University of Minnesota
Philosophy Camp
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Philosophy Camp Overview

Philosophy Camp is another name for the course Philosophy 4326 — Lives Worth Living: Questions of Self, Vocation, and Community (4 cr). The course meets University of Minnesota theme requirements for Citizenship/Public Ethics and Other Humanities Core. Philosophy Camp is an off-campus, residential offering held for three weeks during May Session at Shalom Hill Farm, a retreat facility near the city of Windom in rural southwest Minnesota.

Philosophy camp students and instructors discover fresh possibilities for what makes life worth living through learning by doing. We engage in processes of:

We Make Our Own Growth

Philosophy Camp brings students and instructors together to create a community on the peaceful, wide-open prairies. We practice eating healthy foods and living simply and thoughtfully while we are together. We work to create and maintain a living-learning community with rich, nourishing social spaces that give us the freedom to grow. We think about how we want to grow and about how we help others grow. We explore concepts and topics related to self, vocation, community, education, and social change in group learning circles.

4 campers leaping

Some comments from students:

"When you get used to doing these circles and you listen to what people have to say about hope or… other things, I suppose, that really affects how you live your life, then you come to realize that you can live a much more robust life by taking into consideration, deeply, what other people have to say and how they feel and working with them can pretty much make your life a whole lot more worth living. So, it's fun to live by yourself and just do what you want to do all the time and study or do whatever, but living with people and working with them and building a community like one that we've had here, that's something I'd like to take with me. And, yeah, it is a model and it's a damn good one too: this has been, it's been probably the best 18 days of my life, I suppose, in a row, consecutively."

"For my experience, I spend most of my time with my Vietnamese friends. And now being in this community, most of them are American. It opened up a new door for me to learn about American culture and sharing my culture with them. Definitely, I've grown a lot in this course. It just makes me feel like I am capable of doing things. If I have faith in what I'm doing and keep doing it, I can succeed. And so in this course it gives me space to do those things, experience things, like all the instructors are so encouraging, ‘You can do it! Just go! That's great idea!’ Whenever I came and told them, "Oh, that's what I think," they said, ‘Oh, go ahead and do it!’ and they gave me all the support I need."

"I actually like the idea that you have your group circle in the beginning of the day and then, for the most part, you're on your own, because that provides the opportunity for you to interact with other students and with other instructors, and to really get hands on in things rather than have things fed to you, as you would, say, in the normal classroom environment. You have to find things to do, you have to make the most out of your day. And I think that's what most students here did over the course of this class."

Learning circle

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We Make Local Friends

Throughout Philosophy Camp students and instructors will explore how to lead good lives in a world that is constantly changing. Students will meet local innovators—individuals, businesses, or organizations—in the Windom area who are responding creatively to changing circumstances.

Visiting a dairy farm

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We Make Our Growth Visible

We work to make our growth visible by capturing our experiences in an ongoing process of documentation. We use audio, video, text, and artistic expression to help us capture stages of our growth so that we can reflect back on it, noticing change over time.

"The other thing that I think is really important is stressing the idea that it's not going to be perfect. We're not talking about a utopia here. This isn't magical fairyland. This is real life with real people with real issues, with real junk that they carry around, with their stupid stuff that happens with stupid decisions that they make; so the idea of the course is not just that we're just going to have this absolutely blissful thing, where nothing bad happens and no conflicts occur—that's not the point. It's to figure out how to do this with real people in real life in real situations when you might not like everybody in your community and a few things that they do drive you a little bit up the wall, and, like, "How do you deal with that one nutty person"? And I think letting people know that that can be handled and that's part of it and they're not failing if that happens, that this is a desirable part of learning how to actually build community, not like fantasy community, but like real people community that you might actually sort of manage to replicate in your life, like that's hugely important stuff.”

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We Make Our Own Food

Students prepare a variety of foods for everyone in the community, including meat eaters, vegetarians, vegans, and those with food allergies. Everyone experiences new tastes! Some students bring ingredients from home to treat their friends to a special dish from their native country. Just a few of the many foods prepared by students include:

Making challahPhoto (above) by Julia Johnson Dinner and dessert

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We Make Our Own Community

Philosophy Camp is inspired by the folk high schools of Denmark where students and instructors live, work, celebrate, and learn together for periods ranging from a few weeks to several months. It is run by a team of five instructors: Roy Cook, professor in the University's philosophy department, Lynn Englund, instructor in curriculum and instruction, Peter Shea, adjunct instructor in philosophy, video producer, and Nance Longley, graphic designer.

Our goal is for Philosophy Camp to be a healthy and safe community that encourages the growth and development of individuals. We value being rested, alert to our own experiences, and attentive to each other. With these aims in mind, we recommend that each person limit use of alcohol and drugs (even caffeine) during the course.

“Something that was really brought to light was the idea of community, and how important it is to live in a community and to see the people that you live with as part of your community and the things that are important in that community… In this course, we talked about community, and we talked about what it meant to be a good listener and we talked about what it meant to be a good friend, we talked about the things that were important to us as people within the course… You learn people's hearts first, and that sets you up to treat people so much better and with so much more respect, because you learn to love people so quickly and you learn to care about them so quickly and I think that you can't help but live those community values. You can't help but care what's happening to other people in your group and see how your actions affect other people. You can't help but do that because you get to know them so well and you care so deeply about them.”

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We Make Our Own Fun

Student with egg found on walk

Think of a time when you were aware of feeling truly alive. Was it a time when you were engrossed in something, creating something, at play? How often do we find ourselves in front of a television or playing games on the computer to escape the stress of the day? What if our days were filled with less stress and we had time to make our own fun? What would we do?

“One of the instructors was very much committed to the whole notion of incorporating play: play as creative thing, as an exploration. I think it is a contagious spirit. I think it was fostered here. One of the very first things we did was take a walk through the prairie. One student who had been a camp counselor engaged everybody in a game of hide and seek. It sounds absurd, and it was a little absurd, but it was quite enjoyable. So, very early, I started feeling 10 years old again.”

“You could sit in your room twiddling your thumbs, but if you really want to do something, you have to go out there and find it yourself. You have to make it yourself, in many respects, as well. Ah, just several days ago we went outside; I saw some instructors and students flying some kites that they had, in fact, constructed. Granted, … we brought some stuff from home, but, for the most part, we did exactly that, we made our own fun. We went on hikes that would take three hours out of the day and it would feel like 30 minutes. But it took some time to get used to: the first few days, they just stretched on forever because you weren't close to anyone and you didn't know what to do, but as you got into it the days went by so fast you kinda wished you had more time.”

flying kites

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