NH students examine meaning of citizenship at HYPE 2017

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Why does philosophy matter? How do we determine what is fact and what is opinion, and why we should care? For the past eight years, a growing group of New Hampshire high school students have cared, gathering annually at HYPE (Hosting Young Philosophy Enthusiasts) for a day of challenging Socratic discussions led by their peers. It started with Souhegan High School students and their ethics teacher Chris Brooks. Over the years, New Hampshire Humanities has been a funder and last year partnered with HYPE to bring Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonists and scholars to a gathering of 1,100 students at the University of New Hampshire for conversations about freedom of expression and censorship in an interconnected world. 

On March 16, student leaders from Souhegan, Spaulding and Bedford High Schools will facilitate conversations with more than 1,400 of their peers, plus more than 100 teachers at HYPE 2017, hosted once again by UNH. New Hampshire Humanities will be a sponsor again this year, helping HYPE purchase copies of Citizenship: A Very Short Introduction by Richard Bellamy, to be sent to every participant prior to the conference.

The animating question this year couldn’t be more timely:
“What does it mean to be a responsible citizen?”

Related questions to be explored include:
•  What is the responsibility of a citizen to be educated?
•  What is the difference between a right, a duty and a privilege?
•  If a law goes against one’s ethical viewpoint or moral preference, to what extent is it okay to defy it?
•  Should we only be posting on social media if we’re informed on a topic? Should we remain quiet about those topics we are uninformed about?
•  Is responsibility determined by consequences or intentions? 

Some of the great thinkers of our time, including retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, have cautioned against the loss of civic knowledge, thereby opening the door for the degradation of democratic practices and institutions. The study and practice of philosophy in New Hampshire high schools feeds our young peoples’ desire to know, to think, and to reason together. The critical thinking it inspires improves problem-solving capacity and nuanced thinking about difficult issues. It has taught students how to think for themselves, how to back up assertions, and how to appreciate what Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”  

The 2017 keynote speaker is Governor John Lynch, who will also run an educator session while the students meet in their groups. This year’s HYPE topic coincides with activities conceived and coordinated by Constitutionally Speaking, a partnership project of New Hampshire Humanities, NH Institute for Civics Education, UNH School of Law, NH Supreme Court Society, Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth, and Saint Anselm College’s NH Institute of Politics. Within the next few weeks, we will be announcing special events that will take place in the spring and fall of this year. (Click the video image for a look at HYPE in action last year!) 

Since the 2012 opening event with Justice Souter, Constitutionally Speaking has been engaging citizens and citizens-to-be in civil, spirited dialogue about critical social and public policy issues and focusing attention on the importance of civics education in grades K-12. Videos of past events and resources for teachers can be found at www.constitutionallyspeakingnh.org.