The first three meetings of the Philosophy Club lacked pizza or other culinary incentives, yet 40 students spent an hour in the Reading Room in Schoolhouse on varying Friday evenings to immerse themselves in contemplative thought. These gatherings are a new addition to the School community, thanks to humanities teacher Dr. Josh Duclos. He’s astounded by the response.
“I’ve done this at a few places,” explains Duclos, a Concord-raised educator who previously taught at Groton School, The Hotchkiss School, the School’s Advanced Studies Program, and Boston University. “I’ve never had numbers like this.”
To date, the club has wrangled with Pascal’s wager, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and John Stewart Mills’ On Liberty. The opportunity to dissect, question, and discuss the dilemmas brought forth in these works is part of the club's broad appeal, says Fifth Former Anna Solzhenitsyn. “I’ve never had a way to engage with the material other than reading it on my own,” she says. “A lot of what we learn in school is the process to get an answer. Kids like to ask questions.”
Duclos’s primary role at SPS is teaching Humanities V, but his passion is philosophy. It wasn’t until the end of his undergraduate years at Connecticut College that Duclos stumbled upon the subject. As an archeology student, he thought remote site digs were in his future, but a conversation with a faculty adviser changed his course. “I went to talk to my archeology professor one day, and I kept asking why questions about things we were doing,” recalls Duclos. “Finally, I think I asked something along the lines of, ‘What's the ultimate goal of archeology? What are we trying to do?’ He said, ‘Knowledge.’ I said, well, ‘What do you mean by knowledge and what's the value of that?’ He then said, ‘I think you should go take a course in the philosophy department.’”
After his first philosophy class, Duclos was hooked. Others weren’t as enthusiastic. He recalls being given this piece of advice, “’If you can find anything else you can do and be happy, do that,’” remembers Duclos. “I was told not to do graduate school in philosophy. So, I didn't go right to graduate school.” He eventually earned higher degrees in philosophy from the University of Chicago and Boston University, but not before exploring other opportunities.
Duclos dove into work for UNICEF in India, completed a Fulbright grant in the Czech Republic, and led hikes in New Hampshire’s White Mountains for an outdoor adventure company. “I kept trying to find other things to do other than philosophy,” he says. “I also worked building scenery for a theater company. Still, I would find myself pulling out philosophy books and reading them anyway.”
Now Duclos is shepherding the next generation of thinkers and fostering their inquisitive nature with these Friday night club meetings.
“I think teenagers are predisposed to be philosophical,” says Duclos. “The earlier you get into philosophy, the better it is.”