“The back of the world”

Hobo-Dyer Equal Area - Two-sided: North-up Africa-centered/South-up Australia-centered
Hober-Dyer South Up

The other day we were talking about geography, and one of my young students asked casually, “The poor countries are on the back of the world, right?” Wow. Ouch. “It can seem that way, huh?” I said after collecting myself. “Because we often see more wealthy countries highlighted on the map. But check it out.” I spun my globe beach ball that I had brought in from home. “The earth is a sphere, so there actually is no back, front, top or bottom.” We talked about north, south, east, west, the equator, and hemispheres. I try to use the globe for accuracy whenever possible and avoid the terms “above” or “below” when referring to locations, but doing geography with my kids has brought my attention to how difficult it is not to let those phrases crop into my daily speech.

 

The Mercator Map I grew up with privileges the Northern Hemisphere and particularly North America and Europe, front and centre. It certainly has its place, but since most people today use world maps not for direct navigation purposes but for global awareness and understanding relationships between countries, I find it curious that the Mercator has remained so overwhelmingly dominant in classrooms and homes. The Oxford Cartographers write that “Maps not only represent the world, they shape the way we see it.” They go on to say:

 

Five thousand years of human history have brought us to the threshold of a new age. It is an age typified by science and technology, by the end of colonial domination, and by a growing awareness of the interdependence of all nations and all peoples. Such a moment in history demands that we look critically at our view of the world as portrayed by the World Map. Surprisingly, to a significant degree this view is based on the work of cartographers from an age when Europe dominated and exploited the world.

Traditional map projections, of which the Mercator is one example, have tended to show countries incorrectly in proportion to one another, exaggerating the size of high latitude countries such as Canada and making tropical regions such as Africa appear much too small.

Read more at http://www.oxfordcartographers.com/our-maps/peters-projection-map/.

Hobo-Dyer Equal Area

I also love the Hobo-Dyer equal area and “South Up” maps available at ODT Maps. ODT has published a great little article with some history of different map orientations and projections and a discussion of some of the limitations of flat paper maps, particularly if we are familiar with only one type.

 

“Up” is over our heads, and when we mix “up” with “top” and “north” we do ourselves a disservice. We confuse all the other things we associate with “up” and “top” (like “good” and “heaven”) with north; and all the things we associate with “down” and “bottom” (like bad and hell) with south. So Australia is “down under” (under what?) and Antarctica is “the bottom of the world.” Antarctica doesn’t even show up on this “What’s Up? South!” map of the world. Some world! But then … it’s hard to show the whole planet — which is after all a three-dimensioned sphere — on a two-dimensioned piece of paper. Along with that extra dimension a lot of other things have to go. A map can show one or more — but not all — of the following: directions the way they are on the globe, distances the way they are on the globe, areas the way they are on the globe, or shapes the way they are on the globe. When maps show things the way they are on the globe it’s common to say they’re true, as in; “This map shows true directions.” But the language of “true” and “false,” like that of “top” and “bottom,” carries so much extra baggage it’s not much use. It’s more useful to be familiar with many different kinds of maps, each with its own slant. It’s like getting to know a poem in a language you don’t understand. Each new translation reveals a facet the other translations ignored. The more translations you read, the surer your “triangulation” on the poem you’re trying to get to know. The best way to understand our world is to view it through as many lenses as possible, to see it from as many vantage points as we can.

(…)  Each projection translates the globe from its own unique perspective . The equal-area Peters is often contrasted to the constant compass-bearing Mercator because they are so glaringly different. At ODT, Inc. we appreciate this contrast because it shocks viewers into questioning their assumptions about maps in particular and life in general. It helps people to “think outside the box” by exploring how what they see is predicated on what they expect to see. The “What’s Up? South!” map is similarly shocking though in another way. The continents are actually shaped much like they are on a Mercator but look unfamiliar because we’re not used to orienting our maps to the south. But sometimes all we need to do to solve our problems is turn them upside down.

 

Why are all sorts of different kinds of maps not more widely accessible and seen today? Think about your own upbringing: Where did you grow up, and and how did you see your country represented in literature and the media? How did this impact your identity and ideas about your country’s place in the world?

Lesson Plan: “Where I’m From”

Last week, I had the privilege of introducing an origin/identity poem discussion and writing exercise to my fourth graders. In this lesson, students study and discuss George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From,” and they write their own poems inspired by Lyon’s work. Lyon is the poet laureate of Kentucky, currently working on a project to collect poems from every county in the state. My lesson plan for this study is posted below. If you do a similar activity with your students, please post your experiences in the comments!

Wherever you are in the world, you and your students can use her form to explore how memories shape identity. Encourage your students to use vivid sensory details from sights, smells, sounds, sensations, and tastes that resonate with them deeply. The stronger and more important each image is to you, the stronger and more meaningful it will be for the reader.

Continue reading

Integrity in Teaching

This is a response to the article “Integrity in Teaching: Recognizing the Fusion of the Moral and Intellectual,” by Deborah Ball and Suzanne M. Wilson (1996). Since the article discusses student-directed and inquiry-based learning, I thought it was an appropriate thing to share with readers of this Philosophy for Children blog. Happy reading and please join the discussion in the comments!

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Teaching: “Knowledge endeavor” or “moral enterprise?” There is a tension in the academic community between those who say teaching is about transmitting content and those who approach teaching as primarily about engaging with students’ wellbeing. Ball and Wilson use two examples from their third grade classes to illustrate the point that these two ideas are inseparable.

Wilson begins by giving an account of a unit she spent discussing government with her third graders. A discussion of the history of how Lansing (their home city) became the capital of Michigan yields a number of misconceptions – some vocabulary confusions, some geographical, some about the nature of government. Instead of slamming down the discussion by correcting her third graders’ misconceptions right away, Wilson engages her students in further discourse, encourages them to respond to one another, and learns a great deal more about their thinking and understanding.

Wilson continues with an example of a fascinating third grade math lesson. She works hard to foster student-directed learning in her classroom, and encourages students to come to solutions and new knowledge through inquiry, active experimentation, and debate. During the episode she relates for this essay, her students are trying to figure out how to compare the sizes of different fractions. A portion of the class comes to the conclusion that five fifths is more than four fourths because there are more pieces. Wilson is befuddled but ends the lesson at a loss of what to do.  “Having worked hard to create a classroom culture in which mathematical ideas were established with evidence and argument,” she writes, “I found that many students were no longer so influenced by my views” (169-170). With five minutes left before recess, she asked students to journal about their thinking: “I was humbled to see that, even when I do choose to tell students something, there are no guarantees, and I remembered that this was one of the things that spurred me to make my classroom more centered on the children’s thinking in the first place” (171). While I grew up with and nearly always promote student-directed learning, one thing I noticed that makes Ball and Wilson’s techniques unique is that the content of their teaching is quite purposefully teacher-directed, but the process and method of the learning is student-led. This is a new model of shared responsibility for student learning.

The writers go on to discuss the potential challenges to their inquiry-based methods of teaching. More traditional modes of teaching might yield the correct answers more often, but their experience has shown that students can often give the “correct answer” without actually having the underlying understanding. For instance, it is common for students taught mathematics traditionally to understand the correct answer in one situation but not another – e.g. representing six pieces coming together to represent one whole using manipulatives, but still insisting that a sixth plus a sixth equals a twelfth when using just numbers alone without the manipulatives (presumably adding across the top and adding across the bottom). Instead of providing examples (e.g. same size pizzas getting cut into different numbers of pieces), Wilson chose to encourage students to come up with their own examples. These examples did not provide the correct answer right away, but they demonstrated students’ thinking in a way that working with only teacher-provided examples would not.

We also must consider that many subjects will arise in the conversation that the teacher did not intend to bring up. Some may engender discomfort, and some students will be more or less uncomfortable depending on their experiences. When some of her students made derogatory remarks about welfare, and Ball had no lived experience with the subject, luckily some of her students were able to advocate for themselves. But what about the students who remained silent? When discussing serious and sensitive topics, is there a point at which the teacher has a responsibility to step in and steer the discussion? And if so, at what point and how is this to be done without squashing student creativity and self-advocacy?

A central theme of this essay is how to approach every topic with intellectual honesty. Bruner (1960) claims that any subject can be taught honestly in some way to any student at any developmental level. Being intellectually honest means both taking the subject matter very seriously and taking each student and their individual thinking seriously. What does this mean when a student’s entire framework of understanding is at odds with conventional wisdom? Even once Wilson’s students understood that a cookie was the same size no matter how many pieces you split it into way, five fifths was considered more because you could share the whole thing with more friends. In a poetic way, one could argue they have a point. But according to the conventions of mathematics, they are wrong. How does an educator honour the poetic truth in the student’s understanding of a situation while explaining the mathematical flaw?

Ball notes how happy she was to see four young girls in her classroom, three who were students of colour, debating mathematical proofs – a domain too long dominated by white men. However, she worries that in her quest to respect her students’ critical thinking and learning process, she let her students leave third grade without the skills to defend themselves against the erroneous notion that women have lagging mathematical skills. Providing our students with only one or two conventional perspectives on a mathematical idea or historical event robs them of the nonstandard but valuable insight that they can achieve for themselves: “History would be something others do, not them” (186). However, as educators we have the responsibility to “represent the subject matter in ways that are honest and true” (178). If we leave our students believing that five fifths is more than four fourths or worse, have we failed them? Worse, if we teach social studies and do not ensure that our students see people like themselves represented in government positions and historical turning points, do we leave our students believing that they do not have the opportunity to be moral agents in the shaping of their world?

Activity: What Makes Us People?

Elephant_painting_thailand
An elephant painting

This is an activity to introduce thinking about essential and accidental properties of human beings, and what may or may not be important differences among people and between people and other animals.

  1. Get a large sheet of paper to hang on the wall (the giant Post-It stickies work well), or use a white board. (I prefer the giant stickies so they can be posted around the classroom afterwards and stay there to stimulate further musing.)
  2. Have the group generate ideas. Let children call out, or if you have a shyer group, go around the circle so everyone gets a turn.
  3. You may get things like “two eyes,” “can speak,” “can think,” etc., or you may get wildly different responses. Be prepared for anything and do not judge! Write everything down that the children suggest.
  4. After everyone has had a chance to speak, go back to your word cloud and ask of each one: Is this true about all people? And/or are there other animals of which this is true?

In the beginning, it may seem easy to come up with a list of traits that describe a human being, but in the end, it may be more difficult than expected to categorize what is true of all humans and only humans! After this activity, the group may like to continue with a discussion on perspectives and/or animal ethics using one of the poems above.

Activity: Perspective Shift

Have everyone read a poem written about a nonhuman animal, Richard Jarrette’s “Beso the Donkey,” for example. Consider having each person in the circle read a couple of lines, or invite a student who hasn’t had the opportunity to speak in a while read the poem aloud. This is also a nice way to include students who are shyer about sharing their ideas, and help them get used to participating in the circle in a gentle way.

  1. Split into pairs or split off individually and rewrite the poem from the individual’s point of view (e.g. with “Beso the Donkey,” instead of writing from the perspective of Beso’s observer, write as Beso himself.)
  2. Come back to the circle to share your new poems and discuss why you made the choices you did. How did you choose what to include and what to leave out? What do we learn about the subject of your poem that we do not learn from reading the original poem? Is there anything that we can learn by reading about him or her in the third person that we don’t get from your first-person poem? Why is this?
  3. Read the original poem again (if just one person read the first time, have someone else read this time), and move into a Community of Inquiry around the poem with your new deeper appreciation for what the poem is doing.

*Alternative: It could be just as fruitful to begin with the Community of Inquiry and then split off to write poems. If you write and share first, the CoI will likely be more fruitful. If you discuss first, the poems may likely be more insightful/deeper. It’s up to you as a facilitator. Try out the activity with two different poems two different ways, and see which yields the most philosophically interesting results.

Metaphysics Activities

“It isn’t really Anywhere!”

This is a companion activity to go along with the philosophical discussion that a community could have around the poem “Halfway Down,” by A. A. Milne. I’ve written up beginning discussion questions at Metaphysics Poems.

  1. Read “Halfway Down” by A. A. Milne.
  2. Do you have a special place where you do your best thinking? What makes it so special to you? Make a list of what is and is not there and what you do there.
  3. Using your list, draw a picture of your special place.
    1. –> **Alternative to #3 for students with extra time and some writing skills of their own: Go spend some time in your special place and do a freewrite. Put your pencil to paper and try to just write and write without letting the pencil stop moving for ten or fifteen minutes. What questions come to your mind in/about this special place? What do you hear/see/smell/taste/feel?
  4. Bring back to the circle to share the image/writing of your special place. Explain what is there and what makes it so special. What colours and images did you use? How did you make those decisions? Do your images represent something else? Can you explain what they mean, particularly if your images are not literal representations? How does this place help you think? Does you usually go there alone or with other people? Why?
    1. Have a “scribe” (another student or a teacher) jot down these ideas, or take notes for yourself if you prefer and are able.
  5. Finally, put these ideas into a poem of your own, inspired by “Halfway Down” and your own special place.

Stir Up A Character Poem!

This activity is meant to stimulate discussion on identity formation and essential vs. accidental properties of a species or individual, as well as give students practice writing a revising character poems. A set of essential properties tells us what it means to be that thing or being. The properties of being “male” and “unmarried” are essential properties of a bachelor. All bachelors are male an unmarried, and if someone is not male or unmarried, they are not a bachelor. In contrast, an accidental property is something that just happens to be true about an individual, but is not necessary. I have brown hair. But sometimes I dye it black, blue, or purple. Since “brown hair” is something that just happens to be true, it is an accidental property of myself. When my hair colour is different, I still identify as the same person. I am still Madeleine. But if I imagine myself with completely different body parts or with different parents, I may or may not feel differently.

  1. Begin with “Stir Up A Character Analysis Recipe” at Education World.
  2. Write a poem about a) yourself, b) someone you know, c) a famous person, or d) a character you’ve made up. Incorporate a collection of qualities that make up this individual. This may include physical characteristics, personality traits, things the person is interested in or has done, and more. Incorporate a variety of different types of pieces of information about the person.
  3. Come back to the group and discuss why each property is necessary.
    1. Could you still be human without two eyes, a nose, and a mouth? Why or why not?
    2. Which of the things mentioned in your poem could change and allow you to still be writing about the same person? Which things would have to stay the same? Can you explain why?
    3. A large part of writing good poetry is learning what must be said in a poem versus what can be implied, what the reader might understand without being explicitly told. Is there anything that your poem tells the reader about your character that could be shown in a different way, or something that is actually just not as important as it seemed during the first draft? Think about this for revisions.
    4. Are choices you make essential to your identity? This will probably be different for different people. For example, I am a vegan, and I feel that that is essential to my identity. There may be some vegans, however, who can imagine themselves as the same person if they were to start eating animals. How do you decide if something if part of who you are or just something about your experience, that could be otherwise?

Metaphysics Poems

All poems are either linked to or cited from a particular book that is listed in the Resources section.  If you are having trouble tracking down a copy of a particular poem, comment below for help and I’ll get back to you ASAP. These poem lists are not full modules, but suggestions of poems that could be good to work with, with some jumping off points for philosophical inquiry. If you would like me to write up more suggested questions and activities for an Example Module for a specific poem below, feel free to request! If you would like to write up a module for a poem, please contact me at madeleinebella@gmail.com for guidelines for submission, and I would be delighted to feature your work on the site. List in progress. Please feel free to suggest poems using the Comment box below! Thank you!

“Magic Words,” ancient Inuit poem, translated by Edward Field

My full discussion and module is linked to here.

From the first line of the poem, we are challenged to think about the nature of time in an unconventional way. What does it mean for something to happen “in the very earliest time?” Could something have come before that?

Furthermore, in “Magic Words,” the speaker asserts that a very, very long time ago, the world worked differently than it seems to today. Human and non-human animals could change their form at will, which makes us wonder what the essential and accidental properties of humans and non-human animals are. The speaker also explains that words had the power to change the physical world. Of course, many of us might say that words still possess strong powers! A whole discussion might be had on whether it is our words themselves that hold the power to change the world, or whether words serve only as inspiration for actions that humans must take.

“The Birth of a Stone,” Kwang-kyu Kim (South Korea), translated by Brother Anthony – printed in This Same Sky, p. 111

This poem raises the age old questions about what may or may not exist beyond our own awareness. “I wonder if there are stones/that no one has visited?” the speaker wonders. This brings to mind the classic problem of the tree falling alone in the forest. Over the first two stanzas, the speaker muses about what this ancient stone could have endured over millions or billions of years, outside the realm of human experience. At the end, the speaker concludes with a bold claim, that the stone in fact came into existence as soon as it was observed – “was only born/the moment I first saw it.”

This poem may also raise the epistemic questions around the “tree falls in a forest” conundrum: If see/hear a tree fall but no one else does, how do I know it really happened? Should anyone else believe me that it really happened? Why or why not?

“What is it that upsets the volcanoes?,” by Pablo Neruda (Chile), translated by William O’Daly, This Same Sky, p. 129

This short poem, comprised of four couplets with one line standing on its own in the middle, asks five unconventional questions about the nature of the natural world. Some of its questions also may dip into psychology. It begins, “What is it that upsets the volcanoes/that spit fire, cold, and rage?” Can a natural phenomenon that lacks a brain and nervous system be “upset?” What does it mean to be “upset?” Is it always an emotion? The volcano is described as spitting “cold,” but we know that lava is scalding. Can something be “hot” and “cold” at the same time in different ways? What would that mean?

“The Ship’s Whistle,” Tarapada Ray (India), translated by Shyamasree Devi and P. Lal, This Same Sky, p. 155

Here, there is more potential for discussion on the nature of Time. The poem sketches a scene of people getting ready to leave on a long journey. “Your old paper flowers still in that vase/Forever fresh—forever, what does that mean?” What does forever mean? Can we experience it? Is a paper flower always fresh? Can something be forever fresh that never was alive? Though in fact, the paper itself used to be a living tree, which was killed and preserved into an inanimate object. However, of course, all paper will decay and disintegrate someday, and become again part of the earth. Does this have any implication for the idea of “forever?”

Halfway Down,” A. A. Milne, When We Were Very Young, p. 83

This is a lovely little sketch of the special spot right in the middle of things, halfway down (or halfway up, depending on how you look at it) the middle of a staircase. For the child speaker of this poem, it is a particularly special place, unlike any other, where “all sorts of funny thoughts/Run round my head.” After trying to put a label on it and giving only a list of places it is not, the child concludes, “It isn’t really/Anywhere!/It’s somewhere else instead!”

  • Is it possible to not be anywhere at all?
  • If you aren’t anywhere, do you still exist? How do you know?
  • Where is the “halfway” point on a long staircase? If there are twenty steps, is it on the tenth? (really less than exactly half) Or the eleventh? (really more than half) Does it count if you’re on the ninth? How do you decide?

“Day-Dream,” Samarendra Sengupta (India), translated by Lila Ray, This Same Sky, p. 52

“Day-Dream” takes us into a vivid scene of a boy flying a kite alone. With no other people around, the kite takes on a life of its own. When the kite meets another kite in the air, the reader may wonder who, if anyone, is on the other end of the second kite. The line “Space is calligraphic in the clouds” prompts us to think about communication. “The boy/understands although no one else may read it.” What does it mean to communicate something to another person? Is he awake or dreaming?

We can also bring the discussion to epistemic questions.

  • What does the boy understand?
  • How does he know?
  • If you learn something in a dream, is it still true when you wake up?
  • How does the boy know whether he is awake or dreaming?

Finally, this poem can also be used to discuss multiculturalism. Children’s kite-flying is an important piece of Indian culture. A philosophy discussion around “Day-Dream” could easily be incorporated into a primary school unit on sharing different cultural activities and traditions.

Ravikovitch, Dahlia. “Magic.” Israel. translated by Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch, This Same Sky, p. 57

“Magic” begins “Today I’m a hill/tomorrow a sea.” Like “Magic Words,” “Magic” brings up more questions on fluid transformation in the natural world. As the poem cycles through a first person description of changing form, the poem can also prompt discussion of identity formation. Who do you think the speaker is?

Holman, Felice. “Possibilities.” At the Top of My Voice, p. 37

Another great poem to get kids thinking and wondering about what is and is not possible. This is a fun read-aloud with repetition and rhyming that feels fantastic to swirl around in your mouth, and a whimsical Gorey illustration that shows ideas and words as clouds emitting from a child’s consciousness.

Holman, Felice. “Voices.” At the Top of My Voice, p. 53

“The Ships of Theseus,” Steve Gehrke

The Ship of Theseus is an ancient philosophical paradox about a beloved ship made entirely of wooden boards. As the ship begins to fall into disrepair, Theseus has each board replaced as soon as it breaks, until every board of the ship has been replaced. The paradox comes when we ask the question, is it still the same ship? A paradox occurs when two or more answers to a question seem equally plausible. There is a strong case for saying it is not the same ship: Every board is completely different! If the ship had been assembled by taking all of the new boards and putting them together at once, and the original ship simply destroyed, we would have no problem agreeing it there were two ships. However, there is also a strong case for the ship being the same: If it is a different ship now, when did it stop being the original ship? When the very last board had been replaced? When more than half the boards had been replaced? The moment the first board was replaced? If this is the case, then what does this tell us about similarly seemingly inconsequential changes in our possessions, or changes in ourselves? Like “Halfway Down” and its accompanying activity, this is another poem that can stimulate discussion of essential and accidental properties: How much can change about a thing or being before it/she/he becomes something/someone entirely new?

“If A Tree Falls,” Laura Purdie Salas, Bookspeak! Poems About Books

Most of us have heard of the philosophical quandary, “If a tree falls in a forest, does it still make a sound?” In this short and sweet poem that is part of a brilliant collection of poems bringing fiction to life, Salas takes the same idea to investigate the philosophy of fiction: If a book is never read, “does it still embrace a story?” Are stories real? What makes a story real?

Silverstein, Shel. “Colors.” Where the Sidewalk Ends, p. 24 (see Resource List)

Using the -ish sound to great effect, “Colors” describes the rainbow that makes up the outside of one person, concluding with the intriguing line, “And all the colors I am inside/Have not been invented yet.” What does it mean to invent a color? If no one had ever seen the color red, would it not exist at all? See if you can relate this to “If A Tree Falls” by Laura Purdie Salas. How do we know if something exists or not? (You can see how this line of inquiry can also lead into epistemic questions.) Also filed under Social & Political Philosophy Poems.