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DAVID KENNEDY

YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES: EMERGENT COMMUNITY OF


PHILOSOPHICAL INQUIRY IN EARLY CHILDHOOD DISCOURSE

Published in Critical and Creative Thinking 4,2 (October 1996): 28-42. All rights
reserved.

What happens when a small group of five year olds sits down with a
philosophically sensitive teacher, to talk about magic and science, or language, or
witches and fairies? Is it possible to identify any recurring strategies of
philosophical argumentation, or "moves" which function to build a larger,
emergent argument? I want to try to follow a suspicion I have that the nature of
collective dialogue is such that, when children as young as four converse in
groups, and when some structure is provided by an at least moderately skilled
facilitator of dialogue, that critical, creative, and collaborative kinds of thinking
happen more or less spontaneously, and that there is an emergent structure of
argument, which forms the horizon of every critical discussion.
My assumption is that it is in the nature of language as a logical and
communicative structure that when we talk, and especially when we collaborate in
talking about one thing over a number of turns, we spontaneously make at least
some of the moves of critical thinking. The structure of language and of
communal discourse leads us to classify and categorize, make generalizations,
provide instances and illustrations, define terms, construct analogies, and
formulate hypotheses. Making our way around with language at all involves
working with criteria, consistency and contradiction, part-whole connections, and
ambiguity. On a basic level, and uninhibited by extreme conflict or some other
distorting influence, we don't have to purpose to do things like build on each
other's ideas, correct our own ideas through dialogue, or understand ourselves to
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be working to produce a warrantable judgement about the matter under discussion.


I am suggesting that at least some of these moves and attitudes will be present in
any group discourse, whether in a strong or a weak way depending on the
members of the group and their experience in this kind of talk.
I also want to make a more far-reaching claim, which is that the overall
effect of these moves is systemic: each move is related in some way, if only as one
element in a diachronic sequence, to all which came before it, and to all which will
follow it. The conversation is an emergent discursive structure, continually under
construction by its participants; no matter how ephemeral, chaotic, or entropic its
current or final state may be, it can never lose its systemic identity. Peirce's notion
of induction according to the "logic of relations," or "relatives," can help us to
grasp this inherent system-building character of group dialogue.
Induction according to ordinary logic rises from the contemplation of a sample of
a class to that of the whole class; but according to the logic of relatives, it
rises from the contemplation of the fragment of a system to the
envisagement of a complete system.1
The way in which the "complete system" of the group argument proceeds--
whether building, dissipating, or some chaotic intermediate state--is what I am
concerned to trace here. As an emergent, non-linear system, we can expect it to
be, to a certain extent, self-organizing, have a fairly high level of unpredictability,
and to be propelled forward into continual transformation by disequilibrium. In a
conversation of a philosophical or critical character, each turn can be characterized
as a "move," which is a fragment of the complete system. A move can leave the
system more or less as it was, but never exactly as it was. A taxonomy of moves
and their effects is impossible here, but we may generally say that each move acts
to a greater or lesser degree to throw the system into disequelibrium. Depending
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on the nature of the move and where it comes, it can act either to disrupt a current
balance or to establish a new balance, but these two actions are finally
interchangeable, since one leads to the other. The system itself includes all moves,
and uses all moves in the interests of its goal, which is the coordination of all
perspectives, which in system-terms, means entropy; in human terms, it means the
drive for unity-in-diversity, i.e. community. This unity is prehended inductively in
the logic of relations, which is guided by an intuitive "envisagement of a complete
system."
In the transcripts of short conversations among small groups of 5-7 year
olds that follow, I attempt to identify the moves involved, and to see how they
move the argument along. I also identify larger dynamic patterns of
argumentation, which could be described as dialogical styles, or basic ways of
patterning this particular language game of group inquiry. What I am trying to do
here is to gloss the structure of emergence of the conversations by identifying
recurrent elements, and thinking about how they work. I have chosen three
conversations for analysis, all of them conducted, recorded and transcribed by
Vivian Gussey Paley, a kindergarten teacher, and published in her book Wally's
Stories (Harvard University Press, 1981). In each case, her interventions appear to
be essential to the emergence of the argument, but they are in the nature of
scaffolding for moves the children make spontaneously, rather than a specific call
for or modeling of those moves; so she provides a measure of the extent to which
skilled facilitation is necessary but not sufficient for the emergence of community
of inquiry among young children.
FIRST CONVERSATION: MAGIC AND SCIENCE
A small group of second graders are discussing magic.
Teacher:A kindergarten boy once told the class he intended to become a mother
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lion when he grew up. He said he would do this by practicing magic.


Thalia:Magic doesn't make things that people want to be.
Teacher:Is there any use for magic at all?
Thalia:There are magic tricks. You can learn tricks.
Harry:Well, he could put on a disguise and then there could be a tape recorder
beside him of a lion and people would think that's a real lion.
Thalia:But that would still be a trick.
Stuart:Like the magic set my sister gave me. The balls don't really disappear.
They're in the cups all the time.
Harry:The only kind of magic there really is is superhuman strength. Now that is
really true.
Allan:If you know how to do a magician's things, you do have to keep practicing
until you know how to do it real good.
Thalia:But it's still just tricks, Allan.
Allan:Everything isn't tricks, Thalia.
Teacher:Even if you practiced for years, could you learn to become an animal?
Allan:No, but maybe something else.
Stuart:My friend does this--it's not magic, but it's like magic. Like once he
believed so hard his father would give him something and when that
day came his father really gave him what he believed.
Teacher:Is that like wishing?
Stuart:No. He was just believing in his mind that his father would give him
something.
John:That boy in your class. It was just something he really wanted it to happen
but it couldn't happen. It was a fantasy.
Harry:Scientists could work hard and make up a formula to make someone into a
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lion.
Thalia:The only kind of magic I've heard of are miracles.
Teacher:Is that something like Stuart's friend believing in something real hard?
Thalia:A little different. Like you're wishing something will happen but you know
it won't and all of a sudden it happens.
Sally:I think there might be a potion some day. I don't think it could happen. I
mean a potion to make someone a lion. But it might happen.
Harry:They might be able to not make him into a lion but make him look like a
lion with all the doctors working hard to do it.
Sally:You mean to look like a lion but not talking like a lion. Not roaring or
anything. But it wouldn't be magic. It'd be something to do with
science.
(from Wally's Stories, pp. 198-200)
The first move of this conversation, the teacher's, is an exemplary question.
It is followed by a proposition, in this case a "no" statement, from Thalia: "Magic
doesn't make things that people want to be." This could be standardized as: "No
acts of magic are acts which are capable of making people into something or
someone else." Magic, Thalia says, is not "real," but is the art of illusion, or
"tricks." Two examples are offered, one by Harry in application to the teacher's
original question, and a personal one by Stuart.
Then Harry introduces a new idea: that there is a "real" magic--
"superhuman strength." This is paralleled assymetrically by Allan's claim that
magic might become "real," not just "tricks," if you practiced the tricks long
enough. In other words, the difference between "real" magic and "tricks" might be
a difference in degree rather than in kind.
Thalia asserts that it is merely a difference in kind: "It's still just tricks,
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Allan." But Alan holds to the possibility that there might be a magic which isn't
just tricks. It might not be a very precise or highly developed one; for example,
turning yourself into an animal might be too hard for it, but perhaps, after years of
practice, you could turn yourself into "something else."
Stuart, still drawing from his personal experience, introduces a new
concept--"believing hard." He distinguishes this from magic, but claims it's "like
magic," i.e. an analogue. John counter-claims that it's not "real" either; it's not a
trick, but a self-delusion, a tricking of yourself.
Harry and Thalia introduce two other new ideas, which synthesize what has
come before. Harry offers a "real" magic--science--which moves nicely off Allan's
speculations. He says, "Scientists could work hard and make up a formula to
make someone into a lion." Thalia, reacting both to Allan's challenge that there
might be a "real" magic, and Harry's offering of science as at least an analogue to
"real magic," offers the miracle as a a case of "real" magic, then distinguishes it
(with the teacher's help) from Stuart's "believing."
Sally enters the discussion. She returns to Harry's suggestion about the
mutual approximation of magic and science: "I think there might be a potion some
day. I don't think it could happen. I mean a potion to make someone a lion. But it
might happen." She is gathering Allan's "keep practicing until you know how to
do it real good," the teacher's "years of practice," Harry's "scientists working hard
to make a formula," and summing them up with the notion of continual scientific
and technological advance which could lead to breakthrough. She uses the word
"potion," which perfectly evokes the historical connections between magic and
science.
Harry responds to this integrative move: "They might be able to not make
him into a lion but make him look like a lion with all the doctors working hard to
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do it." In other words, it would still be a "trick." Harry is approaching the question
about ontological change which is implicit in Sally's speculation. In fact he is
denying the power of anything to change one ontological kind into another, which
would limit what science could do to changes in appearance only. Sally then self-
corrects through restating his claim: "You mean to look like a lion but not talking
like a lion. Not roaring or anything." And adds, "But it wouldn't be magic. It'd be
something to do with science." Here she reintegrates the question which the
discussion has been implicitly working on ever since the notion of science was
introduced by Harry, i.e. the similarities and differences between magic and
science. The children seem to be moving toward the larger judgement that magic is
about ontological change, which is not possible, and that science is about change
within ontological categories, which is.
What patterns of argumentation emerge in this short discussion? First, it
represents a remarkably rapid gathering of data. Within the few minutes of talk
represented here, and with the help of the teacher's skilled conversational
midwifery, no fewer than four definitions of magic, or things analogous to magic,
are introduced and examined. These four definitions emerge in the context of two
major ontological issues: whether there is such a thing as "real" magic, and the
differences and similarities between magic and science. Another way to describe
this movement is as proliferation, whether of instances, members of a class, or
hypotheses. It is an encyclopediac movement, operating through association and
analogy. Often it is driven by personal experience, as for example with Stuart, who
cites both the magic set his sister gave him, and his friend who "believed hard." It
is one strategy of what Peirce called "abduction," which, as opposed to induction
or deduction, seeks to pass beyond the immediate data and incorporate more
general categories. Abduction's drive is to fit the signs with which it is working
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into a universe of discourse, or language game, which will satisfy them all. These
children are constructing (or reconstructing) the language game about
magic/science/technology, which is part of an even larger language game about
causality and ontological categories.2
Proliferation is not by any means all that is going on in this piece, as it
might be in a conversation which was self-consciously devoted to
"brainstorming." The fundamental meaning-making processes of actively seeking
judgement--making comparisons, exemplifying, and evaluating analogies, etc.--
ground and guide the movement of the argument. The result is an emergent
structure of local judgements, which increasingly imply more inclusive, universal
ones. We might compare it to the collective building of a unit block structure, in
which each person adds a different piece, leading to both symmetrical and
assymetrical spatial relationships, but all structurally connected. Any piece which
will not balance with the others is dialogued until either it does balance, or is
discarded.
The analogy with a block structure is not entirely adequate. For one, the
structure is always tentative, and never completely in balance. It is always seeking
balance, but only grows through going out of balance. The patterns of this general
movement can be described with words like branching, overlapping, webbing,
syncopation, all of which refer to a locally chaotic, but ultimately ordered
emergence of the argument. For example, a speaker may introduce a new idea, but
the next speaker will stick with or return to an earlier one. But the new idea will
not be lost--it will reappear several turns later, integrated into the larger argument
by either the same or an other speaker. An idea which, when first introduced,
appears to bear no connection or little connection to the ideas preceeding it, will,
after more turns, appear fully connected. A moment will come--as with the entry
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of Sally in the conversation above--of integration, in which elements which have


been only loosely connected so far, fall into place, and the argument self-clarifies.
This is because of its recursive and integrative quality, its tendency to circle
around and incorporate earlier elements in its next constellatory surge.
SECOND CONVERSATION: LANGUAGE AND POLITICS
Prompted by watching Akemi, a Japanese kindergartner who is preoccupied
with learning English, Paley has already engaged children in several questions
about language--"Why are there so many different languages?" and "Why are there
so many different alphabets?" Now, in a third conversation, she asks another
question. One of the participants, Warren, is Chinese-American. He speaks only
English, but his parents speak English and Chinese. In an earlier conversation, he
has informed the group, "I'm going to Chinese school on Saturdays when I'm six."
Akemi is a recent Japanese immigrant, who, after a period of avoidance, is now
intensively involved in learning English.
Teacher:If you were in charge of the world, would you make only one language or
many languages, the way it is now?
Tanya:One language. Oh yes! Then I could understand everyone in the whole
world.
Eddie:No, let it stay this way so different countries keeps on not being the same.
Then you take trips to see what those countries are like and how they
talk.
Ellen:I like the world the way it is but I don't like fighting.
Teacher:Is that because they have different languages?
Ellen:Well, if they can't understand each other they might think good words sound
like bad words.
Wally:She means like if someone says "Let's play," in French, then in Chinese
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they might think he said, "Let's fight."


Warren:Keep it this way because if you're Chinese you would have to learn
English.
Teacher:Would English have to be the language everyone learns?
Warren:I don't know what God likes to talk. Wait, I changed my mind. Let
everyone say the same language. Then when my mommy and daddy
speak quietly I could understand them.
Tanya:I changed my mind too. Better not have the same language. Here's why:
whenever this whole world had the same language everyone would
say they want their language to be the one everyone has to have.
Then everyone would blame someone else for giving them the wrong
language.
Akemi:If everyone speak Japan, everyone have to live there. My country too
small for the big America.
Warren:Everyone can come to China. It's much bigger. Let Chinese be the
language. No, I changed my mind. Let my mommy and daddy talk
English all the time.
(from Wally's Stories, pp.119-120)
Tanya starts this series of moves by taking up the teacher's "if-then"
question with an affirmative: she is willing to change the world in order to
understand everyone in it. Eddie demurs, on the grounds that variety is preferable
to sameness in language and culture. But Ellen immediately connects variety to
human conflict: "I like the way it is but I don't like fighting."
Teacher Paley circles back with a clarifying question for Ellen, connecting
the difference/conflict issue which she has raised to language in particular: "[Do
people fight] because they have different languages?" Ellen takes the cue, and
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offers an example of how different languages could lead to conflict: "They might
think good words sound like bad words." Wally follows with yet a more concrete
example: "Let's play," said in French, might sound like "Let's fight," in Chinese.
Warren, the Chinese-American whose parents speak Chinese as well as
English, circles back to the "if you were in charge of the world" part of the
question to introduce the political issues associated with language. Politics, of
course, is about conflict. His experience of "having to," or his parents "having to"
learn English leads him to predict that the one language which everyone would be
coerced into learning would be English. This, as we know, is not that improbable a
prediction. Paley again asks a clarifying question: why would it be English that
was the one language, if there were just one?
Her question pushes Warren to search beyond his inductive experience for
some larger criterion for choosing the one language which everyone would speak,
were there only one. He goes to God as the ground and origin of language. But
even in going to it, he realizes it's epistemically impossible: "I don't know what
God likes to talk," he says. And as if in ironic celebration of the resulting aporia,
faced with the paradox that there is no one criterion by which to choose, he returns
to his own concrete experience. But the return is a wry joke, as signalled by the
rhetorical flourish: "Let everyone say the same language" which introduces his
reversal of position. Warren seems to be doing a playful reductio ad absurdum. In
effect, he's saying, "Since it's impossible to decide which language it should be, it
might as well be the one that's in my interests." His ironical reflection invokes the
politics of childhood, where parents aren't ashamed to talk about things they don't
want their children to know about in their very presence, merely through switching
languages.
Tanya echoes Warren's "I changed my mind," but not, like Warren, to joke
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deftly around. She reaches back and self-corrects her first enthusiastic praise of
unity in light of the issue of political conflict over language which has been raised:
"Everyone would say they want their language to be the one everyone has to have.
Then everyone would blame someone else for giving them the wrong language."
Tanya's self-correction is also an integration, for it connects Ellen's, Warren's, and
Paley's contributions, and restates the large "if-then" mode in which the
conversation began.
Now Akemi speaks: "If everyone speak Japan, everyone have to live there.
My country too small for the big America." Her statement circles back to Eddie's
association of language with the counties that you can "take trips to see what those
countries are like and how they talk." She uses the connection his comment
evoked between language, cultural and national identity, and place, to compare the
two languages and places she knows, and note their major differences. Her "if-
then" statement is based on the proposition that "all Japanese speakers live in
Japan." This would logically make it impossible for there to be only one language,
since not everyone in the world would fit on the Japanese landmass--although
Akemi is perhaps not yet sure that it couldn't happen in the "big America," which
is huge in comparison.
Finally, Warren does a quick analogous exemplification of Akemi's size
comparison, using China instead of Japan--"Everyone can come to China. It's
much bigger"--and thereby setting up another vivid comparison. Then he again
picks up his ironic play with the notion of being "in charge of the world," by
repeating for the third time "I changed my mind," and again using the royal or
godlike imperative, "Let the . . ."
This conversation appears more centrifugal than the first one, which was
building a fairly tight structure. It may be because of, not only the younger age of
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the children (5 instead of 7 year olds), but who the participants are, as well as the
subject matter of the conversation, and the fact that the teacher introduces it with a
counterfactual proposition. Warren's contributions in particular introduce an
ironic and humorous/paradoxical logic into the structure. But all of the children
seem to favor a style of combinatorial play. There is a great deal of playful
counterfactual talk in this conversation, i.e. hypothetically varying the situation
and seeing what happens. This is like proliferation, except more methodically
dialectical, in the sense of systematically holding similarities and differences up to
each other in order to explore the subject. Peirce refers to this tendency for
combinatorial play as "sporting consciousness." It is connected with his idea of
"interpretive musement," based on Schiller's "Spieltrieb," or "play instinct." 3
The ability to play assumes the logic of relations, for the one at play gives
herself to the dynamics and structure of the game as to a larger context, an implicit
whole in whose emergent structure she has implicit trust. Hence also the
connection between musement and Peirce's chaotic notion of "tychism"--or the
role of chance, not only in evolution, but in the development of inquiry--combined
with "synechism," i.e. the ultimate continuity and relatedness of all persons,
things, and ideas. Inquiry originates in a form of abductive play with the concepts
under discussion, and random variations lead to unforseen insights and
connections, which eventually lead to new, higher uniformities than the ones they
originally violated: "chance begets order." Interpretive musement is a sort of
surfing on the play of language and mind, fueled by the instinct for the power of
the unforseen connection, in the implicit faith that "ideas naturally tend to
generalize, to form associations . . . to 'grow' or evolve."4
The evolving context of this conversation, within which these children play,
seems to be related to the interplay of the two questions implicit in Paley's original
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question: 1) what would it mean to have the power to do something so global as


change the language people spoke? 2) what would a one-language world be like?
The context provided by these two questions is, not just an evolving, but a self-
organizing one: the introduction of each new element causes a change in the
whole of some sort. It upsets a current equilibrium, and initiates the drive for re-
balance, and so on, in an always shifting, expanding, and unpredictable
evolutionary process.
This dialogue also has interesting moments of exemplification, in particular
the two examples of how language difference could lead to fighting, in which
Wally exemplifies Ellen's example more concretely. Then there is the clear
example of self-correction, i.e. Tanya's, which shows how her first enthusiastic
endorsement of one world language is tempered by the discussion of the politics of
language which follows her original statement. Warren's self-correction is playful,
ironic, and rhetorical. His joke is about the playing of personal interest off huge,
global considerations; but even in doing this he is demonstrating his own
reflection on the relation between the two, as well as providing an ironic
commentary on politics, which is what the conversation is in great part about. But
even in feinting self-correction, Warren is acknowledging it as primary. The
process of self-correction operates both in individuals and in the group as a
whole,5 and appears to be governed by the social and cognitive drive to produce
structures of understanding which both recognize each individual perspective and
harmonize each one more completely with an omega point of a perspective toward
which they are all building, in ever more integrated constellations. Corrington,
following Peirce and Josiah Royce, characterizes this as an implicit drive of a
comunity of interpreters to work to "fit the self and the community into a thematic
and intelligible network of meanings," through a process both of "freeing past
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interpretations from opacity," and allowing new meanings to emerge. 6

THIRD CONVERSATION: THE SUPERNATURAL, GOOD AND EVIL


A small group of Paley's kindergartners is discussing the tooth fairy.
Teacher:I wonder why people talk about a tooth fairy and not a tooth witch?
Jill:A tooth fairy comes through the wall and a witch has to knock on the door.
Wally:If a witch came he might steal the child away.
Eddie:Jill, I don't think a witch would knock--she'll break the door open. She
could even steal a mother away.
Jill:The tooth fairy would leave a quarter and then the witch comes and steals the
money. But then you wish for it again.
Warren:A witch could take the pillow away. Wait, first she puts her magic stick
under the pillow, then she makes the pillow disappear, then the stick
hurts your head. Then your mother has to come in and sleep with you
because you might be bleeding.
Deana:Tooth witches would leave spiders on the money.
Kim:There's no such thing as a tooth witch.
Deana:I know. I mean if there was.
Kim:Witches can't be invisible. So only a fairy can be a tooth fairy.
Deana:Fairies are always good. If they do something bad they can become a
witch. Then, in six hundred years, a witch can be a fairy again.
Wally:Oh, so that's how they have good witches in The Wizard of Oz.
(from Wally's Stories, pp. 44-45)
The issue of what is the same and what is different about fairies and witches
is implicit in Paley's opening question. Jill immediately supplies a distinction:
fairies are supernatural, or at least immaterial, whereas witches are real, flesh and
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blood people. Wally then adds that witches and fairies have different motives.
Witches in fact are malicious, whereas, it is understood, tooth fairies come to do
good transactions with people.
Eddie continues building the argument by balancing Jill's and Wally's
statement; he attributes powers to witches which, if they are not superatural, are at
least superhuman: witches can break down doors, and even steal big people. Jill,
returning to the distinction between the motives of witches and fairies, exemplifies
it by picturing the former stealing the money left by the latter. But she also adds a
comedic element to the story by introducing the idea that, even if the witch steals
the money, you could get it again just by wishing again.
Building on the motif of the witch stealing the money left by the tooth fairy,
Warren sets up, in story form, a speculative causal chain: the witch puts her
magical stick under the pillow, presumably to get the quarter. The stick makes the
pillow disappear, your head falls on the stick, you're hurt, your mother comes and
sleeps with you in case you're bleeding. As in the previous dialogue, Warren is
playing with his intense feelings about his parents, with ideas about contingency,
and with the logic of the absurd, all in a context of causally chained events. He
has a way of thinking out loud, or letting his thinking unfold and watching it
ironically. When he thought the witch putting her stick under the pillow, was he
already thinking of the pillow disappearing, and the child's head falling on the
stick and getting hurt? Probably not. This is like the wild logic of Chaplin's
humor, painted by Chagall.
Deanna circles back to Paley's original question (perhaps she has been
dwelling on it through the last few turns): if tooth fairies were tooth witches, they
would leave money with spiders on it. It would be bad, scary money. Kim reminds
her that the proposition "No witches are tooth fairies" has already been made and
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accepted. Deanna assure her that she's speculating with a counterfactual


proposition. But, as if to emphasize and recapitulate the argument so far, Kim
repeats why the proposition "No witches are tooth fairies" has been accepted:
witches are material and visible, and tooth fairies do immaterial, invisible things,
like go through walls. She is actually offering a syllogism:
All fairies are invisible beings
No invisible beings are witches
No witches are fairies
Kim is also introducing the idea that tooth fairies are only one member of
the class of fairies. Deanna picks right up on this, and carries it forward with a
statement which puts Wally's first observation about the motivations of witches in
propositional form: "All fairies are good beings." She then introduces the question
of whether the difference between fairies and witches is a difference of degree or
of kind, by offering the hypothesis that all fairies are good, but can become bad,
for which they are punished by becoming witches, with the possibility of regaining
their fairyhood after a long period of time. The implicit contrastive pairs through
which she formulates this hypothesis are in roughly analogous form:
good/spiritual/invisible :: bad/material/visible.
As if this were not complex enough, Wally (after whom Paley's book is
named), makes another leap: if fairies and witches represent a difference in
degree, then it should be possible to say that "All fairies are good witches," and
"All witches are bad fairies." This occurs to him as the solution of an issue which
in fact may have been troubling him since becoming acquainted with The Wizard
of Oz, where there are good witches. That is, Deanna's hypothesis serves to
explain at least this one case. And here, unfortunately for us, the transcript ends.
This conversation offers a nice example of recursion and integration, in that
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the end of the dialogue is a return to the beginning, in more explicit, propositional
form. There appears to be a continual circling back and linking and knitting up
going on, or the recapitulation of the group's argument in each individual. There
is always an implicit whole, a synthesis building. Another interesting aspect of
this fragment is that the generalizations follow the examples. Jill and Wally first
state their propositions as concrete cases: coming through a wall to indicate that
fairies are invisible and immaterial, and stealing to indicate that witches are bad
instead of good. Five turns later, through Kim, the two claims get stated as near
propositionally as they could be: "There's no such thing as a tooth witch," "witches
can't be invisible," and "fairies are always good." It is as if the proposition were
not quite in conscious form yet, and emerges through the dialectical play of
exemplification. This raises interesting questions about the logical and temporal
relation between an example and the generalization it exemplifies.
Finally, it is noteworthy that this conversation demonstrates children
making hypotheses in the form of propositional statements, as if they were facts.
The most dramatic example of this is Deanna's statement about witches, fairies,
and 600 years. This kind of thinking is characteristic of young children in several
ways. First, it is a kind of abductive proliferation; getting together everything
everyone has ever heard, read, etc. about witches and fairies. Empirical validity is
not so much the issue (although it sometimes is, and could be at any moment, if a
child raises it) as making an argument that ties together the pieces nicely. Second,
it is a sort of dramatic play. This group is playing at knowing everything, which is
often the way 5-year olds view adults. So in a sense, we could say they are playing
the story of a community of inquiry. Third, and related to story-playing, it
represents the tendency to assume that whatever you can think of can be true, just
because you can think of it, which is characteristic of the "transitional" quality of
YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES 19

the psychological play space of the young child, in which the boundaries between
fantasy and reality, inner and outer, are not yet sharply defined. 7 Just as often as
young children contest such wild statements as Deanna makes about witches and
fairies, they also build on them, as we find Wally doing here. Truth value has to do
as much with overall coherence--a sense of moral and aesthetic rightness--as it
does with any empirical verifiability. Truth, that is, is a story about something that
makes sense.
SOME CONCLUSIONS
I am suggesting that we look at the moves and tendencies I have identified
in this paper--the drive for judgement, the spontaneous proliferation of data, the
proposition- exemplification dyad, combinatorial play, branching, recapitulation
and integration, the asymmetrical overlapping of themes and ideas, self-
organization, self-correction--as occuring in discursive groups in a spontaneous
and chaotically ordered way. They will happen in greater or less degrees whenever
a group of people, whatever their age, sit down and seek to make judgements
about something which interests them. But are there larger structures emerging
through the play of the smaller movements and tendencies? Or do they simply
happen locally, and their combination into larger patterns is, at least among young
children, random? These transcripts are too short to tell. But an application both of
nonlinear systems theory and of Peirce's epistemology of community of inquiry--
i.e. logic of relations, abduction, synechism, interpretive musement and tychism--
would suggest that, even if they form randomly, they are systemic, and that in the
larger view, recurrent patterns are perceivable.
But it is when we come to the "larger view" that chaos theory and Peirce's
epistemology of community of inquiry may part company. According to the latter,
there is an evolutionary movement, founded on synechism and "agapism," or a
YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES 20

love which increasingly works to knit together the universe of persons and ideas,
which informs inquiry. In terms of group inquiry, this is expressed in the drive of
the group to develop a discourse which is common to all, adequate to each
individual, and allows for an understanding of the world which it is talking about.
It is, in other words, a teleological movement, towards a truth which, the group
implicitly believes, will be discovered in the long run, even if that "long run" is
infinite. According to chaos theory, constellations of order might form through the
chaotic ordering of the inquiry, and they may repeat, and even form a larger order
when seen over many instances; but the order is a cyclic rather than a goal-
oriented one. The structures which chaos theory uncovers in matter and biological
processes are highly complex, intricate, and "infinitely deep" patterns that become
evident within apparent disorder over a huge number of turns.8 It may in fact be
possible to find these patterns in group discourse over many turns. Even if it is,
the theory does not appear to allow for the elements of intentionality and
transcendence in human discourse which drive towards an increasing coordination
of individual perspectives; rather, it may discern a complex, intricate pattern of
recurring, birfurcating, "fractalating" themes and concepts, but they have no
meaning beyond their arrangement, and they always must appear after the fact,
something like contents of the unconscious as revealed in dreams, or other
phenomena which only present themselves through indirect signs.
Nor is it apparent whether non-linear dynamics can help us to understand
the decisive moments which turn the argument toward or away from its implicit
goal of coordination of perspectives. These moments seem to depend primarily on
each individual person and the habitual character of his or her action within the
group, and--at least in groups of young children--on the habitual actions of the
facilitator. In fact, in the case of most five year olds, it is likely that, without the
YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES 21

teacher convening and presiding over the group, conversations like the ones
transcribed here would either never take place, or if they did, would be ephemeral.
Paley's moves, for example, tend to invite, but never force, recapitulation,
integration, and self-correction. They act to coach the participants in the reflexive,
metacognitive moves which afford glimpses of the argument's emerging structure,
and to crystallize its implicit drive toward judgment. Such moves are not easily
learned--they don't just consist of calls for summarization. The teacher must give
herself to the play of the argument as much as the students, but she acts as a
representative of the implicit logical structure of the discourse tradition in which
the group operates. She represents the conscious application of the critical moves
which the children are making more spontaneously, less consciously.
How much does the progress of the argument depend on the individuals in
the group--their ages, temperaments and other aspects of personal style, their
experience, and the discourse traditions of their families? How much has each
child been exposed to talk which more or less consciously aspires to proceed in a
critical manner? In each of the conversations above, there are certain children who
act to crystallize the argument structurally: Kim in the tooth fairy conversation,
Harry and Sally in the magic conversation, and Tanya in the language and politics
conversation. Are their moves fortuitous, or if we had more examples, would we
find these same children making them fairly consistently?
My experience with young children in conversation would lead me to
hypothesize that in any group there may be a few children who are relatively less
influenced by personal concerns or highly concrete ways of thinking, and regularly
make moves which carry the argument forward to greater levels of generality. In
contrast, children like Warren may not make contributions which lead directly to
recursion and integration, but the creativity, passion, and sense of irony and
YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES 22

logical play which he brings are just as essential to the movement of the argument.
The implication would seem to be that each group of persons is a unique dynamic
constellation, and that each individual in such a group brings her distinctive style
to bear in the emergence of the argument.
Another implication might be that not every group is meant to function as a
community of inquiry--at least not a philosophical one, or one dominated by
linguistic and logical discourse. The emergence of a philosophical or scientific
community of inquiry could be strongly determined by the presence of certain
kinds of thinkers and talkers, and by how they do or don't interact. On the other
hand, the law of averages would seem to indicate that various forms of
intelligence, and many developmental levels of logical and verbal intelligences,
are represented in any one statistically normal group. So it could be that almost
any group, to the extent that all the individual modalities are recognized and
allowed play, is a possible context for community of inquiry.
Finally, there is the issue of what a community of inquiry looks and feels
acts like when it is in other than the verbal and logical mode, as for example
among artists, or poets, dancers, or spiritual seekers. This issue is related to that of
cultural difference. What is the role of cultural discourse-style or discourse-
tradition in the formation of community of inquiry? How would a group of
Brazilian 5-year old street children, or Iranian, or Native American children, think
and talk about magic? Would the same moves and patterns of argumentation be
obvious once they were talking freely?
Given that they are using language, and language is rooted in some basic
logical relationships; and given they are talking in an at least semi-permanent,
ongoing group, and that logic, as Peirce pointed out, "is rooted in the social
principle,"9 we can expect the same kinds of things to happen--proliferation,
YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES 23

proposition and exemplification, etc. Perhaps what might differ pretty dramatically
would be the sorts of judgments toward which they built. They would be
influenced, not only by the ontological and epistemological prejudices of the
particular culture, but by the issues which compel meaning for those children.
What, for example, is intrinsically important to inquire into for a group of
Brazilian street children? For school children in revolutionary Iran? For a group
of Navaho children who leave their reservation infrequently? Furthermore, would
this form of deliberative group inquiry be valued in the same way or for the same
purposes as it is in the Euroamerican philosophical and scientific and tradition? If
not, what is an analogous form in these other cultures which fulfills a similar
social function--i.e. the making of deliberative judgments? It may be that in
cultures in which doubt is less tolerated, inquiry of any sort is relatively
suppressed, for inquiry is an adaptive response to doubt. And doubt begins with
the isolation, questioning, and analysis of belief. 10 It is possible that for a culture
like revolutionary Iran, or even Navajo, that such a mode of group functioning is
understood as inherently destructive of culture and community. If that is the case,
then it may be chauvanistic to try to export the Euroamerican critical mode of
judgment making.
Whatever the truth or logic of these speculations about the universality of
young children's discursive moves across individual, group, and cultural
difference, we find them operating in some United States kindergartens. Given
that they are found--i.e. that they happen spontaneously in group discussions--as
much as they result from instruction or even modeling, it would seem to me to be
educationally important that teachers learn to recognize them. When teachers can
do that, they will be in the best position to reinforce them, and use them to
facilitate the emergence of larger structures of argument. Given the teacher's need
YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES 24

to immerse himself in the play of the argument in order to know which is the best
move to make, it could be that facilitation of community of inquiry will always be
an art--or at least a craft--rather than a science. Non-linear systems theory leads us
to believe that any intervention will have unexpected results, if not in place of, at
least in addition to, the expected ones. The argument plays, and the experienced
teacher is an experienced player, in a game in which young children, who
themselves are living in the golden age of play, are not without skills.

ENDNOTES
1. Collected Papers of Charles Saunders Peirce, C. Hartshore, P. Weiss, and A.
Burks, Eds. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935, 1958), Volume 4,
paragraph 5.
2. For a short discussion of the relationship between abduction and perceptual
judgment, as well as abduction and "any given universe of discourse," see
Robert S. Corrington, Nature and Spirit: An Essay in Ecstatic Naturalism
(New York: Fordham University Press, 1992), pp. 83-85.
3. F. Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, ed. and tr. E.M. Wilkinson &
L.A. Willoughby (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982).
4. Michael L. Raposa, Peirce's Philosophy of Religion (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1989), p. 47. For a thorough, well-documented organization
of Peirce's notions of tychism, musement, and play, see pp. 31-32, 74, 126-
133, passim.
5. Matthew Lipman, "Critical Thinking: What Can It Be," Educational
Leadership 46,1 (Sept. 1988):38-43 identifies four aspects of critical thinking
in groups: relying on criteria, sensitive to context, seeking judgement about
some matter, and self-correcting.
6. Robert S. Corrington, Nature and Spirit, p. 144.
7. For a masterful analysis of "transitional" thinking, see D.H. Winnicott,
Playing and Reality (New York: Basic Books, 1971).
YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES 25

8. James Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science (New York: Viking, 1987), pp.
56, 74.
9. C.S. Peirce, Collected Papers, Volume 2, Paragraph 646.
10.C.S. Peirce, Collected Papers, Volume 2, Paragraph 397.
YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES: EMERGENT COMMUNITY OF
INQUIRY IN EARLY CHILDHOOD DISCOURSE

DAVID KENNEDY
WESTERN CAROLINA UNIVERSITY
CULLOWHEE, NC 28723
DKENNEDY@WCU.EDU
THREE SHORT CONVERSATIONS

FIRST CONVERSATION: MAGIC AND SCIENCE

A small group of second graders are discussing magic.

Teacher:A kindergarten boy once told the class he intended to become a mother
lion when he grew up. He said he would do this by practicing magic.
Thalia:Magic doesn't make things that people want to be.
Teacher:Is there any use for magic at all?
Thalia:There are magic tricks. You can learn tricks.
Harry:Well, he could put on a disguise and then there could be a tape recorder
beside him of a lion and people would think that's a real lion.
Thalia:But that would still be a trick.
Stuart:Like the magic set my sister gave me. The balls don't really disappear.
They're in the cups all the time.
Harry:The only kind of magic there really is is superhuman strength. Now that is
really true.
Allan:If you know how to do a magician's things, you do have to keep practicing
until you know how to do it real good.
Thalia:But it's still just tricks, Allan.
Allan:Everything isn't tricks, Thalia.
Teacher:Even if you practiced for years, could you learn to become an animal?
Allan:No, but maybe something else.
Stuart:My friend does this--it's not magic, but it's like magic. Like once he
believed so hard his father would give him something and when that
day came his father really gave him what he believed.
YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES 28

Teacher:Is that like wishing?


Stuart:No. He was just believing in his mind that his father would give him
something.
John:That boy in your class. It was just something he really wanted it to happen
but it couldn't happen. It was a fantasy.
Harry:Scientists could work hard and make up a formula to make someone into a
lion.
Thalia:The only kind of magic I've heard of are miracles.
Teacher:Is that something like Stuart's friend believing in something real hard?
Thalia:A little different. Like you're wishing something will happen but you know
it won't and all of a sudden it happens.
Sally:I think there might be a potion some day. I don't think it could happen. I
mean a potion to make someone a lion. But it might happen.
Harry:They might be able to not make him into a lion but make him look like a
lion with all the doctors working hard to do it.
Sally:You mean to look like a lion but not talking like a lion. Not roaring or
anything. But it wouldn't be magic. It'd be something to do with
science.

from Vivian Gussey Paley, Wally's Stories (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
1981), pp. 198-200.

SECOND CONVERSATION: LANGUAGE AND POLITICS

Prompted by watching Akemi, a Japanese kindergartner who is preoccupied with


YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES 29

learning English, the teacher has already engaged children in several questions
about language--"Why are there so many different languages?" and "Why are there
so many different alphabets?" Now, in a third conversation, she asks another
question. One of the participants, Warren, is Chinese-American. He speaks only
English, but his parents speak Chinese. In an earlier conversation, he has
informed the group, "I'm going to Chinese school on Saturdays when I'm six."
Akemi is a recent Japanese immigrant, who, after a period of avoidance, is now
late intensively involved in learning English.

Teacher:If you were in charge of the world, would you make only one language or
many languages, the way it is now?
Tanya:One language. Oh yes! Then I could understand everyone in the whole
world.
Eddie:No, let it stay this way so different countries keeps on not being the same.
Then you take trips to see what those countries are like and how they
talk.
Ellen:I like the world the way it is but I don't like fighting.
Teacher:Is that because they have different languages?
Ellen:Well, if they can't understand each other they might think good words sound
like bad words.
Wally:She means like if someone says "Let's play," in French, then in Chinese
they might think he said, "Let's fight."
Warren:Keep it this way because if you're Chinese you would have to learn
English.
Teacher:Would English have to be the language everyone learns?
Warren:I don't know what God likes to talk. Wait, I changed my mind. Let
YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES 30

everyone say the same language. Then when my mommy and daddy
speak quietly I could understand them.
Tanya:I changed my mind too. Better not have the same language. Here's why:
whenever this whole world had the same language everyone would
say they want their language to be the one everyone has to have.
Then everyone would blame someone else for giving them the wrong
language.
Akemi:If everyone speak Japan, everyone have to live there. My country too
small for the big America.
Warren:Everyone can come to China. It's much bigger. Let Chinese be the
language. No, I changed my mind. Let my mommy and daddy talk
English all the time.

from Vivian Gussey Paley, Wally's Stories (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
1981), pp. 119-120.

THIRD CONVERSATION: THE SUPERNATURAL AND THE


SUPERHUMAN, GOOD AND EVIL

A small group of kindergartners is discussing the tooth fairy.

Teacher:I wonder why people talk about a tooth fairy and not a tooth witch?
Jill:A tooth fairy comes through the wall and a witch has to knock on the door.
Wally:If a witch came he might steal the child away.
Eddie:Jill, I don't think a witch would knock--she'll break the door open. She
YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES 31

could even steal a mother away.


Jill:The tooth fairy would leave a quarter and then the witch comes and steals the
money. But then you wish for it again.
Warren:A witch could take the pillow away. Wait, first she puts her magic stick
under the pillow, then she makes the pillow disappear, then the stick
hurts your head. Then your mother has to come in and sleep with you
because you might be bleeding.
Deana:Tooth witches would leave spiders on the money.
Kim:There's no such thing as a tooth witch.
Deana:I know. I mean if there was.
Kim:Witches can't be invisible. So only a fairy can be a tooth fairy.
Deana:Fairies are always good. If they do something bad they can become a
witch. Then, in six hundred years, a witch can be a fairy again.
Wally:Oh, so that's how they have good witches in The Wizard of Oz.

from Vivian Gussey Paley, Wally's Stories (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
1981), pp. 44-45.
YOUNG CHILDREN'S MOVES 32

This doesn't mean that these systemic relations are always (or ever!) clearly
visible. According to the chaos metaphor, conversations could happen which
formed beautifully, as a hurricane forms from a seemingly random collection of
meteorological events; others could quickly become disorganized and entropic,
and either shrivel to nothing, bog down, or go completely off course. However,
each one, whether it was successful or not, would have some systemic relation to
the one before it and the one after it, so a failure today may supply a piece of a
future success.