Karen Mizell: From Russia With Love

While basking in Russian hospitality at Moscow State University, Karen Mizell studied an interesting twist in teaching philosophy. She is our hero for the week. Here is what she had to say:

Q: What is your job title/description at UVU?

A: Associate professor of philosophy.

Q: What made you want to teach philosophy?

A: I attended a Catholic college in San Antonio because it had a great fine arts program and I intended to major in piano performance. There were a couple of required philosophy classes taught by a great Irish professor. I was so fascinated that I kept going back for more. I feel very privileged to teach philosophy. It is a mind-expanding enterprise and turns into a shared journey of learning with my students.

Q: Recently you went to a philosophy conference in Russia. What was the purpose for going?

A: One of my research interests is a new area of philosophy called philosophy for children. The conference in Russia was devoted to this topic and I had done some research on human rights and children.

Q: What was the most interesting part or lesson of your trip?

A: Meeting faculty and students at Moscow State University was a wonderful experience. It is clear that the Russians value philosophy and revere the discipline.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the (Moscow State) philosophy faculty sponsored the Philosophy for Children conference.

UNESCO has adopted philosophy for children as an initiative because they believe it will teach children to engage in disciplined civil dialogue, allowing children to understand each other across borders and cultures.

Faculty from all over Europe — Latvia, Italy, Austria and France — attended the conference to discuss current research about engaging children in the philosophical enterprise.

Children all over Russia entered a philosophy essay contest sponsored by the philosophy department at the university. So, along with academics and faculty at the conference, there were many young students attending with their parents.

Q: How do you plan to use your knowledge to help UVU students?

A: I am encouraged to continue trying to introduce American students to philosophy at a younger age. Philosophy is a vehicle for clarifying thinking and developing independence of thought, so there is good reason to take these methods into the early grades.

The Russians obviously recognize the value of teaching philosophy to children as a way to increase their intellectual abilities and are beginning to see good results from the effort. I believe that some of the techniques I’ve learned when working with children improve my classroom teaching.

Q: If there was one message that you could tell UVU students, faculty and staff, what would it be?

A: I suppose the one message I would like to share with the students is to commit themselves to their studies. It is easy to be distracted by family and economic demands. Russian students take their studies very seriously, learn a number of languages, and are eager to enter competitive markets with their abilities.

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