Local Public High School Students Learn Philosophy and Find Their Voices

Columbia's Freedom and Citizenship program is now accepting applications from rising juniors.

Caroline Harting
February 11, 2020

Can students today find meaning in the works of ancient Greek philosophers, like Socrates or Plato? Teachers involved with Freedom and Citizenship,  Columbia’s summer program for local high school students, say the answer is yes. 

According to Jessica Lee, the program’s director, students and teachers engage with the ancient texts and make connections to the students’ current lives. “For one student, Rousseau's Social Contract is the key to understanding why her immigrant parents treat her brothers and sisters differently, and for another, Hobbes's Leviathan describes his experiences at his underperforming high school,” Lee said.

Every summer since 2009, the Freedom and Citizenship program, a partnership between Columbia's Center for American Studies and the Roger Lehecka Double Discovery Center, has invited about 45 local New York City high school students to spend part of their summer on Columbia’s campus learning philosophy and other humanities courses from Columbia professors, visiting teachers, guest lecturers and Columbia undergraduate teaching assistants. The program, which is free of charge, reaches out to local public high schools' college counselors to encourage applications from students who live in low-income neighborhoods and who might be the first in their families to go to college

After the students finish their summer session, they work on a year-long civic leadership project. They also receive college application help and each student receives a college recommendation letter from his or her seminar’s professor. Nearly 100% of Freedom and Citizenship students go to college following high school graduation.

Freedom and Citizenship is now accepting applications for Summer 2020.