NYC techie kids buck trend, take on humanities


contrariwiseA group of New York City students have taken on an ambitious venture: a finely produced journal, with 128 pages of dialogues, essays, letters, diaries, poems, roundtable discussions, questions, commentary, and art on philosophical topics ranging from time to tyranny. Here’s the kicker: these aren’t lit kids. They’re science kids at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, & Engineering. Not fuzzies, but techies. We keep hearing how kids have to be engaged with gimcracks and videogames and teaching techniques that include smartphones. It’s cheering to see a few kids buck the trend. This kind of thoughtfulness is the very essence of the humanities, after all. (They do, however, have a website here.)

Here’s how the editors-in-chief, Ron Gunczler and Nicholas Pape describe the genesis of Contrariwise: A Journal of Philosophy in a public school that includes sixth to twelfth grade students:  “Juniors in Political Philosophy wrote continuations of Plato‘s Republic, Book VIII – the section in which Socrates and Adeimantus discuss the decay of the kallipolis, city of philosopher-kings. Professor Senechal was so stunned by the breadth and depth of the responses that she felt they necessitated some form of permanence – a booklet, perhaps? She asked the student body for input, and overwhelming feedback indicated CSS needed a literary journal.”

“We had originally anticipated that Contrariwise would be limited to Political Philosophy. It was then expanded to encompass the whole school, and we now represent the entire student body. We didn’t imagine anyone but parents buying copies, but Contrariwise is going national.” And a good thing, too. The first issue was funded by donations. The next will be funded on sales.


Free advice.

Topics in the inaugural issue include Alba Avoricani‘s “Letter from Folly to Platon Kovalyov,” Khadijah McCarthy’s “John Locke on the Nature of Marriage,” and, taking on Hamlet, Sofia Arnold‘s “Claudius: A Flawed Machiavel.” I was rather intrigued by Megan Almanzar‘s essay on freezing time, “The Key to Immortality,” and Fariha Wadud‘s “The Book of Job’s Greater Message.” And especially fond of Daniela Batista‘s cover art, with a peppy bird on the nose of a dyspeptic buffalo. I’d like to know its title, and the story behind it.

The results of their labor arrived in my mailbox unsolicited. I wondered how I got on the mailing list. I scanned the staff page all the way to the end before I recognized the name … ah … this is also the latest venture of the students’ faculty adviser, Diana Senechal, also a translator of the preeminent Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova. Said Diana on her blog here: “This inaugural issue was five months in the making, and here it is. I am honored to have witnessed my students’ inspiration, care, and wit throughout the project—and thrilled to hold and read the book.”


One Response to “NYC techie kids buck trend, take on humanities”

  1. AJ Loeb Says:

    Dear Ms. Haven,

    Thanks so much for the wonderful post, gave the whole school a lift.

    Daniela’s cover art illustrating opposing points of view, “the oxpecker and the African Cape Buffalo,” was adapted from a photograph by Paul McKenzie, ©Paul Mckenzie/ and used with permission.

    Happy writing, and best wishes.