I was at Charles Kingsley Primary School in Hampshire last week, on a pop-up overnight camp for Year 6. Literally pop-up in this case, as storm force winds mean the camp retreated inside the school hall with pop-up tents! Learn more about what my colleagues at Outspark and I were doing here.
Having made the most of the better weather with scavenger hikes, archery and the like, I put some Argumentag Wrestling and riddle-solving into the mix, and used Alien Adventures in Philosophy to continue the themes of teamwork and problem-solving through imagination and collaborative thinking. This episode transposes “Cannibal Island” from Stephen Law’s must-buy “The Philosophy Files” to a scenario in which they are explorers travelling from planet to planet.
You go down the steps of your spaceship, eager to see this new world. You take your first breath of the sweet alien air, which smells a bit like toffee, and look around. All over the planet, you can see tall purple cactuses. And walking towards you, you can see a group of aliens that look very happy. They come up to you and, since they have eight arms each, it only takes a few of them to shake hands with all of you. As they shake your hands, they say, “Hello! We’re so pleased to eat you.”
You think, “Oh, bless them, they don’t understand English very well.” So in the way people do when they are travelling abroad, you say very slowly and loudly, “No, no. You… mean…pleased…to…MEET…you.”
And the aliens look you up and down and say, “Oh no. There’s nothing wrong with our English. We definitely mean, pleased to EAT YOU!” And with that, they use their many strong arms to tie you hand and foot to the purple cactuses! Oo! Ouch! They start sharpening their knives, and discussing what sauce to have with you.
In the middle, between the cactuses you are tied to, is what looks like a huge spa bath, the sort a rock star would have in their house. Only this bath is soon going to be much too hot to be comfortable. At the moment, it’s a nice, warm 30 degrees. When it reaches 100 degrees, it will be boiling hot and ready to cook you.
So, now, speak to the person at the cactus next to you and decide how you think you are going to escape!
The aim of this phase of the enquiry is to get as many children to contribute as possible, overcoming shyness and getting the whole class working together as a team. At the moment, they are engaged in deliberation dialogue – making decisions for action. This is a more familiar and accessible form of dialogue than philosophical enquiry dialogue, so it’s a good way to warm up.
None of their ingenious escape suggestions will work, because it’s their philosophical skills that will eventually win the day, but acknowledge their ideas and enjoy their imagination. Make it up as you go along – they are! But by way of example, here are some of the most common attempts and the responses I give:
“Cut the ropes on the spikes of the cactuses” – Good idea. But although they’re sharp enough to hurt you, they’re not sharp enough to cut the rope.
“Wriggling out of the ropes” – the knots are too tight. There are lots of cub scouts on this planet.
“Kicking the aliens in the knackers” – these aliens have the sense to store all their tender bits in places you can’t get at them
“Overpower them” – they have more and stronger arms than you do
“While you continue to rack your brains for ways to escape, one of the aliens comes up to [pick a child] and says. “Erm. You are looking rather delicious, and I’m really looking forward to eating you. I’m so bored of cactus. The only thing is, when we had an earthling to dinner once before, just before we boiled him, he shouted out, ‘Don’t do it! Eating human beings is wrong!’ But we never got to find out why he thought it was wrong, because … we ate him. But it gave me indigestion thinking about it. So if you can convince us that eating people is wrong, we’ll let you go. And if you can’t then at least I won’t get indigestion this time.”
So, it looks like all your other attempts to escape are going to be unsuccessful. To survive and continue your adventure, you’re going to have to convince the aliens that it’s wrong for them to eat you – the sort of thing that should be a crime. Talk to the person at the next cactus and see what’s the best reason you can find that eating humans is wrong.
Notice that as always with Philosophy in Role, you are taking a question that you could ask straight off, “What, if anything, makes human beings more important than animals?” and wrapping it in a story to create extra engagement.
If you’re interested in an on-site or off-site camp for your school, or an Alien Adventure in Philosophy or Argumentag Wrestling tournament as a stand-alone event, get in touch by pressing reply – our ring me on 07843555355. Here’s what Lesley, our link teacher at the school, had to say over the weekend.
“I just wanted to email and say thank you on behalf of myself, Alex and the children for the incredible experience you have given our Year 6 class the past two days. They were absolutely buzzing at home time and I have already had many emails from parents expressing their thanks! It has certainly given the children an amazing memory to take with them as they leave us, especially after the past 2 years of lost opportunities.”
We would particularly like to hear from any schools that are disgruntled by the treatment they have had from PGL or other mass providers, and would like to hear about the difference it makes to have a bespoke event with an experienced instructor team and a less commercial, more educational ethos. I’ve been surprised to find that we can sometimes be less expensive despite operating on a much more personal scale.