9, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George News

The inspiration for the program came to Phillips when he was working on his graduate degree at the University of Iowa. He heard about a Lyceum program started by graduate students at the University of Illinois. After graduating in Iowa and taking a position at SUU, Phillips collaborated with colleague Fitzpatrick and the Utah Lyceum was born.

Phillips said the primary goal of the program is to provide a high quality introduction to the formal study of philosophy.

“By doing so, we hope to offer pre-college students with the skills to reason correctly in all areas of life,” he said. “We firmly believe that the kind of critical thinking skills we teach will enable students to listen to and understand different perspectives, respectfully disagree and engage in discussions about important matters.”

The investment on the part of the student is substantial — at least 25 hours to attend sessions on campus and also assigned reading outside of class. This year’s session focused on basic logic, critical thinking, arguments and informal fallacies, Fitzpatrick said. The students studied Plato’s “Five Dialogues” and David Hume’s  “An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.”

A students studying the works of Plato at the Utah Lyceum, a philosophy summer camp at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, June 9, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George News/Cedar City News
A student studies the works of Plato at the Utah Lyceum, a philosophy summer camp at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, June 9, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George News/Cedar City News

During the week, students prepare for 10-15 minute presentations on any philosophical concept of their choosing. The presentations take place on the last day, and students’ parents, families and friends are invited to attend.

Some topics for the presentations have included political obligation, the philosophy of education, time, change, luck and the concept of free will.

Phillips said this is one of his favorite parts of the program because he gets to see the “aha! moments” that occur in class develop into research that forms the basis for student presentations.

“Watching students grow over the course of five short days into careful, philosophical thinkers is one of the most rewarding things I get the chance to do,” Phillips said. “The intellectual growth we get to see is tremendous.”

Dr. Kirk Fitzpatrick lectures on the "Euthyphro dilemma" to students at the Utah Lyceum philosophy camp, Cedar City, Utah, June 9, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George News
Dr. Kirk Fitzpatrick lectures on the “Euthyphro dilemma” to students at the Utah Lyceum philosophy camp at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, June 9, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George News

This year’s program attracted a diverse group of students with unique interests and perspectives. Participant Jillian Sorah said that her favorite part about the Lyceum was reading and studying Plato’s “Five Dialogues” with Dr. Fitzpatrick.

Sam Cook, who attended the inaugural Utah Lyceum, said his favorite part was interacting with the professors and other students by engaging in discussions.

Fitzpatrick said his favorite part is being on the other side and working with the students.

 

The Utah Lyceum will be held again next June. Having already seen growth from the inaugural event, Phillips and Fitzpatrick said they hope to see the program become a permanent fixture of the Cedar City community.

For more information or to learn how to apply for the 2017 session, visit the Utah Lyceum website, Facebook page or email the directors.

Ed. note: Cedar City News and St. George News reporter Kaleigh Bronson participated in the 2016 Utah Lyceum, herself, as a student.

Email: kbronson@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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