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Using ‘Peter Rabbit' as a Philosophical Text with Young Children

Using ‘Peter Rabbit' as a Philosophical Text with Young Children

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Published by: David Kennedy on Nov 03, 2009
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05/11/2014

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ANALYTICTEACHINC
Vol.
fl,
No.
,
Using
PeterRabbit'asa
PhIlosophical
Textwith
Young
Children
DAVID
ICENNEDY
neeuponatimetherewerefourlittleRab
bits,
andtheirnameswere-Flopsy,
Mopsy,
CoUon-tail,
and
Peter.They
rIVed
iiiiiiiiiiiii
withtheirMother
In
a
aand-bank,
underneaththeroot
of
averybig
fll'-cr.e.
~ o w ,
my
dears:
said
oldMrs.
Rabbit
onemorning,-youmaygo
Into
the
fields
or
downthelane,but
d o n ~
gointoMr.McGregor'sgarden:your
Father
had
an
accidentthere;he
was
put
In
apie
by
Mrs.
McGregor.Nowrun
along,
anddon'tget
intx:l
mischief.
I
am
goingout.·Thenold
Mrs.
Rabbit
took
a
basket
and
herum·brella.
and
went
throughthe
wood
tothebaker's.She
bought
a
10m
of
brown
bread
and
fiv.
currant
buns.
Flopsy,Mopsy,
and
Cottcn-tail,
whoweregoodlil·tie
bun
....
went
downthelane
to
gatherblackber
ries:
but
Pet«,
who
was
very
naughty,
ran
straightaway
to
Mr.
McGregor'sgarden.
and
squeezedunder
1M
gatel
.F'nt
he
m.
earn.
lettucaa
and
some
Fr.nch
beans;
Mel
then
he
at.
10m.
radishes;
and
then,
fHling
rmher
sa.
he
went
to
look
for
10m.
parsley.
But
roundthe
.nd
of
aax:urnber
fram.,
whom
should
be
meet
but
Mr.
McGregorlMr.
Mc:Gregorwa
on
his
hands
and
knHS
plant
ing
outyoungcabbages,
but
h.
jumpedup
and
ranafterPeter,
waving
a
rake
and
calling
out.
·SIOp
thiefr
Peter
was
mostdreadfullyfrightened;herushed
aJJ
overthegarden,for
he
hadforgottentheway
back
to
thegate.Helostoneofhisshoesamongthecal>bages,andtheothershoeamongstthepotatoes.Af·tel'
losing
them,heranonfourlegs
and
wentfaster,
10
thatIthinkhemighthavegotawaya!Iogetherif
he
had
not
Unfortunatelyrun
into
gooseberry
net.
andgot
caught
by
thelargebuttons
on
hisjad<el
It
wasabluejacketwithbrassbuttons,quitenew.Peter
gave
himselfupforlost.
and
shed
big
tears;but
his
sobswereoverheardbysomefriendly
spaT'
f'OW$.
who
flew
to
himingreatexcitement.
and
imploredhim
to
exerthimself.Mr.McGregorcame
~
with
asieve,
whk::h
he
intended
to
popuponthe
top
of
Peter;butPeter
wriggled
out
just
In
time,leavinghisjacketbehindhim.Andrushed
Into
thetoolshed,
and
jumped
Intx:I
acan.It
would
haw
beena
beauti·
ful
thing
tohidein.
if
it
had
not
had
somuch
water
in
it.-
Mr.McGregorwasquite
su,.
thatPeter
was
sam
..
where
In
thetool-shed.
perhaps
hiddenunderneathaftower-polHe
began
to
tum
themover
carefuUy,
bakingunder
eadt.
Presently
Pet.r
,,,..zed
1<ertyschoor
Mr.
McGregor
was"
afterhim
In
no
time.Andtried
to
put
hisfool
upon
Peter,
who
jumped
out
of
a
window,
upsetdngthree
plants.
Thewindow
was
IDa
amal
for
Mr.
McGregor.
and
h.
was
tiredof
r u ~
ning
afterPeter.He
went
back
to
his
i!!1:
Peter
SIll
down
to
rest;
he
wu
~
brNlh
and
nmbling
with
fright,
and
h.
had
not
the
lust
Ideawhich
way
to
go.
Also
he
wa
very
damp
with
sitting
in
that
can.
Afteratimehe
began
towander
about,
going
Iippity
-
rlppity
-
not
very
fast.
and
looking
all
round.
He
founda
door
In
a
wall;
but
It
waslocked,
and
therewasnoroomfora
fat
liltJe
rabbit
tosqueezeun·
derneath.
Art
old
mouse
was
running
In
and
outoverthe
stone
doorstep,
c:anying
peas
and
beans
to
herfamily
in
the
wood.
Peter
asked
herthe
way
to
thegate,
but
shehad
such
a
larg.
pea
In
hermouththat
she
couldnotanswer.Sheonlyshookher
head
at
him.
Peterbeganto
cry.
53
 
.
NOVEMBER
1992
Thenhetried
to
findhiswaystraightacrossthegarden.buthebecamemoreandmorepuzzled.Presently,he
came
to
pondwhereMr.McGregorfilledhiswater-eans.Awhitecatwasstaringatsomegold-fish,shesatvery.verystill.butnowandthenthe
tip
of
hertail
~ N : t c h t r d
as
if
it
Wif.
anwi.
Piiler
thought
it
best
togo
awaywithoutspeakingtoher;hehadheardabout
cats
fromhiscousrn.
little
BenjaminBunny.Hewentbacktowardsthetool-shed.butsuddenly.quiteclose
to
him.heheardthenoise
of
a
hoe-
scr·(·ritdl.
scratch.scratch,scritch.Peterscutteredunderneaththebushes.Butpresently.asnothinghappened.hecameout.andclimbeduponawheelbarrowandpeepedover.ThefirstthinghesawwasMr.McGregorhoeingonions.His
back
wasturned
to
wardsPeter.andbeyondhimwasthegatelPetergotdownveryquietlyoffthewheelbarrow.andstartedrunningasfastashecouldgo,alongastraightwalkbehindsomeblack-currantbushes.Mr.McGregorcaughtsightofhim
at
thecomer,butPeterdidnotcare.
He
srtpped
underneaththegate.and
was
safe
atlast
in
the
wood
outsidethegarden.Mr.McGregorhung
up
therlltlejacketandtheshoesforascare-erow
to
frightentheblackbirds.Pete,neverstoppedrunning
or
Iookad
behindhimtillhegothome
to
thebigfir-tree.
He
wassotiredthat
he
floppeddownuponthenice
soft
sandonthefloorof
the
rabbit-holeandshuthis
8)'8S.
Hismotherwasbusy
CX)()king;
shewonderedwhathehaddonewithhisclothes.
It
wasthesecond
little
jacketandpairofshoesthatPeterhadlostinafortnightlI
am
sorry
to
saythatPeter
was
notverywelldur
rng
theevening.Hismotherputhim
to
bed.
andmadesomecamomiletea;andshe
gave
adose
of
it
to
Peterl"Onetable-spoonful
to
be
taken
at
bed-timeBut
Flopsy,
Mopsy.
and
Cotton-tallhadbreadandmilkandblack.berriesforsupper.
Like
most
literarycbssicsforyoungchildren,BeatrixPotter's
The
Tde
t1f
Paer
RAbbit·
is
rich
in
justthosethemes
and
subtext.s
which
grip
the
earlychildhoodimaginationwhere
the
constructivesearchformeaning
is
mostintense.
The
booktellsastoJY
which
theyoungchildrecog
nizes
intuitivelyasexpressive
of
hisorher
dee}>
estsocial
and
psychologicalpreoccupations.Indeed,this
is
what
good
literaturedoesforallages.
But
is
it
philosophical?
Not
intentionally,thewayaphilosophicaltreatise,oraso-calledphilosophicaldialogue,whichismostoftenonemindventriloquizing,oreven
the
novelsofthesortdevelopedby
Mathew
Upmanforteachingphilosophytochildren,
are.
Ingoodorgreatliter-
54
ature,thephilosophicalmaterialtypicallyoperatesasasubtl:Xt,eithermoreorlessexplicit;
it
emergesinvoluntarilyfrom
the
themesandnar,rativesofthesrory,rather
than
the
other
wayaround.It
2em5
rca.-:onable
to
expect
th.u
insomegreatstories
the
philosophicalmaterialwould
be
veryaccessible,andinothers,
mort
in
choate.Onevirtueof
lipman's
pedagogicalnov
els,
inwhichthephilosophicalmaterial
is
determinativeofstory
rather
than
emergingfromit,
is
thatthey
train
us
-
if
insomewhatofan
anifi
cialliterarysituation-tolookfor,find,andarticulatethephilosophy
in
fictionalnarrative.I
want
tooffersomemethodologicalreflections
on
howto
U2
achildn:n'sclassicasaphilosophicaltext
with
children,using
Puer
Rabbit
as
anexample..Althoughthesereflectionsare
al
most
ccnainlyapplicable
to
other
books
by
Bea
trixPotter,allofwhichc:xplore,
with
dark,
dreamliJc.e,
whimsicalirony,
the
psychosocialcosmosofearlychildhood,itislesscertain
they
can
be
appliedmoregenerallyto
aU
goodchildren'sliterature.
It
wouldseemmorerealisticthateachstorywouldinspirearelativelyuniqueapproach
tothe
philosophicalpreoccupations
that
characterizeit,depending
on
the
specificnature
or
type
ofthosepreoccupations,and
on
its
own
particular
way
ofevoking
them
throughfictionalnarrative.'Buttheanalysis
that
follows
may
provideaheuristic
that
is
moregenerallyusefulinattempting
to
maketheconnectionbetweenthemethodologyofPhilosophyforChildrenand
high
qualitychildren'slite:r.uure.
-,
NARRATIVESUBTEXTS.
The
sense
of
depth
under
deceptivesimplicitywhich
is
characteristic
of
Peru
Rabbit
is
the
~ u l t
of
the
interplayofaDumberofsubtexts,whichinteract
in
prolific
and
ambiguous
ways
with
thesurfacenarrative.Actuallythereare
two
surfacenarratives:thestoryand
the
illustrations.
Perer
RJzbbit
is
typicallyreadaloud
to
children,andthepicturesandthewritte:n-word-rcad-aloud
3
combine
to
cute
arich,multi-sensorytc:xtuaJspace
worthy
oftheyoungchild'svividsensorium,
in
tenseimaginative
life,
andkeensense
of
wonder.Withinthistextualspace,
at
leastthreelevelsofsubtextualnarrative
pattern
can
be
identified.
They
provideacontextfortheidentificationofphilosophicalmaterialinthetext,anditsthematization
in
discussionplans.
~
)
 
First,
t h e ~
is
what
Iwillcallthe
develop
m e n ~
narrative.
The
major
psychosocial
themes
ofthe
story
-
the
transgressionofboundaries,conflict
with
powerful,
authoritativeadults,
and
beingkilled-arealsokeythemesof
the
psychosocialcrisischaracteristicoftheroughJy
4
to
6
year
oldchild,
whom
Eriksonhasdescribedas
p ~ o c c u p i e d
with
findingacreativebalance
between
individualinitiative
and
the
guilt
aDd
fearofannihilationwhichresultsfrom-going
too
farI
and
damagingobjettsorrelationships.·
The
brilliantlyenergetic,
ohen
compulsive
>yeM
old
recognizes
him
or
hendf
inPeter,
that
-titde
animaJ·
whose
drive
to
becomehis
own
person
through
exploringandmastering
the
worldistragically
hemmed
round
by
bothinner
and
outer
laws
of
which
he
onlybecomes
awan
through
breaJcing
them.There
arethelaws
of
moderation,broken
by
Peter'sgluttony,thelaws
of
private
property
represented
by
Mr.
McGregor
and
hisgarden,
and
the
-bw
of
thejungle·here,
with
Potter's
characteristially
oblique
ircr
ny,
the
law
ofthe
garden-
r e p ~ s e n t e d
by
Pe-
ter's
father's
earlier
-accident!Another
levelofnarrative
~ t t e m i n g
I
will
ca.ll
the
sodal.
It
includeseconomic:,class,andgendernarratives.
Mr.
McGregor'sgardenisavivid,
coherent
analoguefor
the
worldbeyond
theyoung
child'shome:
the
world
of
huge,
aU-
powerful,hostile,ambivalent
or
~ t r o n i z i n g
adults,
and
of
the
confusinglaws
ofwho
canhave
what.
It
embodiesperfectly
the
orderedchaos
ofthe
economics
of
sardty,
wherepotentialallies-
other
littlepeople-are,like
the
mous«;
either
toointent
on
their
awn
survival
needs
to
pulltogether,or,
like
the
Qt,
wouldjustas
sooneatyou
too.
Only
the
sparrows,symbolic
of
both
solidarity
and
transcendence,urgePeter
towuds
freedom.
Peter
is
told
by
his
mother
not
to
get
into
mis
chief,
butit
ia
this
fundamenully
mischievous
world
of
-accidents·-
of
strUCtUral
inequity,
d o ~ t i o n ,
transgression,
and
the
ever-presentpossibility
of
beingeliminated
by
amorepower
ful
player-
which
be,asamale,
must
learn
to
mmipulateto
his
ends.
}.,
a
male,
Peter
must
be
- ~ u g h ~
in
order
to
survive,althoughthroughbeing
naughty,
like
hisfather,
he
may
be
eaten.
As
it
is,
he
escapeswith.losing
his
clothes,whicharedisplayed
by
the
oppressorasadeterrent
to
other
challengers
of
the
system.
Fmally,
thereis
the
narrativelevelwhichI
will
all
mythic..
Although
the
developmentalnarra-tive
is
alsomythic,itsthemes-transgression,guilt,theconflictbeween
the
driveforindividuationandauthOrity-arespecific
to
thepsychosocialdrama
of
initiative
venus
guilt.
The
luger
mythic
structure
of
Pmr
Rabbi"
includes
the
narrativesorpartsofthenarratives
of
the
trialof
the
hero,theencounter
with
giants,andtheindividual'stransgression
of
limits
which
leadstohisdownfall.
TIiE
PHILOSOPHICAL
ISSUES
The
fournarrativelevels
of
the
story
-thesurfacenarrativeofillustratedtext,andthedevelopmental,
social,
andmythicsubtexts-
pro
videarichlylayeredcontextofpsychologicalandsocial
meanings
fromwhich
to
draw
philosophi
cal
themes,
whether
ontological,epistemological,
or
axiological,and
to
constnJctdiscussion
plus
based
onthem.Forexample
the
developmental
subtext,
which
is
aboutinitiative
and
guilt,
in
structs
us
to
payattention
to
the
>year
old's
particular
approach
to
theidea
of
the
-good'
md
the
~ d .
What
is
and
what
is
not
-laughty,'
and
how
doweknow
when
somethingis
'mis
chief'and
when
itisn't?
Is
tbe
mousecarrying
peas
out
of
the
gardendoingmischief,orthe
cat
contemplating
the
goldfish,
orthe
birds,whoarcprobablyeatingseeds?DidtheMcCregorsdosomething
~ d ·
when
theykilledandatePeter'sfather?
How
would
the
McGregorsthemselveslook
at
it?
What
are
the
criteriaforcallingsome
thing
- g o o d . ~
What,rorexample,
is
thediffer
ence
between
a
'good.
anda
~ d ·
h.ammer?
Ice
cum
cone?Person?
Can
there
be
too
muchofa
good
thing?
Can
good
come
out
ofa
badthing?Somethings
sun
out
bad
and
come
out
good,
and
some
things
operate
theother
way
around.
Can
something
be
both
good
and
bad
atthe
same
time?
All
of
thesequestions
an
be
instantiated
with
examplesfrom
the
lives
of
young
children,
andthe
stories
they
have
to
tell
of
theirconflicts,theirtriumphs,theirfailures.
The
philosophicalissuesassociated
with
the
werd
·accident·
arc
also
informed
by
the
developmentalsubtext.
This
is
aparticularlysensitivethemefor
young
children,
who
tendto
see
all
behavior,even
that
of
inanimate
things,
asintention-laden,
and
intuitively
undentand
aU
nature
55

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