Philosophy Class Challenges, Inspires


Mallory Kaster, Senior Staff Writer

“I took Philosophy as a way to ‘learn how to think.’ I wanted to learn about different philosophers and their theories, and how those apply to what I believe as an individual. I have learned all of these things and then some in my IB philosophy class.” –Maria Sausen


Along with many other students, senior Maria Sausen is thankful she took IB Philosophy.


“What I have learned from this class is not something to be put into words. It is a matter of experience,” senior Brenden Pedersen-Fritsch said.


One of the highlights of the year in Philosophy was a field trip to Deer Park Buddhist Center and the Madison Zen Center in mid-April.


At the Madison Zen Center, students were taught how to sit zazen, listen to a Buddhist teaching on philosophy, and have tea.


In the afternoon, students travelled to the Deer Park Buddhist Center.


“That is the only temple of its kind in the Western Hemisphere,” philosophy teacher Chris Gray said. “It has been consecrated by the Dalai Lama, who visits there regularly. At that temple, we had a tour and we had another teaching, this time by a Buddhist nun.”


Sausen said she loved the contrast between the two sects of the same religion.


“The Zen Center was extremely simplistic and plain-with dark colors and white walls,” she said. “Deer Park, on the other hand, was bursting with color, patterns and vibrancy.”


Gray agreed with Sausen.


“The two places were both Buddhist but very contrasting and definitely connected to the philosophy and learning that we did in the classroom,” he said.


Senior Maria Lepak said she loved the trip and would go back in a heart beat.


“It was so eye-opening and educational,” she said. “Normally, students are hesitant and uncomfortable when being introduced to a new religion hands-on. However, after learning about Buddhism in class, we entered the trip with an open mind and a new appreciation for the religion itself. It was very meaningful.”


Gray said the trip gave the students a unique opportunity.


“The students were able to DO philosophy, which is the emphasis of IB,” he said. “It’s not just memorizing things or studying the history of philosophy, but having to really engage with the concepts and participate in what the philosophies are trying to convey.”


Sausen is thankful for the opportunity.


“Overall, the trip was really interesting and fun!” she said. “It was nice to get out of the classroom to see people living the faith we have been studying.”


Pedersen-Fritsch said the trip was so much more than just a field trip.


“It was life-changing,” he said.


Gray said his favorite part of the trip was being able to see the deep connections between Catholicism and Buddhism, and even beyond that, other world philosophies.


“They really often share common core teachings,” he said. “Obviously there are profound differences between philosophies and religious traditions. However, some of the most essential principles are really, I think, an opportunity for common ground.”

He said the best example of that is the core value of compassion that is emphasized in Buddhism.

“The root of compassion, I think, is essentially a very similar teaching to what Jesus preaches in the Gospels,” he said. “If you even think about the Golden Rule, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you,’ that’s essentially very similar to what the Buddhist concept of compassion teaches.”

Gray said that in both centers visited on the trip compassion was talked about and centered on.

“We had learned about Buddhist compassion and how it relates to suffering and other issues here at school,” he said. “So to be able to see the kind of multi-cultural connections and students being able to appreciate not only differences but some profound similarities was pretty meaningful.”

Lepak said philosophy is very different from her other classes because they do things outside of the box.

“I took philosophy to gain a new perspective on life, to re-evaluate the common unanswerable questions about life,” she said. “The other week we sat in front of the tree outside the window and the tree taught the class. It’s so fun and creative. The projects are crazy, outside the box, and I love it.”

Sausen said that just walking into Mr. Gray’s classroom, you know it will be different than your other classes, in an amazing way, of course.

“In Philosophy, you learn to keep an open mind and challenge yourself to see things from different perspectives.”

Gray also recognizes that teaching Philosophy is different than teaching his other classes.

“The hands-on approach is key [in teaching philosophy],” he said. “As an IB course, the emphasis is on a kind of experiential learning. The emphasis on direct experience, on DOING philosophy, is important.”

Gray said they try to have different projects and activities that make the class more than just a class on philosophy.

“It’s really a class on consciousness and how we think, live and experience the world,” he said. “So the themes are so broad in philosophy that there’s a lot of opportunity for students to really personalize what we’re learning and try to apply it to their own lives and experiences.”

All the students who take Philosophy seem to love having Mr. Gray as their teacher.

“Mr. Gray is what makes the class so amazing,” Sausen said. It wouldn’t be philosophy at NDA without Mr. Gray!”

Sausen said that Gray’s passion for philosophy is extremely contagious.

“Although the material can be difficult, his excitement makes the material so enjoyable,” she said. “Although Philosophy is most likely the hardest class I have ever taken, I have never enjoyed a class more.”

Lepak agreed with Sausen.

“Mr. Gray is my favorite teacher. He really makes all of us think and brainstorm answers that are impossible to figure out,” she said. “He is outstandingly intelligent and really connects with his students. He is very laid back and chill ; the students love that about him.”

“There is no other man I’d rather have as our leader,” Pedersen-Fritsch said.

All the students said they would recommend the class. Pedersen-Fritsch now has a new outlook on life because of it.

“The class is different, perspective-changing,” he said.