One approach to real issues is via unreal examples. Tackling real situations straight away can be intimidating for some younger participants. They may feel they know less about the issue than others, and have nothing to contribute.
In an imaginary world, nobody is the expert. You can explore ideas in a safe place where everyone can contribute. They can then be brought back into the real world.
The principle applies to all ages, and I’ve used the very same question with accomplished teens. But this example is from a recent visit to Galleywood Infants School. They had been doing a “crazy creatures” project, merging different animals together and then describing them.
The question that took off the most with all classes was around turning the children themselves into crazy creatures: “What would be good and bad about having wings?”
There were lots of imaginative reasons on either side and a wide spread of contributions. Then we moved on to a scenario in a future world where people could buy wings, but only the very rich could afford them. Would that be better than a world where nobody could afford to buy wings at all?
Two Questions At Once
Some children offered moral reasons about fairness, jealousy, sharing and whether other people not having wings might spoil the enjoyment of those that did. Others extended the imaginative play, coming up with new reasons why wings would be good or bad. And some less practiced speakers caught up and rehearsed reasons from before. So nearly all the children were able to access the discussion at a level that they enjoyed and that provided them with some challenge.
Contrast that with starting with the question, “Is it better for only some people to be able to buy sports cars, or for nobody to have them?” There wouldn’t have been the same level of engagement, and children not able to give moral reasons on this occasion would have been left out.
I notice the same advantage to having an imaginative wrapper for a question when I do Alien Adventures in Philosophy workshops. In one episode the intrepid philosophers get tied to purple cacti by man-eating aliens. Some children get to grips with moral arguments that make it wrong for aliens to eat people, while others stick to the imaginative world of James Bond-style escape plans. It’s like two questions going on at once, bringing wider engagement and enthusing less experienced thinkers about the process of contributing.
In summary, the fear of getting things wrong is what holds most people back from making amazing progress. The more fun learning is, the more it escapes the fear of getting things wrong. And impossible or imaginary worlds are fun, so use them. Some other impossible things you might try:
“Tonight At Noon“ – Adrian Henry’s wonderful poem makes an interesting, open stimulus.
Impossibility Competition. Who can come up with the most impossible idea? (People can challenge each other’s ideas by imagining how they might come true.)
If My Dog Was a Horse… starting with an impossible statement, and giving a consequence that becomes the starting point for the next person. e.g. “If my dog was a horse, I could ride it school in the morning”…”If you rode your dog to school in the morning, you’d need a parking space for it”…”If you needed a parking space for your dog, which was a horse, then…” and so on.