Stanford University and NPR Host “Philosophy Talk” Episode at Stuyvesant

Stanford University and National Public Radio (NPR) hosted and taped an episode of “Philosophy Talk” at Stuyvesant on October 13 for the public to attend.

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Stanford University Undergraduate Admissions and National Public Radio hosted and taped an episode of “Philosophy Talk” at Stuyvesant on October 13. About 100 guests, primarily from New York City and New Jersey, gathered to watch co-hosts and Stanford professors Ken Taylor and Josh Landy discuss prevalent philosophical questions with guest Scott Forstall in an episode titled “The Creative Life.”

“Philosophy Talk” is a nationally syndicated public radio show where its host philosophers and a guest converse every week about topics ranging from “White Privilege and Racial Injustice” to “The Ethics of Debt.” This episode discussed creativity and how it relates to college and career choices.

Stuyvesant was asked to host this episode in order to “get more people who are humanities-oriented to apply and convince people that the humanities are a neat endeavor they should pursue,” Chair of Student Affairs and social studies teacher Matthew Polazzo said.

Stuyvesant’s auditorium was a venue that fit the needs of the program. “It was the right size for our projected audience, and the stage is large enough to accommodate our crazy set-up with a sound table, room for the hosts and guests center-stage, and a band,” producer Cindy Prince Baum said in an e-mail interview. In addition, Stuyvesant had already established a familiarity with Stanford University from prior years through matriculating students.

Stuyvesant was supposed to hold a similar event for “Philosophy Talk” last year, but it fell through. “As you know, the event was a fairly large undertaking, requiring things like audio recording equipment, a venue, a guest, live music, furniture, local vendors, and lots more. Last year, the planning didn't start until a bit too late for all of the pieces to come together, so we opted not to hold the event at all and to start the planning process earlier this year,” Baum said.

Stanford alum Forstall played a large role in the creation of the iOS software system currently used by Apple technology and is now a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer for his two plays, “Fun Home” and “Eclipsed.” During the talk, he and the other hosts provided the audience with advice on subjects such as maintaining creativity and how to make the most of your education. “They had a lot of neat little tips, tricks, and larger philosophical points that they made to encourage people to be [creative] and think creatively,” Polazzo said.

In addition to discussion among the hosts, the episode showed a video of alumni from around the globe conducting creative works of their own, narrated by Liza Veale. It also had a quick segment with Merle Kessler, the “Sixty-Second Philosopher,” and a Q&A session with the audience.

The producers of “Philosophy Talk” initially reached out to Assistant Principal of Social Studies Jennifer Suri last year about hosting an episode at Stuyvesant. Suri redirected them to Polazzo, who teaches philosophy classes such as Western Political Thought. However, due to scheduling conflicts, this plan could not be put into motion until this school year.

This “Philosophy Talk” episode was intended to be relevant for many high school students. “Students who are thinking about college might well be interested to hear from Scott Forstall about how his university experience helped shape his fascinating, successful, and fulfilling career,” Landy said in an e-mail interview. “We also thought, more specifically, that students with creative ambitions might be interested to hear a discussion about how to spark ideas and keep the spirit of inventiveness alive.”

Baum seconded Landy’s message. “The concept of approaching one's life choices creatively is particularly relevant to students, since they will likely have multiple careers during their lifetime. […] Life does not often take a linear path, so creative, out-of-the box thinking will help them as they approach each life-changing decision,” she said.

“It was inspiring,” Joel Veras, a student at The Academy of Innovative Technology High School, said. “Before coming in, I really had just a focus on artificial intelligence.” After attending this event, Veras now believes that disciplines such as philosophy are just as important, as they can contribute to critical thinking and creativity.

Though the talk had a significant impact on some members of the audience, some were left unsatisfied. “That was the first radio show I’ve been to and I expected it to be more of a conversation, but I got there early and they were even rehearsing what they should talk about, which I thought was a little disappointing,” senior Hanah Jun said. However, she noted that the hosts were more relaxed and informal during the unaired Q&A time.

Others had issues with the question-and-answer portion of the episode. “There were a couple of points, a couple of questions that the people who were asking them weren’t doing the best that they could to communicate them,” Winston Peloso, an audience member from Princeton, New Jersey, said. In addition, hosts often gave in-depth but circuitous answers. “The panel was also talking past the questions a little bit, and they tended to go off-topic in the questions,” Peloso said. This could be seen in both lights, Peloso noted, as going beyond the limitations of a question allowed the philosophers to expand on ideas and consider topics more deeply, something he found enlightening.

Despite these minor criticisms, Polazzo considers the talk to be a success, and would be open to “Philosophy Talk” hosting again at Stuyvesant. “I hope the people who came were inspired. I’m a supporter of the goal of increasing philosophical thought and being more creative. I do really believe that’s what the underlying preface of all education [is],” he said.