Just skimmed this interview with feminist philosopher Kate Manne, and it’s inspired me to read her work! Her discussions about dealing with overt misogyny as a child are important reads, and this quote sums up a lot of what I love about philosophy and why I bring it to the communities of children I work with (emphasis mine):
But what I loved about philosophy, and what got me hooked in that intro course to begin with, was the sense that you could fail well. That you could think and think and think and never be assured of being right: that you could be good at philosophy and careful, indeed obsessive, and still end up being wrong. Hence the allure of these deep disagreements it was fairly clear were never going to be resolved. Somehow, they were the sorts of debates that nobody ought to win, and that ought to be ongoing discussions—between reasonable people with different intellectual temperaments, perhaps. Professional philosophers sometimes bemoan this aspect of the discipline, but it was a large part of what drew me in initially, and is one of the things I love about teaching philosophy to this day. It also enables people, including those who don’t traditionally get to disagree with members of socially dominant classes without stepping on their toes, to say “No, I think you’re wrong, because…” and to argue civilly and well with authority figures, while abiding by social (or at least disciplinary) norms. That represented an incredibly liberating possibility for me, since I was often afraid to challenge or disagree with the boys I went to high school with.
What do we want our children to learn from this election?
*content warning non-graphic references to sexual assault and racial violence*
First of all, please watch this. Michelle Obama has articulated what I have been wanting to say over the past week most clearly than I seem to be able to. (I wish she would run for president.)
Now. To anyone who thinks staying home for this election is a sign of protest against a corrupt system or a showing of solidarity with a third party candidate, please realize: Staying home on November 8th is an act of complicity. For anyone who believes abstaining from voting would send a message, you’re right. But it may not be the message you want to send. Not electing Hillary Clinton would be a message to politicians, to our children, and to the rest of the world that the majority of adult United States citizens are willing to give the most powerful position in our government to a publicly racist man who is proud of sexual assault. It would be telling our kids that as much as we say social justice, human rights, bodily autonomy, respect, and basic human decency are important values, what really matters is being a wealthy, white cis-het man who is comfortable doing whatever it takes to get himself ahead. It would be teaching our kids that the things he has said and done claiming women’s bodies as his playthings and endorsing public violence are somehow excusable. Handing this man the presidency would be telling the world that the basic rights and safety of women, people of colour, Muslims, immigrants, and children mean nothing us. His most recent comments are alarming, but not surprising. As others have said again and again, his most recent comments are exactly consistent with whom he has shown himself to be for years.
Every time there is an election with a particularly onerous candidate getting a lot of press, I get upset and discouraged, but something about this candidate, as Hillary Clinton said clearly in the last debate, is different. We do not just disagree on certain issues; he is injecting so much bigotry and fear into the public sphere that I have not been able to find the words to express myself, and as a writer at heart, that terrifies me. That said, I’ve been silent on this blog for too long as some sort of act of self-preservation, because it’s all too painful to think about for long enough to put words down, and that is not okay. If with all my cis White American privilege, I can’t even bring myself to make a public statement, then I feel like I’m just rolling over for him. We need everyone in our country shouting from the rooftops that this man does not represent us. We are not complicit.
Unfortunately, we do not have the choice of whether or not to give this man power. He already has taken it. We do have the choice of how much more power to give him. Please ask yourself what you want to tell your children, your siblings’ children, and your friends’ children when they ask you what you did to stop this man from becoming president. We are not complicit. Please vote. Please vote. Please vote. Please vote. Please vote. Please vote. I don’t know how else to plead. A missed vote for Hillary is a vote for her Republican opponent. Please vote.
“Clouds on the Sea,” Ruth Dallas (New Zealand), This Same Sky, p. 177 (see Resource List)
I walk among men with tall bones,
With shoes of leather, and pink faces,
I meet no man holding a begging bowl,
All have their dwelling places.
In my country
Every child is taught to read or write,
Every child has shoes and a warm coat,
Every child must eat his dinner,
No one must grow any thinner,
It is considered remarkable and not nice
To meet bed bugs and lice.
Oh we live like the rich
With music at the touch of a switch,
Light in the middle of the night,
Water in the house as from a spring,
Hot, if you wish, or cold, anything
For the comfort of the flesh,
In my country. Fragment
Of new skin at the edge of the world’s ulcer.
For the question
That troubled you as you watched the reapers
And a poor woman following,
Gleaning ears on the ground,
Why should I have grain and this woman none?
No satisfactory answer has ever been found.
Background on Philosophical Issues
Dallas gives us a striking tongue-in-cheek account, in somewhat sarcastic rhyming verse, of a speaker realizing the significance of her living in a culture in which abject poverty is very rare. All of the privilege that she notes, which is most often taken for granted, gives us a chilling reminder of the majority of the world, in which circumstances are otherwise. Living in a place in which affluence is the norm, it is easy for many of us to forget that the majority of humans cannot just assume their basic needs will be met each day. At the end of the final stanza, the “you” is confronted with a women who has very little, and demands of the world why she should have plenty and this other woman has nothing.
We know that there is enough food on earth to feed the world’s human population many times over. So why are there still so many people starving? If we have access to more than we need, are we obligated to give some of our own food and resources to help other people? If so, how much? For those of us living in affluent nations, these are questions we often shy away from confronting. They can seem to big for one person to solve.
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 a module, please contact me at email@example.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!
Niazi, Muneer. “A Dream of Paradise in the Shadow of War.” Pakistan, This Same Sky p. 54. translated by Kamal, Daud. (see Resource List)
“The houses and their inmates/Stand amazed.” This stunning poem examines the inhumanity of war and the humanity that remains within war. I reserve too much discussion of this poem until I have heard the wisdom of a child. If any of my blog readers have the privilege of hearing a child’s perspective on this poem, please share their thoughts below!
The speaker of the poem uses blends of red, orange, yellow, green, blue blond, brown, pink, and silver to describe different aspects of their body (including four colours in their skin alone). Also filed under Metaphysics Poems.
This funny rhyming poem makes us wonder: Is it better to have lots of things or more expensive things? If you had to choose, is it better to be rich and/or save for the future or to have fun now? Why do you think so?
Silverstein, Shel. “I’m Making a List.” Where the Sidewalk Ends, p. 37 (see Resource List)
This tongue-in-cheek poem presents a speaker a bit fed up with all of the formalities that society expects us to say simply “for politeness.” Why do we say please and thank you? Why do we tell each other “Bless you” and “Gesundheit?” Is it mean not to say “thank you?” Why or why not? What about “I’m sorry” if you’ve heard someone’s feelings? Have you ever said something you didn’t really mean because you felt you had to? Would you do it again? Why or why not?
Is war always wrong? Why or why not? Does it make a difference if you were attacked first? Why or why not?
The speaker of this poem says “War has a mind of its own.” What does this mean? Can war think for itself? Do people do things during war that they wouldn’t do otherwise? Can you think of some examples?
Stefano Vitale’s illustrations bring new life to Alice Walker’s already vividly alive poem in a whirlwind of brightly-coloured scenery. We see the personification of war “Dressed in/Green & Brown/Imitating/Their fields,” preying on the vulnerable and destroying everything and everyone in its path. The illustrations work with the timeless words that more visually-minded or restless children might not listen to on their own to show us the juxtaposition of “the forest/With its/Rivers/& rocks/Its pumas/&/Its/Parakeets” and war as a “a white cloud/Trailing/An/Airplane/That/Dusts/Everything/Below/With/A powder/That/Kills.” We are introduced to the individuals touched by war, like the small boy and the donkey who is “Peacefull/Sniffing a pile/Of straw,” and the mother sitting beside a window whose baby “twirls/A lock of her/Dark hair/Suckles/For all/It is/Worth.”
“Now, suppose You/Become War,” says the speaker at the end. “It happens/To some of/The nicest/People/On earth.” What would it mean to become war? Can you be a nice person and also be part of a war?