Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Is hatred important?

I had a marvelous philosophy session with a fourth grade class at Whittier Elementary School yesterday, in which we read the chapter of E.B. White's Stuart Little in which Stuart becomes an elementary school substitute teacher for a day. In the chapter, Stuart asks the class to reflect on what the "important things" are. After we read the chapter, I asked the students to take a little time to think about what they think are the important things. Some of what they suggested are as follows:

Trees, plants and wildlife
The economy
A good book
The afterlife

We then launched into a 40-minute conversation (I wish I'd taped it) about the suggestion that "everything is important." The student who made the suggestion said that the world is structured so that everything in it matters, even the bad things like hatred. Why is hatred important? Many students commented that hatred serves important purposes - like releasing energy, causing wars which then keep down population and stimulate the economy, and allowing for love - several students claimed that without hatred love is impossible, that you can only know an experience if its opposite is also possible. We explored the nature of hatred - what is it exactly? How is it different from dislike? Is it the same, only stronger? Can you dislike someone you've never met? Can you hate someone you've never met?

One student remarked that love and hate are almost the same thing, that if you hate someone they play an important role in your life and you direct great energy toward them, in the same way you do toward people you love. This is why everything is important, some students suggested, because without all of the emotions, ideas, objects and beings in the world, the world would fail to have balance. We ended the session with the students writing reflections on the question, "Is everything important?"

Children are so inspiring!

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Magic Half

My colleague Sara Goering recommended this book to me and I loved it. Annie Barrows' The Magic Half tells the story of Miri, a middle child with two older twin brothers and two younger twin sisters. The family has just moved to a new home, an old farmhouse, and Miri feels alone in her role as middle child surrounded by twins. In the house Miri discovers magic that takes her back in time to meet a girl her age who lived in the house about seventy years earlier, and who needs her help.

A page-turner, the book provokes questions about time travel and the nature of time, family relationships and identity, and freedom and destiny. A great novel to read with children from ages 7 or 8 and on.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Mies Van Hout's Happy explores feelings by illustrating one word - brave, surprised, proud, angry - with lively pastels of unusual-looking fish. The book is engaging and the simple structure makes it easy to discuss with children some interesting questions about feelings and emotions.

What is an emotion? Are emotions and feelings the same? Do the illustrations represent the feelings corresponding to them on the page? Do our expressions always indicate our feelings? Can we have more than one of these feelings simultaneously? If we're brave, can we also be shocked? If we're angry, can we also be delighted? How do we know the fish are feeling the emotions represented?