Friday, April 27, 2012

The If Machine

The If Machine, by Peter Worley, was published in 2011 and is full of ideas for motivating philosophical conversations with children. The first quarter of the book is an introduction to doing philosophy with young people and contains many useful general suggestions for introducing philosophy in elementary school classrooms. The rest of the book is made up of 25 units that each include a very short story, a description of the philosophical topic involved (justice, fairness, identity, etc.), and a list of questions and various strategies for facilitating a discussion on the topic. The book is well-written, very practical and accessible, and many of the stories raise philosophical issues in appealing and thoughtful ways. I'm going to try out one of the units with a class of fourth grade students next week.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Who is More Trustworthy: Children or Adults?

Earlier this month at Whittier Elementary School in Seattle, a group of fourth grade students and I had a long conversation after reading Barbara Williams' Albert's Toothache. We talked about the relationship between telling a lie, telling the truth and making a mistake, and that led to a discussion about why the things children say are often less likely to be believed than what adults say. In the course of that exchange, a student commented that adults are seen as more trustworthy than children, and we talked about whether that perception reflects a truth. At the end of the discussion, I suggested the following reflection question:
Are children more or less trustworthy than adults?

Here is a sampling of what the children wrote in response:

"I think that kids, for the most part, are more trustworthy than adults. Adults can lie to kids and we still believe them and so do other adults. Kids can't lie at all or adults won't believe them ever again."

"I think that children are less trustworthy than adults because kids are more immature. Kids like to snoop, while adults are more responsible. Adults are responsible because while kids play and have fun, adults work, do bills and other things for their families."

"I think that kids are more trustworthy than adults are. I think that because kids will lie to protect a secret. This quality of kids is one that adults don't notice."

 "In the end I think that adults would be more likely to not tell a lie. I think this because they have more experience with what can go wrong. I also think it is more likely for adults to think about it before telling someone something confidential. Therefore, I think children are less trustworthy than adults."

"I think children are more trustworthy than adults because lying does not come easy for children."

"When you first think about it, you think, 'Oh, grown-ups are mature, so they are most trustworthy.' But then you realize that being trustworthy also means telling your true opinion and being able to keep secrets. Grown-ups are terrible at that! Then after thinking about it for an extremely long time until your head feels like it's going to explode, you realize that it's not really about your age or if you're a grown-up or child, it's about who you are."

Monday, April 9, 2012


Exploring the nature of artistic inspiration and the relationship between art and life, the picture book Emma by Wendy Kesselman tells the story of Emma, who is seventy-two years old, lives alone with her cat and sometimes is “very lonely.” For her birthday, Emma’s family gives her a painting of her childhood village, and Emma thinks to herself that the painting really doesn’t resemble her memories of her village. She begins painting her village as she remembers it, and goes on to paint many other paintings, which surround Emma with the “friends and places she loved.”

Emma’s artistic inspiration seems to come from inside, from the way she remembers her life. What role does memory play in art? Is the way each of us sees the world unique? Are we then all artists, or does being an artist require some expression of our perspective? 

The book’s illustrations illuminate the changes in Emma as she begins painting. Smiling instead of frowning, she seems to come alive as the story progresses. Can expressing ourselves through art change the way we feel about ourselves? What is the relationship between our feelings and our aesthetic experiences?