SOME YEARS AGO, Stephen Vicchio, a philosophy professor at the College of Notre Dame, was the luncheon guest of a group of proper Roland Park ladies.
"Tell me, young man," asked one of the ladies over a cucumber sandwich, "just what does a philosopher do?"
That set Vicchio thinking. A short time later, the professor altered his philosophy about philosophy. He vowed never to write an obscure essay "that didn't matter in some important way. Philosophy shouldn't be something people do in private places and academic journals. It's something everybody practices."
Out of that thinking grew something unusual in higher education: Notre Dame's Institute for Public Philosophy. The institute's mission, says Vicchio, "is to return philosophy to where Socrates left it - the town square, the schools, the marketplaces."
As a consultant representing the institute, Vicchio, 50, conducts workshops for prison guards and police officers as far away as San Diego. He asks the participants: What makes a moral police officer? He gives homework. He assigns officers to read Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail," a document Vicchio says "police officers really relate to. They confront more moral issues than workers in almost any other profession, including the oldest."
Vicchio doesn't restrict his training to officers on the street. When he takes on a police department, the chiefs participate, too. "The notion of moral goodness ought to apply equally to the chief and the new guy in the academy," he says.
What Vicchio and the institute do is teach people how to be good. Or, to put it in a way that's more accurate and less sappy, they teach people how to develop moral reasoning in their everyday lives.
That goes for kids, too. Vicchio has interviewed 2,000 fourth- and fifth-graders across the country to learn how they make moral judgments. Many have more accurate moral compasses than their parents, says Vicchio, in part because they have a better notion of "the right thing to do."
The institute also has a publishing arm. It's just out with Vicchio's new play, Executioner's Hill, set in 18th-century Holland but dealing with an enduring theme: When - if ever - is the state justified in taking a life?
Notre Dame education program accredited
The teacher education program at the College of Notre Dame has won approval from the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), which means it's successfully concluded a three-year process of self-examination and inspection by outside experts.
Whether accreditation produces better teachers is a question being hotly debated nationally, but Sister Sharon Slear, director of the Notre Dame program, said NCATE approval "brings us to a different level."
Notre Dame is the first independent college in Maryland to earn NCATE accreditation.
Schools for dyslexic kids switch locations
Two Baltimore schools for dyslexic children are about to play musical chairs, mainly because they're bursting at the seams.
Next year, when the Odyssey School moves to a 42-acre campus on Greenspring Avenue in Baltimore County, the Lab School of Washington will move its Baltimore school into Odyssey's vacated space on Roland Avenue.
The Lab School, which is relocating from cramped quarters in the Port Discovery Children's Museum downtown, has a three-year lease with Odyssey. Then it will have to look for another home: Odyssey, expecting steady expansion, wants to keep its new campus and reoccupy its old one.
Paint, precious metal south of the border
Our third annual "college courses we'd love to take":
"San Miguel de Allende: Experiencing Mexican Culture Through Landscape Painting and Silverwork," given next summer in the Maryland Institute College of Art study abroad program.
The course, says the institute catalog, "offers the study of landscape painting or silverwork while living in a magical 16th-century hilltop town."
June 22-July 21, 2002. Cost: $2,995 plus airfare.