Friday, April 21, 2017

Four Feet, Two Sandals

Four Feet, Two Sandals, by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, tells the story of two ten-year-old girls, Lina and Feroza, and their families, who are living in a refugee camp in Pakistan, having fled the war in Afghanistan. The girls become friends when each finds one sandal from a matching pair, after relief workers throw used clothing from the back of a truck. The girls meet and decide to share the sandals, taking turns wearing them. 

The story describes the girls' lives in the camp and the stressful wait for new homes. The girls wait in long lines for water, wash their clothes with rocks in the stream, and practice their writing skills with sticks in the sand because the only "schools was small with only nought room for the boys to study."

Eventually, Lina's family receives permission to emigrate to the United States, and Feroza gives the sandals to Lina, saying, "You cannot go barefoot to America." But when it is time for Lina to leave, Lina gives the shoes back to Feroza, as Lina's mother has saved money to buy her shoes. However, Feroza tells Lina she must keep one sandal, noting that "it is good to remember." 

The story, with its beautiful illustrations, explores concepts of friendship, home and homelessness, the experience of being a refugee, and identity.

Here are some questions that elementary school students have asked after listening to the story:

Why do people become refugees? 
Are countries that can provide safety obligated to allow in people escaping their homelands?
Do countries have different obligations to their citizens than to other people around the world?
Why do the girls decide to share the shoes?
What makes Lina and Feroza friends?
Can friendship help people to feel more at home when they have fled their homes? If so, how?
Why are only boys in school in the refugee camp?
Are Lina’s and Feroza’s experiences in the camp different than they would be if they were boys?
Why does Feroza give Lina one shoe at the end of the story? 
Did Lina do the right thing in accepting the shoe?
Can giving help us even when we need what we are giving away?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Beauty and Ugliness

Last week I had conversations with both a 4th grade class and a 5th grade class about what makes some things beautiful and some things ugly. Here is a sample of some of the things they wrote:

"Love is beautiful because most of us are here because of love we can't be standing here without loving each other."

"It is beautiful when the wind and the river both move in certain ways that give me goosebumps to scare me and chills for fun."

"Ugly is the way mud bubbles when it rains."

"Music is beautiful because I believe it is the soundtrack to our souls."

"Racism is ugly because it is a twisted state of being."

"I think anger is ugly because it always ends badly."

"I think our planet is beautiful because it's amazing how our universe created this one planet with over 100,000 species."

"In my vast imagination one thing is the most beautiful. Mistakes. You cannot learn without mistakes."

"Nothing in the world is ugly  everything is unique in its own way."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What makes something a home?

A couple of weeks ago I had a discussion with fifth grade students about the nature of home. The question we were exploring was: What makes something a home?

The students began by talking about home as a place, where you "feel comfortable and warm," where you "are cared for," where you "can be yourself." The latter comment led to a suggestion that home is a place of greater freedom than many other places, like school, where, as one student put it, "You can only be yourself there if the person you are fits within all the rules and the structure."

"Everyone has a different view of home," another student offered, "It really depends on how you see it."

"Everyone does understand the word 'home' differently," responded a student. "So I am not sure what the point is of talking about home. I mean, you could look up the word 'home' in the dictionary and it would give you a certain definition. But that definition doesn't cover everything people think of when they think of home. We can never decide one thing that makes a home a home, because everyone thinks of home in their own way. So what's the point?"

"If home is important to us," I responded, "doesn't it seem worthwhile to think more carefully about what we mean when we talk about it? Even if we won't end up agreeing on exactly what makes something a home?"

We then reflected about the nature of homelessness  what does it mean not to have a home? Can you be "homeless," in the sense that you have no permanent place to live, yet still have a home? Some students asserted that home is more about feelings than a place, and that it might be the case that even though you were "homeless" because you had no place to live, you might be around people who care about you and you feel at home when you're with them.

I asked the students whether, if you could have a home even if you have no place to live, you also could have a place to live, or even many places to live, and yet not have a home. Several students replied that yes, just because you live in a house or apartment, that doesn't make it a home. So what does? "It's really internal," responded one student. "Home is about your feelings. It could be how you feel about the people you live with, or you could live alone but surround yourself with things that make you feel comfortable and protected."

Then the student who had questioned the value of the discussion raised his hand and said, "You know, I've changed my mind. I wondered why we were talking about this when we weren't going to end up ever being able to define home. But now I think that talking about what home is and how different people see it makes you think more about what a home should be. That's why it's important."

Monday, March 6, 2017

Tuck Everlasting

Recently I read a chapter (Chaper 12) from the young adult novel Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit, to a class of fifth grade students at John Muir Elementary School in Seattle. I was surprised that almost none of the students had heard of this classic work.

Tuck Everlasting is the story of the Tuck family, a family of 4 who, years ago, discovered a spring of water which, they realized after they all drank from it, makes you immortal. Winnie Foster, a 10-year-old girl who has stumbled upon the well and made friends with Jesse Tuck (who appears to be about 17, but who is actually 104 years old), is then kidnapped by the Tuck family in an effort to explain to her why she must never tell anyone about the spring. 

In Chapter 12, Winnie has a conversation with Tuck, the father of the family, about time, the meaning of life, death, and what it mean never to grow old. Winnie is tempted to drink from the spring herself, but Tuck tries to describe to her what it would mean to be immortal and how living outside of the wheel of life presents its own challenges. Tuck reveals that he would like to grow again and change and tries to make Winnie understand that dying is an essential part of life, even if the prospect of it is frightening:

"[D]ying's part of the wheel, right there next to being born. You can't pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest. Being part of the whole thing, that's the blessing. But it's passing us by, us Tucks. Living's heavy work, but off to one side, the way we are, it's useless, too. It don't make sense."

The children wanted to talk about whether they would drink from the spring. In the beginning of the conversation, several children said that they would, that living forever would be desirable if they could choose the age at which they drank from the spring (most of them said they would do so around age 25). But several students noted that living forever would change what it meant to be alive, that they might have no motivation to do anything if they knew they had eternity to accomplish anything. One student commented that if you were immortal, that wouldn't mean your children would be immortal, and how strange and awful it would be to watch your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. die. Other students said that life wouldn't be life without death, and that the feeling that your life would go on forever would be terrifying. We ended the conversation trying to imagine life without death, which, as one student pointed out, "would be a completely different form of living."

Some other questions raised by the chapter:
What would life be like if we didn’t die?
What is time?
What is the meaning of life?
What does it mean to grow up?
Why is death frightening?
What would happen if no one ever died?
How do we make other people understand our point of view?
How are things connected?
If you could be one age forever, what age would it be?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Philosophy Quotes from Children

This fall a reporter called and asked me if I had any philosophical quotes from children that I particularly liked. Of course I do!

For example:


For more: