The Free Philosophy Project: Parents in shelter gather together for philosophical discussions
Every Tuesday evening of the school year at Columbia House, you will find a group of parents seated around a kitchen table, enjoying snacks and one another’s company. While the kids are busy playing with Horizons for Homeless Children’s PALs, the parents are busy having philosophical discussions posing questions such as: What defines a miracle? How does our culture influence definitions of beauty? What value does love bring to our lives? This group discussion is led by Maité Cruz Tleugabulova, a PhD candidate of philosophy from Boston University and a member of the Free Philosophy Project.
The Free Philosophy Project began as an experiment in 2015 when Clarinda Blais, then an undergraduate student at BU, began sharing her notes at the Women’s Lunch Place and St. Francis House. The Free Philosophy Project became a formal organization in 2016, spanning across 10 different shelters in the Greater Boston area, bringing weekly philosophical discussions to shelter residents. The partnership between Hildebrand and the Free Philosophy Project officially began in January 2018 and will continue to run according to the academic calendar with a fall and spring session.
The Free Philosophy Project aims to “share philosophy with those who may not otherwise have access to it.” Every week our families come together to engage in intellectual discussion, increasing their critical thinking skills and allowing them the space to share their thoughts based on their lived experiences. The effects of these conversations are clear for both Maité, as a student, and for the families participating.
Maité studies Philosophy and teaches courses at Boston University, and she brings some of the questions from her class into the weekly discussion. The Free Philosophy Project allows Maité to learn about philosophy from folks of different walks of life. She says “it’s nice to see people coming to philosophy from a different place and gets them to see the issues in a real way. It’s not abstract, it’s connecting ideas to their lives.” The participants of the project feel similarly. One resident, Victoria, has been attending the weekly discussion for the past two months and looks forward to how each weekly meeting changes her perspective. She says, “It teaches you different ways to think about things and look at things in life, which helps with everything in general. The ‘Happiness’ discussion was a good one and it’s been a positive experience.”
Some families were skeptical at first, hesitantly joining the discussion group then being pleasantly surprised by taking a lot away from the experience. One such resident, Leah recalls, “At first I wasn’t going to do it but it’s helping me see the big picture and think more in depth about happiness. We can be honest about ourselves and not be judged.”
Another resident, Illiana, who has attended the weekly discussion groups since it began, has seen a change in herself since starting the group. “They opened my mind to thoughts I had but couldn’t put into words. My way of thinking is different. I find myself thinking in depth more often.”
Hildebrand offers a variety of training and work readiness programs and life skill development programs. While housing clinics and budgeting workshops are beneficial in breaking down barriers to housing, it’s important to us that we provide opportunities for parents to reflect on topics and ideas beyond their current situation. Another such workshop series hosted annually is The Parenting Journey.
The Free Philosophy Project is now an integral part of our program offerings and is particularly unique. It’s driven by the experiences of our families and provides them an opportunity to highlight their experiences and connect them to larger concepts. We are excited to continue this partnership and look forward to the many philosophical discussions to be had at Columbia, and expanding it for our families in Dorchester this fall.