Andrew M. Winters is an Instructor of Philosophy at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. His facilitation of “Live Like a Stoic for a Week” activities ties to his own efforts to incorporate Stoic practices into his everyday life.
What civically engaged projects do you do with students? What is your role?
One of the civically engaged projects I’ve done with students is to participate in the International Stoic Week “Live Like a Stoic for a Week (and Beyond)” activities, which are is modeled after the University of Exeter’s Live Like a Stoic for a Week and the Stoicism Today Blog. My role in this project is to facilitate initial satisfaction-with-life questionnaires, provide readings, and lead early-morning discussions.
Give an example of a successful project.
Fall 2016 was the second year I facilitated this program at Slippery Rock University (SRU). This year, students and members of the community met at an off-campus location at 6am (really!) Monday through Friday to work through the Stoic Week Handbook, which included Stoic texts centered on the theme of love and relationships. Participants were encouraged to complete their morning meditations (one of the program activities) prior to arriving. We would then meet to discuss the material, reflect on the previous day’s activities, and prepare for the upcoming day’s activities and obstacles. After the Stoic Week activities, students read Massimo Pigliucci’s book Answers for Aristotle (Basic Books 2012). Professor Pigliucci (City University of New York) was kind enough to come to SRU to hold an author-meets-critics session with the students and give a public lecture.
What do you think students gain from doing this civic engagement?
Students reported the following regarding their experiences:
“Live Like a Stoic for a Week was a fantastic experience. The ancient Stoic philosophers asked central questions regarding the meaning of life and the way that a meaningful life is lived. They explored methods of bettering ourselves as individuals so that we can participate in the larger whole that is our shared community. Waking up while it was still dark out and sitting around lanterns alongside friends to study the lessons of the Stoics is something that I will never forget.”
“Having the opportunity to meet with prominent philosopher Massimo Pigliucci was an invaluable experience. It is one thing to have a speaker come in, but another to have the privilege to converse with them about their ideas. The ‘author meets critics’ session allowed me to ask a question that I have been deeply curious about (regarding the origins of morality and its implications for ethics today), and I received great insight from someone who is an expert. Professor Pigliucci was amiable, respectful, and willing to engage in conversation about the different topics that students wanted to discuss. Having people such as Massimo Pigliucci come here to Slippery Rock and watching someone with his expertise interact with students and share his insight reinforces my passion to further my education in philosophy.”
What does the civic engagement project offer to wider communities?
The Live Like a Stoic for a Week (and Beyond) project has been expanding to the general local community through its support from SRU’s Center for Public Humanities, using the Old Stone House as a meeting location. In Spring 2017, the program will be also extended to the local Institute for Retirement in Learning and will be incorporated into the Humanities Ladder program and a Humanities Summer Camp at SRU. Even if community members do not adopt Stoicism, they will at least better understand how philosophical traditions and techniques can contribute to their abilities to live well.
Why do you choose to be involved?
My own involvement stems from my personal attempts to incorporate more Stoic practices into my everyday life. I have been working for the past five years to better understand how Stoic techniques can assist me in becoming more resilient to daily obstacles and stress, while becoming a more active and productive contributor to the general community. By working with students and members of the public, I am able to refine my understanding of Stoicism while sharing techniques that I have found personally beneficial.
What do you like about teaching this way? How does your civic engagement work change your relationships with students and others outside or inside of philosophy?
Some of my most powerful and memorable teaching/learning moments have taken place outside of the traditional classroom. Removing the hierarchical boundaries imposed by the traditional brick and mortar classroom setting allows students to feel free to contribute to the learning environment and recognize their own capacities to shape the discussion. Furthermore, the change of location allows me to serve the role of a moderator instead of a lecturer. This role allows me to more freely explore the ideas being discussed with the students rather than having to focus on my own intended learning objectives. I have found that the participants become more enthusiastic about the philosophical material as they are able to make meaningful connections to their own lives. Many of the participants continue to share with me the benefit of implementing Stoic techniques to current obstacles. The relationship with the participants changes from teacher-student to one of co-explorer. I believe that being able to help members of the community recognize philosophy’s capacity to assist them in living more reflective and thoughtful lives is worth waking early to greet the stars.
Do you connect your civic engagement work to larger justice issues?
One of the central themes I’ve taken with me from Stoicism is the emphasis on cosmopolitanism. I have recently been thinking about mass shootings and terrorism. The adoption of a cosmopolitan outlook may allow us to be more effective respondents so that we can prevent future travesties.