Like many of the surrounding structures, the red brick Emerson Hall building holds a formidable presence in Harvard Yard.
The hall, the home of Harvard University’s Philosophy Department, has been in place since 1906. It has been the base for so much critical thinking and as recent as 2012, the seeds for the rise of a new non-profit grew from there.
Thinker Analytix (TA) started as a summer program six years ago with the Philosophy Department at Harvard. As TA established momentum with college and high school students becoming more and more involved, it became an official non-profit organization in 2014.
TA was co-founded by Anne Sanderson and Lauren Davidson, a graduate student in Philosophy at the time.Nate Otey, an undergraduate, joined the team full-time in the spring of 2018. Anne serves as the CEO and is an Associate in Philosophy at Harvard whilst also having over 20 years of experience as a high school teacher.
“Thinker Analytix teaches people how to argue by focusing specifically on reasoning skills,” tells Anne. “This is what makes Thinker Analytix unique in that reasoning skills for some reason are not taught in classrooms. When I say classrooms, I do not confine that to kingergarten through twelfth grade, but also not taught generally in college classrooms.
“Of course, universities and high schools do this kind of work as part of a discipline. As far as learning the components of an argument, the ways in which reasons work relative to one another and how those fit into arguments. There’s no system that we know of that’s broadly taught in that way. I would almost call it its own skillset that’s been neglected.”
Back in 2014, TA had around a dozen graduate students providing enrichment programs for around 100 high school pupils in the Cambridge area. The non-profit was also conducting philosophy classes in high schools in Lexington and Saturday programs at the Codman Academy Charter School in Dorchester at that time.
The primary focus of TA is a method called Argument Mapping. Mapping teaches young people how to construct an argument on to a visual diagram. “Princeton had been using argument maps as their structure,” informs Anne. “We adopted what Simon Cullen at Princeton was using for the argument map structure. There were great debates on what to call each word and each support structure in the maps.
“We used all of that to develop our own way of approaching the mapping activity and try make it accessible to high school students. Imagining they have no idea what an argument is really and what support relationships are like. We used that prototype to do our mapping work and to develop the curriculum.”
TA share their curriculum in two ways. The non-profit has in-person and online Professional Development workshops. The in-person workshop initially involved TA mentors observing students interacting with material. This past summer, the organization had a workshop to train close to 25 teachers on how to incorporate TA’s material into classrooms.
The other aspect of TA’s curriculum is the student-facing course. This enables schools and institutions to avail of TA’s material without having to call upon the services of an instructor. The organization currently has five teachers conducting the student-facing course.
TA is still a relatively new non-profit and so far, it has been able to call upon the generosity of family and friends of members of the organization for revenue. TA has also received funding from the Squire Foundation and the Lexington School Foundation. Harvard has provided space and a workforce to support the non-profit.
The target now for TA is to establish a crowd sourcing fundraising arm. “There is a great deal of money right now in civic education,” says Anne. “This skill is so necessary to civic participation and civic action, building and analysing arguments. We’re going to approach different groups.
“There’s going to be a PR campaign as well. Then we’ll go to large donors to try to get more money to make an online course that could be broadly distributed. That’s our goal. Also, bring on more staff. We have loads of plans, but we need good funding to do that.”