Stoic Week Philosophy Session Plan

This is Stoic Week!
I wasn’t aware of Stoic Week but it is very timely for me. Not only does it follow a recent post called “How much if a meliorist are you?” which created much lively debate on my blog, it coincides with a period (now in its tenth day) of no internet service at home, just a mobile service on my iPad. I must admit I haven’t been very stoic in my acceptance of this situation, especially the lack of response of my (non-)provider, although many of my online friends have encouraged me to see the positives.
I know many of you will enjoy thinking about the situations and quotes presented in this article as much as I have, and I promise: I will enjoy my time without the internet for all the other things it allows me to do.
Now if only I could remember what I did in those pre-internet days!


Here’s a lesson plan for Years 6 and up (and able Y5s) on Stoic-related themes for Stoic Week. Draw from it what you want. Taken from Peter Worley‘s forthcoming book (title YTBD) [September 2015].

Equipment needed and preparation: a glass of water, half-filled; handouts or a projection of the extract from Hamlet (optional)

Age: The ‘glass of water’ section is suitable for 7 years and up, but the ‘Hamlet’ section is suitable only for 10 years and up.

Key vocabulary: optimism, pessimism, positive, negative, good, bad

Subject links: literacy, Shakespeare, PSHE

Key controversies: Is ‘good and bad’ a state of mind or a state of the world?

Key concepts: attitude(s), perception, value,

A little philosophy: Stoicism is a branch of Hellenistic (late ancient Greek period from approx. 323-31 BCE) philosophy that derives its name from the ‘painted porch’ (Stoa poikile) in the marketplace of Athens, under which many of…

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7 thoughts on “Stoic Week Philosophy Session Plan

  1. Annecdotist

    It’s great to come across all of these ways that educationalists like you are helping children to be flexible in their thinking. While I applaud this, I do wonder about what happens when extremely complex philosophical (and psychological, which obviously I know more about) constructs are of necessity simplified to have wider appeal.
    It’s interesting to reflect on what aspects of Stoic philosophy have crept into folk wisdom and what hasn’t. I first came across it in terms of “being stoical” as in accepting one’s lot (I’ve referred back to this post in my review of the novel Academy Street coming soon to a website near you) which can be an unhelpful stance if taken too far. The other part is that we can change our emotions by changing our beliefs, the foundation of (the extremely useful but overly hyped) cognitive behaviour therapy. Taken to the extreme, this can imply that people are responsible for their own unhappiness, even when other factors come into play.
    The water glass is a great way of making this idea concrete for children. However, I do think it would be quite challenging for teachers to present this in a way that shows half-full and half-empty as equally valid responses. (I don’t want to malign the teacher’s professionalism, but don’t we have a bias towards half full?) I’m not in favour of dichotomies such as optimism versus pessimism (even though we all rely on them a great deal) – the article does acknowledge that the glass can be BOTH which is where I’d like to put my emphasis.
    As I’m neither a philosopher nor educationalist, I’m commenting as a friend interested in your writing, Norah, so my position is probably tangential to what this post is mainly intending to address. I think these are great exercises for secure children whose grievances are really minor, but my bias (unfortunately) is towards the position of the neglected child who has no voice for their unhappiness – rather like your flash fiction unicorn girl.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Anne,
      Thank you so much for the depth of thought you have put into your response. I believe you engage in both philosophy and education and I very much appreciate that you add to both my understanding and my learning. Your ability to think in alternative ways and to question what is presented is admirable and valuable and something I always appreciate and look forward to.
      I look forward to reading your review of Academy Street and am interested to see the connection in it to stoicism. I agree that stoicism can be taken too far. Perhaps the secret is in Reinhold Niebuhr’s serenity prayer; knowing the difference between what you can and can’t change and accepting it. I found it very frustrating to be without internet for the last week and a half; and the lack of response from my service (non-)provider particularly so. However once I had accepted, after making lots of phone calls, that nothing was going to happen any quicker, I just went about my business doing other things and tried not to feel frustrated that I couldn’t read and comment on all the blogs I wanted to as well as post on my own. It seemed such a minor issue after reading your post, and following links to information, about World Toilet Day (amongst other things).
      I also agree with you in feeling somewhat ambivalent about changing our emotions by changing our beliefs, though I agree that it is possible to do so and certainly practice it regularly. If it means people stoically accept negative situations, e.g. abusive relationships, rather than getting themselves out of them though, I don’t think it is of benefit. I remember visiting a psychologist to discuss my sister’s mental health issues and his stating very strongly that mental health was a choice and that she was choosing her manic depression. I was never quite convinced. I couldn’t see why she would. It didn’t appear to be much fun.
      The glass with water at the half-way mark is also an interesting issue. Who says that half-full is always more positive than half-empty. If I had a glass of yukky medicine to drink and I had already drunk half of it and had only half left to go, I’d rather think it was half-empty than half-full!!
      I think the last sentence of your comment alludes to a very real problem. The girl in my flash is subjected to a great deal of negativity and abuse in her family. If she is made to feel that she must accept that situation and “pretend” to be happy to change her attitude and emotions, then we are doing her a real disservice. She needs to be empowered by finding her voice and putting a stop to those who are abusing and traumatizing her.
      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I think we’ve only just scraped the surface of this topic. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Annecdotist

        I’m so glad you’ve got the Internet back!
        There’s so much here, in both the topic and your extensive reply to my comment, can only hope to scratch the surface. But I did want to apologise on behalf of psychologists everywhere (not that I’m at all grandiose, of course) that your sister’s was unhelpful. The way I was trained was to explore the extent to which “psychiatric symptoms” might be serving a function for the sufferer, but it was up to us to consider what that function might be and then explore whether it’s possible to use that to help the person move forward. But it’s a step too far in my opinion from that to saying that the person has CHOSEN their difficulties.
        As for Academy Street, I think the character is stoical in the colloquial sense but she’s not very happy as you’ll see when I post my review.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Norah Post author

          Hi Anne, Thanks for popping back again. There is no need for you to apologise on behalf of psychologists. There is great variety within that profession as with any other. I listened to what he said but I made my own observations and drew my own conclusions. My sister certainly had enough torment in her life to warrant an escape plan, but I’m not sure that her illness was a successful “choice”. It certainly took her out of society and away from her family for lengthy periods, but the cancer took her out permanently. I don’t think being heavily medicated into a zombie-like state did anyone I saw a lot of good. There’s no philosophising or choosing to be stoical in that state.
          I’m looking forward to reading your review.
          Thanks for listening and for the discussion.


  2. Bec

    Wow, what a great lesson plan. I learned so much from reading it. I can just imagine how invigorating this would be in the classroom! Thanks Nor! (Good luck with the internet – maybe we could hear Hamlet quoting ‘Offline’s a prison’)

    Liked by 2 people


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