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Retired teacher brings Socrates Cafe to Delmont

| Friday, Feb. 19, 2010

Fran Lynch wants to create a society of thinkers.

The retired Derry Area School District teacher spent her career getting her students to think about the issues of the world through her philosophy classes. Post-teaching life hasn't slowed her down.

"I have to get people to think," Lynch said.

Lynch has brought the Socrates Cafe to the Delmont Public Library after witnessing groups have success in Murrysville and Greensburg.

Author Christopher Phillips, who wrote a book on Socrates Cafe groups in 2002, started the Socrates Cafe group more than a decade ago. Since then, groups have sprouted around the world and online. Discussions focus on philosophy rather than specific current events.

The group at the Murrysville Community Library has met since 2001. Its first meeting came shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.

Brien Palmer, 57, of Murrysville is one of the facilitators for the Murrysville group. He said discussions often take a turn toward current events.

"It seems like we're pulled toward politics, but we don't want to be political," Palmer said.

The Murrysville group draws between 13 and 15 people to each meeting, Palmer said. The group sets a topic for the next gathering before it ends each session. Among the proposed topics for upcoming discussions are conflicts between Christians and Muslims, morality and animal rights.

William Pamerleau, 46, of Murrysville and a facilitator for the Murrysville group, said many of the topics deal with the basics of philosophy.

"It's a lot of the meat-and-potatoes topics that philosophers talk about," Pamerleau said.

Lynch, 78, of Delmont, said she wants the newly formed Delmont group to have a looser format.

"I don't want to have a topic," Lynch said.

Lynch said she wants participants to question everything around them as part of an intellectual discussion.

"Everything should be analyzed," Lynch said.

Lynch previously started a Socrates Cafe at DV8, a coffeehouse in Greensburg, in 2005. That group still meets each Saturday. She said she doesn't attend each gathering because the participants have taken control of the discussions and don't need a facilitator.

"If you're a good teacher, you fade away," Lynch said.

While a teacher at Derry Area High School, Lynch taught a philosophy course. She continued teaching adults about philosophy after her retirement.

"I have a goal to get thinkers," Lynch said.

For the group's first meeting of 2010, Lynch chose the topic of "knowledge" to try to attract more people. She said the topic was general enough that it could be a starting point for a broader discussion of more in-depth philosophical issues.

Palmer said each discussion is structured so that anyone can join without any preparation.

"We make it so you don't have to read anything," Palmer said.

For Pamerleau, a philosophy professor at University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, the group gives him a chance to hear what other people say about issues that he deals with on a daily basis.

"As a professional philosopher, I like to hear what people think about issues," Pamerleau said.

Pamerleau said an interest in philosophy already exists among most of the participants.

"I think the people who come have an interest in it," he said.

Even though each person might have a different opinion on a certain topic, the discussions remain civil, as different people explain their viewpoints, Palmer said.

"Open-mindedness is really big," Palmer said.

Lynch's new group in Delmont has attracted a small crowd so far. She said she wanted to bring a new chapter to the Delmont Public Library to give people another way to have intellectual discussions. She said people need to make an effort to make themselves think about what is going on in the world.

"Our world is so full of junk. There is nothing to make people think," Lynch said.

Even if the Delmont chapter doesn't have the same kind of success that the Murrysville and Greensburg chapters have, Lynch said, she hopes people will seek out some forum of philosophical discussion.

Palmer said the group offers a way to relax and consider the state of people's surroundings.

"This gives you a calm, reflective feeling," Palmer said.

Additional Information:

Socrates Cafe groups:

• The Murrysville chapter meets at Murrysville Community Library, 4130 Sardis Road, on the first Monday of each month at 7 p.m.

For more information, call 724-327-1102.

• The Delmont chapter meets at the Delmont Public Library, 77 Greensburg St., on the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m.

For more information, call 724-468-5329.

• A group meets at DV8 at 208 S. Pennsylvania Ave. in Greensburg every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. For more information, call 724-219-0804.

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