Tuesday, May 31, 2011


The fill-in-the-blank “poem” at the end of today’s philosophy for kids session in Ms. Mazaheri’s 4th grade class was “One way I could be nicer is…” but the way that A. filled it out was to say “if the other team would stop drinking HaterAde on us!”

I laughed and cringed at the same time at how exercised the students got over the game we played, a kind of Prisoner’s Dilemma activity I call “The Red/Green Game.” The “point” of the game is to illustrate how, in some cases, the only way to “win” is to refrain from trying to beat the other side. Certain kinds of problems have this shape: if everyone behaves in a stark self-interested way, everyone will do worse than if everyone cooperated.

Usually, students get it after the third or fourth go-round in the game. In today’s class, though, the team that scored more points in the first couple rounds kept lording it over the other side; feelings got hurt, and cooperation became an impossibility.

I introduced the concept of “ad hominem;” lots of the kids picked up on it, but it didn’t stop them from committing them one after another.

Ms. M. was pretty relaxed about how agro the room got; she chalked it up to end-of-year emotions and said that as long as I was okay with the mood, it was fine with her; it would give the class a lot to talk about in days to come when everyone settled down.

It just goes to show you (that is, me) how unpredictable philosophy can be. Things didn’t turn out as expected, but they were fruitful nevertheless.

I felt a little bit like a favorite uncle: you know, the kind who gets the kids all wound up, and then gets while the getting is good.

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