Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Anybody done the Slam?

I'm curious to know if anyone there has been involved with the Philosophy Slam program: This is an annual competition for K-12 students wherein they write essays, create artworks, etc. in response to a philosophical question. Last year's question was "Is the pen mightier than the sword?" (The 2009 question was "Greed or Giving: Which has a Greater Impact on Society?")

Here's an excerpt from the winning essay by Achutha Raman:
Martyrs perhaps best exemplify the triumph of language over violence. These individuals are physically destroyed by violence, but through words, they and their ideals are resurrected. From Jesus Christ to James Brown of the antebellum era to Stephen Biko of the apartheid struggles, successful martyrs abound in history, inciting both immediate and lasting action. They show that in a one-on-one battle between the pen and sword, the pen deals the final blow.

Not bad for a high schooler, eh?

Has anyone been involved in this event? Inspired in part by Chris' involvement with middle schoolers, I'd be very interested in getting involved with the Slam. Does anyone have experience with this?


  1. Not bad at all, for a high schooler!

    However, is it really philosophy? It's not so much the essay excerpt I'm asking this about, but rather the whole event. The topics mentioned don't seem philosophical, and I can't see how creating artworks, etc. can constitute doing philosophy.

    So, sorry to be a fuddy duddy, but this seems to me to be something other than philosophy. The emphasis doesn't seem to be on the critical analysis or careful generation of arguments, but rather on presenting interesting or rhetorically compelling claims. Quite possibly, there's good to come of that; but I wonder whether this isn't helping to give students the wrong impression about what philosophy is and what it can do for them.

  2. Justin, I share some of your concerns, though perhaps it's fairer to say that the event is philosophical even if fairly distant from *academic* philosophy. I gather, for instance, that the 'pen v. sword' question is sort of a stand in for a 'philosophical' question about social change: is violence or persuasion more effective in bringing about social change? That's 'philosophical' in the lay sense of 'a big question about the human condition.' I suspect many philosophers would see that as a question for historians, sociologists, etc., but again, that kind of disciplinary boundary policing is not well-understood in the general public.

    I also wonder to what extent the event organizers would be open to changing the event format to be more rigorously philosophical (perhaps have finalists selected on the basis of their essays, etc., and then having a guided debate among them)?

  3. It bothers me that students are encouraged to write in this kind of "bullsh&*ing" style about stuff that they really couldn't know anything about. The prompts are designed so as to ensure that students won't know what they are talking about and that is supposed to make the questions philosophical.


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