Monday, October 31, 2016

Looking Like Me

In our second session at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, we read the story Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers. In the story, a boy looks in the mirror and then talks with family, friends, and people he knows, in an effort to try to describe himself.

After we read the story, the students completed a form we created entitled "Who I Am," which has 10 different shapes to fill in 10 different aspects of themselves. Then we asked the students to decide, if they had to describe themselves using only three of these aspects, which three are the most important.

This led us into a conversation about what is essential to our identities and how we decide. Some of the questions the students asked included:
Do you have to do something a lot in order for it to qualify as part of your identity?
Do you have to like something in order for it to quality as part of your identity?
What about those parts of ourselves that we don't like very much?
Which parts of our identities do we choose? Which parts are chosen for us?
Are there infinite characteristics that make us who we are?

An exercise I have also used to help foster this discussion is to ask students the following (adapted from an activity developed by my colleague David Shapiro) -- we discuss each part before going on to the next part:
Write down something you know about yourself
Write down something you don't know about yourself
Write down something that pretty much everyone who knows you knows about you
Write down something that hardly anyone who knows you knows about you
Write down something people should know about you

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why Do We Go to School?

I had an interesting discussion earlier this month with a group of 5th grade students from Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, about why we go to school.

Thurgood Marshall is an interesting and unusual school. It has a General Education program, which serves neighborhood students who are almost entirely students of color with about 70% qualifying for free and reduced price lunches, and is also one of the Seattle's hosts of the "Highly Capable Cohort (HCC)," which serves students who are mostly white and Asian, largely from middle to upper income families. These two programs have in the past been completely separate, and the school has for the past couple of years been working on ways to ensure that all the children have access to a rigorous and enriching education. Connecting the community and giving the students experiences working together is one of the school's goals.

As part of that, four of us from the Center for Philosophy for Children are leading philosophy discussions all year for all fifth grade students, approximately 125 children, in groups that are a mix of students from the General Education and HCC programs, with a focus on social justice and race issues. In my first session with the group I am leading, in a warm-up activity I asked the students to think a big thought.

"What is the meaning of life?" said one child.

"Why do we go to school?" said another.

"Why is that a big thought?" I asked.

"Because there are so many possible answers," he responded.

"And because we spend so much of our lives in school," added another student.

"So why do we go to school?" I asked.

This led to a long conversation that took up the entire hour we had together. One student suggested that we go to school to learn, but several students pointed out that we "are learning all the time," in and out of school. Another student remarked that there is a difference between learning and education, and that we go to school to be educated. We puzzled for awhile about what it meant to be educated, and several students contended that this was a more formal process than learning and that education, unlike learning, required teachers and certain requirements.

"Is getting an education important?" one student asked.

Several students said that getting an education helps you to decide what you want to do in life. One student argued that education would be better if you could focus on what you wanted to learn and what you needed to do what you thought you wanted to do in life, and another student responded that part of the job of school was to help you figure out what you wanted to do by introducing you to things about which you might not otherwise be aware.

A student then said that education wasn't the only reason to go to school. "There are social reasons too," she stated. "If you homeschool, you don't have to deal with kids you don't know and maybe don't like that much, but in school, you have to learn how to deal with all kinds of people."

"And on the bus," put in another child. "There are all kinds of annoying kids and you just have to learn to put up with them."

Then another student interjected, "What exactly makes a school, as school, anyway?"

We thought about that. One student suggested that a school was a place with lots of different people moving around, but I responded that this is also true of a train station. Other students suggested that school has to have teachers, but we also acknowledged that you can have teachers outside of school.

We ended the session by noting that we had begun by thinking about why we go to school, and eventually began reflecting about the very concept of school itself.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What Do You Do With An Idea?

What Do You Do With An Idea? Written by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom, this charming picture book explores the nature of ideas and their role in our lives.

The story begins with a young boy, who has an idea. "Where did it come from?" he wonders. "Why is it here?" The idea at first seems "kind of small and fragile " like a small golden egg in the boy's colorless world. But it follows him everywhere. He can't get rid of it. The boy is afraid that his idea will not be liked by others, so he protects his idea and hides it. And people do make fun of his idea, and he "almost" listens to them.

But he realizes that he understands his idea better than anyone else, and he decides to nurture it. The idea grows and one day it "spread its wings  took flight, and burst into the sky."What do you do with an idea? The final line of the story is, "You change the world." 

This is a wonderful story to inspire discussions in classrooms or at home with your children. Some questions you might ask include:

Why was the boy embarrassed about his idea?
Why did it take the boy so long to share his idea?
Can ideas follow us around?
Where do ideas come from?
Do ideas add to our lives?
Can you imagine a world without ideas?