By Briana Toole
The aim of Corrupt the Youth is to attract students from more diverse backgrounds to philosophy. Corrupt the Youth is a philosophy outreach program that brings philosophy to high school students attending under-resourced schools. In moving philosophy into the realm of the familiar, we hope to increase the number of students of color who see philosophy as a viable option for study.
By the time many students get to college, they think it’s already too late for them to begin studying philosophy. Students from underprivileged and impoverished backgrounds often enter college intending to study the familiar – to become doctors, lawyers, or engineers. These professions are all over our television screens. The philosopher is not. While students from more privileged backgrounds may have encountered philosophy during their high-school careers, the same is not true for students from underprivileged backgrounds, many of whom are people of color. I suspect that students who have already been introduced to philosophy are more likely to consider studying philosophy when they enter the university. Conversely, because people of color are less likely to have been exposed to philosophy, they may be less likely to seriously consider philosophy as a field of study.
Corrupt the Youth takes its name from the Greek philosopher Socrates, who was sentenced to death for allegedly ‘corrupting’ the youth. Socrates encouraged the Greek youth to question, and if necessary, oppose, the political and moral conventions of their society. The goal of the Corrupt the Youth philosophy outreach program is to continue that project.
Corrupt the Youth was founded at the University of Texas at Austin in Spring 2016, and works with juniors at Eastside Memorial High. Typically, two or three mentors (undergraduate or graduate students in philosophy, or philosophy professors) facilitate a class. We open the day’s lesson by introducing a key question. This question introduces the central topic for the day’s class. Students then focus on a short, manageable philosophy text. Students might then participate in a short activity or discussion to further their engagement with and deepen their understanding of the text. Classes conclude by connecting the key question and philosophical text to a broader question or issue.
For instance, a sample class might begin by asking the following key question: Are we good people when no one is watching? This is the question Socrates poses in “The Ring of Gyges.” In this dialogue, which the students read, Socrates suggests that most people would not behave morally without the fear of being caught and punished. We then ask students to apply this lesson to a contemporary issue: police corruption. Using the key question and the text as a guide, we encourage students to respond to the question: should police offices be required to wear body cameras?
In introducing students to these important philosophical topics, our broad goal is to provide students with a framework through which to understand, critically evaluate, and address some of the unique issues that we face today (like police brutality, dog-whistle politics, and xenophobia, to name a few). We also want to encourage students to critically reflect on their beliefs, values, and commitments. In this way, we hope to help students appreciate the practical value of philosophy.
Corrupt the Youth is seeking to expand to other universities, and is also trying to acquire funding to create a weeklong summer camp in philosophy for Texas high school students. You can learn more at CorruptTheYouth.org.