Thursday, July 1, 2021

More on Being Alone and Loneliness, and Being "Connected"

My previous post explored the meaning of "alone together," a phrase used in, among other places, Arnold Lobel's story "Alone" in Days with Frog and Toad. In the Center's annual workshop for educators this week, we watched a video of the story and talked about the ways solitude is viewed in our society.

Our society tends to devalue solitude, associating being alone with isolation and loneliness. Eating dinner out or going to the movies by yourself, for example, can make you an object of pity. People often assume that you aren’t choosing to be alone. Contemporary culture stresses busyness and social activity; spending time alone is seldom seen as an important priority. 

For some, the demands of contemporary life make choosing solitude impractical or impossible. For many others, the world of endless online interaction generates a “fear of missing out.” Even when you don't even want to do what it is you see images online of other people doing together, looking at these images can make you feel lonely. Moreover, we can feel an incessant demand to stay "connected"online; the constant pinging of our phones can prevent us from really experiencing solitude. 

However, as psychologist Sherry Turkle concludes in her book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, “You end up isolated if you don’t cultivate the capacity for solitude, the ability to be separate, to gather yourself. Solitude is where you find yourself so that you can reach out to other people and form real attachments.” She observes the ways that the need for constant communication isolates us because it leads to a discomfort with solitude. When we feel relentlessly compelled to be in touch with and available to other people, we develop anxiety about being by ourselves without always reaching for our phones or finding other ways to relieve the pressures we experience.

As a result, we begin to turn to other people primarily in order to alleviate our anxiety. We therefore fail to form authentic relationships, in which we can truly reveal ourselves to each other, because we are just not comfortable with ourselves. Our social media presences can exacerbate these feelings of insecurity because we know that our virtual personas are not wholly accurate depictions of who we are. 

In this sense, Turkle contends, always being connected makes us more and not less lonely – rather than just “being ourselves” with our friends, we start to present only carefully curated presentations of ourselves.

This makes me wonder about what "connectedness" really means. We say we are always connected, meaning we are able to communicate with other people online, but do we feel connected? Can being "connected," in the sense of being available online, actually lead to less connection? What does it mean to feel connected to other people, and does the virtual world enhance or detract from those feelings, or both?

This will be my last post until fall as I am taking the summer to work on two new writing projects. Hope everyone has a healthy and happy summer!


Jana Mohr Lone is the director of the University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children, and her most recent book is Seen and Not Heard.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Frog and Toad -- Being "Alone Together"

I have written before in this blog about the Arnold Lobel story "Alone" in Days with Frog and Toad and I also write about it in Seen and Not Heard. It's one of my favorites. And I have been thinking a lot lately about the phrase Lobel uses at the end of the story when he tells us that Frog and Toad spend the rest of a day "sitting alone together."

What does it mean to be "alone together?"  During the pandemic and its widespread “stay at home” orders around the world, which meant that many of us spent months isolated in our homes, the phrase “alone together” became a kind of slogan, intended to convey the message that “we’re all in this together”; that is, there is solidarity in collectively staying home to stop the spread of disease. Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation – we can stay connected without being physically together. We are each of us both alone and not alone. 

As the pandemic thankfully seems to be coming to an end, I wonder about the longer-term effects of the pandemic’s enforced seclusion on our attitudes toward solitude and social connection. As it eases, I have been starting to process the intense isolation and dislocation I felt over the past 15 months. I think in some ways it was true that we did experience being "alone together"  we knew other people were feeling a similar sense of isolation, and this fostered a shared camaraderie and understanding. 

Now, as society starts to move back toward less social distancing and more ordinary socializing, I wonder if for some people  who aren't getting out and being with other people, for many different reasons  these feelings of isolation might not be more intense than they were during the pandemic, in the sense that now those feelings are more individual and less widely shared. Now we're not alone together; we're just alone.

In Lobel’s story, I think that the meaning of "alone together" is very different from the meaning of the pandemic slogan. In the story, Frog and Toad are not socially distanced nor do they do seem at all emotionally disconnected; they are together in a meaningful and genuine way. 

I imagine, rather, that they are “alone together” because they are so comfortable with each other that they can each be “alone” while they are together; that is, they are both able, when together, to behave in the same way that they would if they were by themselves. We can be "alone together" with other people when there is such a depth of comfort and trust between us that we don't have to shield our feelings, thoughts, reactions, and impulses  we can just be ourselves completely in the way we can be when we are alone. How wonderful that is, to have people in your life around whom you feel absolutely safe and accepted, and loved.


Jana Mohr Lone is the director of the University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children, and her most recent book is Seen and Not Heard.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Love, Z


Last week I read the story Love, Z by Jessie Sima with a group of 9-11 year olds. The story is about a young robot, Z, who finds a bottle with a message inside that is indecipherable except for two words: "Love, Beatrice."

Z wonders what love means. The robot asks all the other robots, but they do not know. So Z sets off to look for Beatrice, asking everyone the robot meets if they are Beatrice and whether they know the meaning of love. Everyone has a different answer. 

Z ends up at the house of a woman named Beatrice. Asked what love is, Beatrice responds that love is hard to explain, but it is "warm and cozy and safe. You'll know it when you feel it." The robot hopes she is right. 

That evening, the other robots show up at Beatrice's house because they were worried about Z. They have brought Z's favorite bedtime story, night-light, and a good night kiss. As Z is falling asleep, the feeling inside the young robot is familiar. But now "it had a name." 

Before I read the story to the children, I asked them what they think of when they hear the word "love." Their responses included: family, food, hearts, hugs, trust, caring, happiness, stuffs, and pets.

After reading the story, I asked the students to consider what they would say if Z asked them, "What is love?" They went into breakout rooms in small groups and came back after about 10 minutes for a larger group discussion.

One group said that they concluded that what love means differs for every person.

"You can't really define love as one thing because for one person it can be completely different than to another person. For example, one person might say 'love for me is family and friends' while for another person it might be 'love is trusting.' It's like a human trait that you can't really define, a feeling, sort of, and love falls into that."

"Love is not defined into a particular word or a sentence. It really depends on your personality and who you are and kind of what you believe in. For one person, it might be food, and for another it might be stories from your parents at night, or for another it might actually be the moments with your parents and the moments with your siblings. So it really depends on who you are."

Another student described love as involving what you like, so that you feel happy. "Love can be an upscaled like," suggested one child.

"Love is kind of like the whole entire world. Most of the time if anything in the world happens and there's something or someone you really love, even if something really bad happens, nothing will change in the relationship."

This led to a conversation about what events might lead love to change or end. If someone you love does something really terrible (starting a nuclear war, one student offered as an example), that might change how you feel about the person. 

One student noted, "We all have different definitions of love and what it means to us."

I observed that we had been talking about love in two different ways: examples of love or ways you can show or experience love, and how you define love. Is every definition of love equally good? Or are there some definitions of love that are not as good as others?

"I think there could be better definitions for love and worse definitions of love. For a definition of love, a bad example would be food. You might love food, but what really is love to you?"

This led to an exchange about whether you can love food, with one student stating, "It's not just eating things or tasting things, it's the experience that comes along with it. Eating with your family or talking with your friends. Also food tastes good, but there's more to it than just the actions, it's what happens with what you're doing."

"Food is a good example of love because people work hard to make the food that you're eating. If you're just talking about throw it in the microwave, turn it on, or something really super easy to make, it's not really that. It's the flavor, the flavor brings joy and you can love that flavor and then later you can crave more of it and it gives you a reason to come back. Kind of like when you miss your family, most of the time you know you can come back."

"Love is a question you can't be wrong or right about it. It's what you think about it. You can describe love in different ways, there's not just one answer like a math problem. There's multiple answers to it."


Jana Mohr Lone is the director of the University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children, and her most recent book is Seen and Not Heard.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Seen and Not Heard


Last month saw the release of my new book Seen and Not Heard: Why Children's Voices MatterThe book describes and analyzes conversations I have had with children over the past 25 years about their philosophical questions and ideas. 


Here is an excerpt:

 

In the following conversation about the ethics of attending friends’ birthday parties, some ten-year-old children discuss whether friendship requires always “showing up” for the significant events in our friends’ lives.

 

Jade: "It’s okay to want to be alone. If your friend is having a birthday party, and it’s not like you don’t like them or anything, but you don't want to go. You’re not trying to hurt their feelings. You just don’t want to spend time at that and so you don’t.”

Noah: "I actually disagree with that. Having a birthday party isn’t a good example. You don't do that. If it's your friend and it's their birthday, you don't just say, 'Oh, I can’t go to your birthday party because I want to be alone.' You don't do that. It's your friend, so it's worth it. You don’t just miss something like that." 

Kayla: “I respectfully disagree with that. Sometimes you feel alone and you can really wish them a happy birthday but say you’re not feeling quite up to it right now. Just say that you don’t want to come because you’re going through something or you really feel like you need some time alone. Some people feel like that. It’s not really disrespectful in most cases if you don’t go. If you just don’t go, maybe they’ll think you don’t care, but if you say, ‘Today I just want some time alone, I wish you a happy birthday, and I will talk to you tomorrow or maybe next week or something.’" 

Beth: “If you just feel kind of lonely and down, and it’s a birthday party with a lot of people or even not a lot of people, but you just don’t feel like working yourself up to it. If you want to be alone, then if they’re a really good friend, they’ll probably understand.”

Avery: “I think it depends on how old you are. If you’re older, it’s different. If you’re younger, you need to go to things now because you might not be able to go to things as frequently when you’re older. When you’re older, sometimes you can’t show up, but now you don’t have anything else to do. When you’re older you’ll have things you need to focus on.”

Scarlett: "I would feel disappointed and sad if a friend didn’t come to my party, but I would think they probably had a good reason. It might not be as much fun without them, but I should respect them.”

Holly: “If it was my best friend, I would feel upset. Why would you not come to my party just because you want to be alone? But if it was a friend that I just met, I wouldn’t be as disappointed. If the reason was that a good friend just wanted to be alone, that would make me feel sad.”

 

Scarlett says that she would trust that her friend had a good reason for failing to appear as promised. In her view, on the one hand, not showing up for an important event is less likely to damage a close friendship because you assume the absence is for a good reason; on the other hand, several of the children seem to agree that the closer the friend, the greater the obligation to attend. Kayla, however, disagrees. She believes in honesty – if you don’t want to go, you don’t, and you candidly tell your friend you prefer to be alone.

 

Kayla’s view implies that a friend wouldn’t want you to do something you don’t want to do and would appreciate hearing the truth. But Holly maintains that wanting to be alone is a weak reason for not going; the closer the friendship, the greater our disappointment and hurt when a weak reason leads to a friend’s non-attendance. You might be more likely to accept, or simply care less about, a weak reason from a distant acquaintance who fails to show up. From a good friend, however, you expect a good reason.  

 

Avery says that your obligations to attend your friends’ events depend on your age. “If you’re older, it’s different.”  In some ways, then, perhaps children have fewer excuses for failing to show up at important events for their friends, as most (though certainly not all) children do not tend to be shouldering multiple other significant obligations. Adults generally have to juggle attending a particular event with other competing demands on our time, so arguably having less time for our friends’ occasions seems more justifiable. Nevertheless, dedicating some time to showing up for our friends does seem essential, no matter our age.

 

This conversation made me think about my own expectations of friendship. I try to go to all of my friends’ big events and expect that they will be there for mine, if feasible. I tend to agree with Noah: “You don’t just miss something like that.” But then I reflect about the question that Kayla’s point raises: Do we want our friends to come to our events solely out of feelings of obligation if they have no desire to be there? I wonder: if a friend really preferred to stay home, should I want that for them too, rather than letting my desire take precedence? The conversation led me to reexamine my belief that people should always show up for the events that matter to their friends. As I think about it, I come to see that asking a friend to do something that they really don’t want to do, not because they don’t love me, but because it is uncomfortable for them for some reason, is not an act of friendship.

 

Scarlett comments that although she would feel disappointed, she would respect the choice her friend is making, and Beth contends that if you are “feeling lonely and down” and just not up to attending, your friend “will probably understand.” We don’t expect our friends to be just like us. One friend might be very social and extroverted, and the other more introverted and less social. If friendship involves being able to “be yourself” and be understood and supported, should we expect our friends to attend our events if we know that they will not enjoy them? Part of friendship might be that we understand that our friends are different from us and will be more or less comfortable than we are in various situations.

 

The children assess whether different reasons for an action can determine whether the action is acceptable. Holly claims that the closer the friend, the better the reason should be to justify not showing up. On the one hand, if I threw a big party for a significant birthday and a close friend did not attend due to an important competing obligation, I would understand. On the other hand, if the friend’s non-attendance was because the evening of the party was a night that the friend wanted to stay home and watch a movie, I think I would feel hurt. My disappointment would stem from my hope that someone close to me would want to be at the party, and it would change my view of the friendship to discover that attending didn’t matter very much to them. By contrast, if someone I barely knew didn’t show up in order to stay home and watch television, I think Scarlett is right – this would seem much less important. 


Jana Mohr Lone is the director of the University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children, and her most recent book is Seen and Not Heard.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

If I Were In Charge of the World . . .


This week I read the poem "If I Were in Charge of the World" by Judith Viorst with a group of 9-11 year old students in our weekly online philosophy session. Using a lesson plan created by our Education Director Karen Emmerman, I asked the students to consider what they would do if they were in charge of the world. 

The students each wrote for about 5 minutes and then went into breakout rooms, in groups of three, to share their ideas and talk about what they thought as a group would be most important if they were in charge of the world. When they returned, they put their ideas in the chat, coming up with the following:

If I Were in Charge of the World

 

Racism and all ethnic, religious, and racial hate would end.

I would unite the world under one country. 

I would stop climate change.

COVID-19 would be banned.

I would make forever ice cream and candy.

There would be lots of veggies for me whenever I wanted no matter what.

Whenever I bought something it would be free for only me.

I would make ice cream have every single vitamin.

Climate change, tuna salad, and COVID-19 would be cancelled.

I would make peace in the world stopping wars.

Gasoline-powered cars would turn to electric.

I would make TV watching and video game playing healthy.

Pollution would be banned.

Baby penguins would be the symbol of America.

Grown-ups would have to stop being boring.

Everyone would have rights. 

After a short break, I asked the children which of the items on the list they saw as really important or as items that shouldn't be included. One student offered that she thought that the idea of uniting the world under one nation should not be on the list, because there was always the possibility that the one nation would be taken over by a dictator or other oppressive government, and there would be no other options for people. The student who suggested the idea conceded that this was an issue, but said he thought it would be most likely that the "one nation" would be a democracy, and if people didn't approve of the government it could be changed. I mentioned Germany in the 1930s, and the rise of Hitler and racism after Hitler was democratically elected, and asked whether being elected was always a safeguard against the emergence of an oppressive government. The students talked about the benefits of having a diversity of nations to protect against a government like Hitler's, while noting that the existence of many nations created other problems, like war. Everyone agreed that making peace in the world and ending wars belonged on the list. Several students commented that part of making that happen would involve requiring nations having disputes to talk with each other.

We then moved to the suggestion that "grownups would have to stop being boring." The student who suggested this said that she thought adults should have to talk about more interesting things than money and politics, which led to a thought-provoking discussion about the responsibilities of adults, the differences between adults and children, what counts as boring and to whom, and whether anything can reasonably be said of "all adults" or "all children." I think many of the other items on the list could have led to equally interesting conversations, but we were out of time!


Jana Mohr Lone is the director of the University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children, and her most recent book is Seen and Not Heard.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

HIgh School Ethics Bowl


Since 2014, the University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children has organized and run the Washington State High School Ethics Bowl. Modeled after the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, the High School Ethics Bowl involves teams of students analyzing a series of wide-ranging ethical dilemmas. The competition utilizes case studies relevant to youth, such as questions about plagiarism, peer pressure, abuse of social media, free speech, gun control, cloning, parental consent, and stem cell research. 

 

Although the High School Ethics Bowl is competitive, it is intended to promote collaboration. Teams do not have to take adversarial positions; in fact, they can agree with each other. They are not required to hold fast to an assigned perspective or refute each other’s points. Instead, students have a forum in which to engage in dialogue, and they are judged on the quality of their analysis and the degree to which they engage in a thoughtful, civil exchange.

 

The Ethics Bowl is about giving an insightful perspective on each case, one that an intelligent layperson should be able to follow. The competition values students’ reasoning abilities, and the emphasis is more on the broader ethical implications of the cases and less on a rule-oriented approach. It's not about memorizing ethical theories or important philosophers, but is designed to promote thoughtful, civil dialogue about difficult questions. Judges for the Washington State High School Ethics Bowl are drawn from the local legal, education, and philosophical communities.

 

After consulting with all our coaches in fall 2020, we decided not to hold a formal event in 2021, but instead arranged a series of two-hour virtual scrimmages between schools between April and June 2021. In the fall, participating schools were all given 10 cases to consider and discuss over the course of the year, with some schools beginning to meet in the fall and others waiting to start until winter. There was no fee to participate this year.

 

Scrimmages each include two cases, both involving a presentation, a commentary on the presentation, a 10-minute open dialogue, and judges’ questions. They are not scored, but each scrimmage involves three judges who provide detailed feedback at the end of each scrimmage, often engaging in an extended conversation with the students about how the scrimmage went.

 

Across the board, the feedback from the coaches and students has been enthusiastic. Appreciating the flexible opportunity this year's format has offered, students have appreciated the thoughtful and interesting conversations they have had with one another about topics such as:

·      Should schools hold classes virtually during the pandemic? 

·      Should buildings and institutions be renamed if their namesake has a problematic past?

·      Is it ethical to dine-in at a restaurant during a pandemic?

·      Is it unethical to buy fast-fashion clothing? 

Read these and the rest of the 2021 ethics bowl cases here

 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Hope


This year the journal Questions: Philosophy for Young People, which I founded 20 years ago and which has become one of the official journals of the organization PLATO (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization), publishes the philosophical work of young people. The theme of the 2021 issue is hope.

I recently met with a group of fifth grade students to talk about hope. We began by watching the video "What is your hope?" A Missouri middle school put the question "What is your hope?" on a chalkboard outside school before students arrived, and created a video of the ways the students and teachers responded.

After viewing the video, I put these questions in the Zoom chat:

What do you hope for and why? 

What is hope? Is it an idea, a feeling, a virtue? Something else?

Is hope necessary for living a good life?

Can art express hope? How?

Can hope ever be a bad thing?

Can it be good to hope even if there’s no good reason to do so?

We talked for a few minutes about the first question. The students' hopes included the following: that there be opportunities for everyone to learn, that there would be better understanding among people, that there would be no more racism, and that everyone would feel they belonged.

We then talked a bit about the meaning of hope. Some students said that they thought it was a feeling, and one student suggested that hope is also an attitude, a way of dealing with difficult situations by imagining a time in which the situation no longer exists. A couple of students observed that hope can be a bad thing when we strongly hope for something that is unlikely  ever to happen and become worried or depressed as a result.

The students then spent about 40 minutes writing and drawing to express their thoughts about hope. It seems an especially timely topic in this moment in our world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type


My colleague Karen Emmerman, the Center for Philosophy for Children's Education Director, has contributed this guest post:

Doreen Cronin’s book Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type is one of my favorite books to use in philosophy for children sessions. It lends itself to many different sorts of wondering.

 

In the book, animals on a farm acquire a typewriter and generate a list of demands for Farmer Brown. The cows and hens are cold at night and demand electric blankets. Farmer Brown is angered by these demands and insists on productivity from the animals. In return the cows and hens go on strike, refusing to produce milk and eggs. 

 

Through a neutral third party (the duck), negotiations ensue, and a compromise is reached. The cows and hens get their blankets and they are supposed to return Farmer Brown’s typewriter to him. Unfortunately for Farmer Brown,, the ducks take the typewriter and write a letter demanding a diving board for their pond, thus beginning a new cycle of demands on the farm.

 

Recently, I read Click, Clack, Moo in an online session with second-grade students.  We talked about how the cows, hens, and ducks made demands and then we generated a list of students’ demands for their teacher. The resulting list contained everything from “less homework” to “movies all day instead of school.” We then reviewed the list, vetting the demands for whether they were reasonable, a good idea, and/or something to which everyone could agree. 

 

One demand was that English Language Arts (ELA) be made more challenging. We discussed whether that demand would work for everyone— whether more challenge is what everyone needs. Several students noted that they do not need to be more challenged in ELA and that new students might find too much challenge upsetting or off-putting. The demand was then modified to: “Make ELA the right level of challenge for each student.” 

 

We also carefully considered the demand to lessen or even eliminate homework. The students thought together about the goal of homework, with some noting that if your goal is to get an education and have a good job, then some homework is likely necessary. I always share the list of demands with the teachers and the conversation continues in the classroom beyond philosophy time. I often find the children are delighted to have an opportunity to think of what they would demand from school if they were in the rare position to do so. 

 

Another, quite different, direction Click, Clack, Moo can take is to think together about human interactions with other animals. Students have asked why Farmer Brown is so angry, for example. That has led to rich discussions of what humans expect from other animals and how we make demands on their lives and bodies. 

 

Students have also wondered why the cows asked for electric blankets, which enabled us to discuss what needs animals have and whether humans caring for them are morally obligated to meet those needs. The use of the typewriter often raises question about how other animals communicate and whether/when humans can understand them. 

 

The versatility of Click, Clack, Moo makes it a great philosophical prompt for students of many ages.


Monday, March 1, 2021

What's Your Reason?

Recently I played the game "What's Your Reason" in a virtual philosophy session with a group of eight- and nine-year-old children. The game was created by my colleague David Shapiro, and I have adapted it for a virtual setting. 

In the classroom game, we hand out (depending on the students' ages) two to four note cards to each student. They are asked to write down, on each of the cards, one claim they believe in, for a total of two to four claims. Once they’ve written down the claims, they are asked to write down, on the other side of the card, three reasons they have for believing the claims to be true. 

Explain to them that the reasons should not repeat the claims, and give an example. For instance, last week I said that may claim was, "I believe that most people are good at heart," and gave my reasons as: there is a lot of kindness in the world; almost everyone loves at least one other person; and everyone I know means well, even when they make mistakes or do thoughtless things. I mentioned "because most people seem good," would not work as a reason because it repeats the claim.

Students are then divided into two teams. After the teams have formed, all the students' cards are collected, and I make sure to keep the cards from the two teams separate from each other. I then tell them the rules of the rest of the game, which now proceeds sort of like a game of charades. The goal is for students to be able to guess what the claim is from the reason(s) cited for believing it.

Starting with Team One, I read the team one of the three reasons from the one of the cards from Team Two. They have a minute or two to decide together on a guess for what the claim might be. If the students can guess the claim from the first reason, Team One gets 3 points. If they guess it after hearing the second reason, they earn 2 points, and if they need all three reasons to guess the claim, they earn 1 point. If the students can’t guess correctly, the team earns no points. If the guess is close but not exactly right, sometimes they can earn a half point.

The game is fun and pretty lively. Students enjoy trying to guess claims from the reasons offered for them. And they generally do a way better good job of it than I think I could do!

Sometimes disagreements arise about whether a reason offered for a claim is a good one. This is great and I encourage discussion about it. For instance, in one class David Shapiro was leading, a student was providing evidence for the claim that “stealing money from your mom’s purse is wrong.” One of her reasons was “it’s against the law to do so.” Other students objected to this on two grounds. 

First, they argued that it wasn’t against the law to steal from your parents. This was (more or less) resolved by other students pointing out that most parents probably wouldn’t press charges against you if you did steal from them but that, if they did, you could go to jail. Second, and more interesting from a philosophical standpoint, several students pointed out that something’s being illegal doesn’t necessarily make it wrong (seems a pretty sophisticated observation for 5th and 6th graders.) As an example, one student said that if he had to steal a car to drive his injured friend to the hospital, it would be illegal—first because it was car theft and second because it would be driving without a license— but that, as far he was concerned, anyway, it wouldn’t be wrong. Another student observed that killing is wrong but that in war, for instance, it isn’t illegal. This led to a discussion about the difference between something being illegal but not wrong versus wrong but not illegal; (at least some) students were able to see that the former, but not the latter counted as an objection to the evidence that the original student had cited in favor of her claim.

The game does a good job of teasing out students’ perspectives on the role of reasons in support of their views and helps them develop a better sense of how we employ reasons to defend our beliefs, as well as giving them some opportunity to practice doing so. It also is a reminder of how much easier it is to express our views than to come up with reasons for them.

In the virtual setting, I adapt the game by using two (or three, if there are more than 12 students) breakout rooms and asking each breakout room group to come up together with at least 5 or 6 claims, giving three reasons for each claim. Then the students themselves choose which claims to use, offering one reason at a time to the other team(s) to elicit their guesses, in the same way I do when I am in the classroom with the students. If the students are younger, I make sure there is an adult in each breakout room with the students to help them to organize their claims and reasons and, if the students choose this, to take responsibility for reading the reasons to elicit the other team's guesses.

The students seem to love the game and invariably ask, in a later session, when we are going to play it again. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Reality Scavenger Hunt

Yesterday in an online philosophy session, the children and I played a game created by my colleague David Shapiro, the "Reality Scavenger Hunt." This has been a popular philosophy prompt for years, and since the pandemic began, I have been adapting the game for virtual settings.

First, I divide the children up into groups of 3-5 students, depending on the size of the group. In breakout rooms on Zoom, they work together to come up with one or more things for each of the following categories:

1. Something that isn’t real but seems to be real

2. Something that is real but seems not to be real

3. Something that has to be real

4. Something that is both real and not real

5. Something that it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not

We come back together after about 15 minutes, and then each group takes turns reading aloud one of their items, with the students in the other groups having to guess in which category the item belongs. Points are given for the correct guesses, and the group with the most points at the end wins the game.

Yesterday, the items the children offered included a pangolin, a dream, and God. Everyone agreed that the pangolin belonged in category 2, something that is real but seems not to be because it looks like a mini-dinosaur. The other two items led to much more discussion. 

The students talked about dreams, wondering if they were not real but seemed to be, if it didn't matter if they were real or not, or if they were both real and not real. The consensus seemed to be that dreams are both real and not real, real because, as one student put it, the dream does exist in your mind, and not real because it doesn't exist outside your mind. 

The conversation about God began with a student stating that God belongs in category 5, because either God exists or doesn't, and because we can't perceive God, we can't know and it won't really change anything either way. Other students disagreed, with one arguing that whether or not you believe in God, it will matter to you if it turns out either that God exists or that God doesn't exist. We talked about how you know whether something is real or not, and if the fact that we cannot see or hear God indicates that God doesn't exist. We can't see or hear love, or happiness, or gravity, we mused, but yet we believe they exist.

We ended with a tie score and some reflections about whether anything at all really belongs in category 5.