This week, a story from West Africa about the spider trickster character Anansi. You can find a nice telling of it at www.storymuseum.org.uk, an absolute treasure trove of stories. In the story, Anansi tricks Chameleon and the village chief into gaining a field full of crops, but god and Chameleon put Anansi in his place with an ingenious trick or their own – when a trickster is tricked, who should be blamed for the tricking?
Here are some questions to go with the story:
- Good trick? Bad trick? (you can ask this of each of the tricks in the story as you go along, and revisit it, as well as exploring the general ingredients of what makes a good or bad trick).
- Who is to blame for Anansi being tricked?
- Did Anansi deserve to be tricked back?
- Is it better to be like Anansi or Chameleon?
- Do we secretly wish we could behave like Anansi?
- Are tricksters an example of what to do or what not to do?
- Are tricksters good guides for morality?
- “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Does this still apply to tricks?
- Is it better to have well behaved or badly behaved characters in moral tales?
- Is a trick about making someone do something, or about making them believe something?
- Which is the better trick – one that is sure to succeed, or one that someone could see through but doesn’t?
Tricks are interesting because they straddle values of effectiveness and values of morality – tricks can be effective or ineffective, clever or obvious, intended to teach someone a lesson or purely selfish.
I was using the story in workshops at Holme Grange School with year 2 yesterday, part of an ongoing engagement with the school that has involved training, demonstrations, Sticky Questions, a whole-year workshop and teacher observations. Here’s a kind comment I had from David Boynes who has been wrangling the schedule and driving it all:
Hi Jason, I just wanted to say a huge thank you for all of your efforts over the past few days. The staff meeting typified the energy and passion that you have for philosophy and you have really helped it to spread through the Prep school and to add value to the children’s experience.
This is the most valuable, impactful work I do, with state, independent and international schools. For the school, it’s a matter of having a sustained focus on whole-school improvement through philosophy and oracy. For me, it”s about getting to know a school and its staff and making philosophy work in their context. It takes a considerable commitment from both sides but I think precisely because of that it tends to be most effective: doing one big thing rather than lots of small things.
I am now booking appointments for free, no-obligation 30-minute Zoom 1:1s – or better, 1:2s with both head or deputy and an oracy/philosophy lead teacher – at which we can discuss where you are at with philosophy, critical thinking/metacognition and oracy and where you would like to be and start to work out a plan. Email back or ring me on +447843555355 to sort out a time.
P.S. I played a trick of my own a few weeks ago. Two bikes were inconsiderately locked in a way that blocked the pedestrian exit from a bridge near my narrowboat home. It caused a traffic jam and general incredulity that anyone could be so stupid/selfish. So, once one had gone, allowing people to get through again, I locked the other with a lock of my own. I returned an hour later to see three bemused people trying different combinations, and smugly commented, “That lock’s in a really inconvenient place, isn’t it? Bit like your bike!” before releasing the now sheepish offender (after a sticky moment when I misremembered the combination). Good trick, bad trick?