Violet, the title character of our final book, has mismatched eyes, blotchy skin, and hair that can't be brushed. Her gaze is direct and unsettling. There are many ways that she defies the stereotype of a princess, and these will play an important role as the story unfolds. In class we considered these differences, and then worked to define beauty. This led us quickly to inner beauty, which all agreed is much more important.
Together we generated a list of virtues:
Caring for others
Students then broke into groups to work on organizing this list, grouping things together and defining categories. Over our winter break they should stay in touch with their group via email and complete their group process, writing definitions for their set of virtues, and providing examples from literature as well as life.
Please continue reading Iron Hearted Violet as well, reading at least to Chapter 49. We will see what virtues Violet possesses, and where they will lead her!
Have a wonderful holiday!
Philosophy for Children (ages 12-14) December 9
with Rich Piscopo
For our class of December 9, I began the lesson on what makes something precious, and we began to establish criteria for preciousness. One student brought up the idea of a trusting friendship as an example of something precious. It was discussed that true friendships are rare, thereby fulfilling one of the criteria of preciousness. It was agreed that we just can't be friends with everyone.
Then a second student, in a clear, pure voice asked, "Why can't we be friends with everyone?" Silence. The rest of us were stumped. After a moment, the first student said there just wasn't enough time. Another said many people were closed-minded and judgmental, and were therefore difficult to trust. The second student persisted in her query by asking, "Why are humans like that?"
I asked her if she was asking why people aren't more openhearted. She answered, "Yes. Why aren't people more like children? When children who are strangers meet, they become instant friends and immediately start playing together." She then went on to say that people close up. The first student added, "We build a cocoon around ourselves." I asked if all thought we build walls around ourselves because, as the other student had said earlier, people tend to be judgmental and we don't want to be hurt. All agreed. To pursue the original inquiry, I repeated, why does this happen? Why do people "close up"?
I asked if perhaps our educational system had anything to do with this phenomenon. I referenced my experience of teaching children who were generally much more closed up in the public school system. This led to a discussion on home schooling. The first student said, "Kids are not going to learn if they don't want to learn." He went on to question the curricula of public schools in general. He also cited the huge challenge of teaching millions of children the same material, so that our culture may be passed from one generation to the next. Another said that in many public schools the teachers push their students to rush to judgment. The first student said teachers should guide their students, not push them. I reiterated the saying, "You can't force a plant to grow by tugging on its leaves!"
The comment about students being pushed to judgment brought us back to the phenomenon of people tending to be judgmental. I referred the class to the Bertrand Russell quote on this topic,
"To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most of the other virtues. For the learning of every virtue there is an appropriate discipline, and for the learning of suspended judgment the best discipline is philosophy."
I also referred them to John Dewey (with whom Matthew Lipman had a relationship). Dewey said we should always be open to new evidence. Maintain a working hypothesis until new evidence presents itself, and then be prepared to abandon the old hypothesis in favor of the new. Don't jump to conclusions. Suspend judgment until more evidence appears.
I also told the class the Zen story of the professor who goes to visit the Zen master. Perceiving the professor is presumptuous, the master invites the professor to tea. The master serves the tea. He pours the tea into the professor's teacup. The cup fills up. The master continues to pour. The cup is overflowing and the professor can no longer restrain himself. He proclaims, "The cup is full! No more will go in!" The master replies, "Just as this cup is full, so are you also full of your own assumptions and preconceived notions. Empty your cup and let me show you Zen."
If we can resist rushing to judgment, continue to seek the truth, keep our hearts and minds open, indeed, keep our cups empty, then perhaps the clear, pure question of a child asking why we can't all be friends will bring us to our senses.
Thank you, all. Thank you for your intrepid spirit in supporting Philosophy for Children.
May you have a peaceful, loving, and joyous Christmas holiday.