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After School, With Plato and Aristotle

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Tim Ignaffo

Tim Ignaffo

Tim Ignaffo and friends are introducing teens to philosophy

By Suzanne Guillette

The poet Kahlil Gibran said that “a teacher can only lead you to the threshold of your own mind.”

Timothy Ignaffo, a student in TC’s Philosophy and Education program, believes philosophy is the perfect tool for leading middle and high school students to that threshold. Adolescence is a time for exploring life’s larger meaning, and students find their own questions reflected in Aristotle, Plato and Kant.

In 2009 Ignaffo—a former English language arts teacher who co-majored in philosophy as an undergraduate—joined forces with fellow Philosophy and Education doctoral student Guillermo Marini and Columbia University doctoral student Michael Seifried to launch the Philosophy Outreach Program.

Funded by the Squire Foundation and TC’s Provost’s Investment Fund, the program provides after-school philosophy instruction to students at a half-dozen New York City public schools through text-based discussion groups and occasional guest lectures.

The centerpiece of the program is a collaboration with Columbia Secondary School (CSS), a middle and high school three blocks from TC where Philosophy and Education graduate students gain experience teaching actual philosophy courses. Ignaffo recently helped orchestrate two exciting developments at CSS: the Fellows Program at CSS, which provides stipends for Columbia and TC students who teach at the school; and Transitional C certification for students who have taught for at least one semester at CSS, which counts their work with the program as student teaching hours and ultimately enables them to work as classroom teachers.

Ignaffo’s vision for the program continues to grow. He and his colleagues are working to establish a nonprofit, tentatively called The Center for Humanistic and Philosophical Education, through which graduate students would introduce other disciplines in public schools.

Meanwhile, momentum for pre-collegiate philosophy is also growing, a development in which Ignaffo and his colleagues have had a direct hand. In October 2010, they organized a national conference at TC that brought together more than 180 philosophy-minded educators and students from top institutions, including Yale and the University of Arizona.

According to Ignaffo, who is also Program Manager/Field Coordinator for TC’s Early Childhood Education Program, the conference proved that “there really is a need for sharing resources and creating a larger network.”

“A nuanced dialogue on education has to go beyond philosophy,” he says. “We want to get the kids thinking broadly and deeply about all subjects. This is a holistic endeavor.”

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