Tag Archives: reasoning

How much of a meliorist are you?

Recently I was sent a link to an article titled Cheer up, it’s not all doom and gloom published by the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s The Drum.

This article mentioned a book by Steven Pinker called Better Angels of Our Nature which had been recommended to me by Geoff Le Pard in a comment on my post about childhood illness. The premise of this book is that humanity, over the ages, has become less violent. After to listening to Pinker’s history of violence, I’m pleased that I live these relatively peaceful times.


The article also introduced me to a new term ‘meliorism’ which means having a belief that the world can be improved by the actions of humans. While the term may have been unfamiliar to me, the attitude is not and I attest that I am a meliorist.

I have a very strong belief in the power of education to improve the world. Education empowers individuals, and educated individuals empower societies to build improved futures. It becomes very difficult to sustain negative practices in the face of overwhelming evidence and information.

What better place is there for education to begin than in the home?

In a recent post I referred to a new book by Michael Rosen called Good Ideas: How to Be Your Child’s (And Your Own) Best Teacher. At the time I had not read the book but now I can say, with great delight, that I have listened to most of it. With messages such as those contained in Michael’s book, it is easy to be a meliorist.

I think Rosen’s book should be available to, perhaps compulsory reading for, every parent; I consider its message to be that important. In fact, I am off to the shops today to purchase copies to give to parents of young children I know.  It will become part of my gift to new parents that also includes Reading Magic by Mem Fox and a selection of picture books. I have previously blogged about that here and here.

The “Good Ideas” contained in Rosen’s book, if implemented, will keep alive the natural curiosity of one’s children and oneself. They will encourage the development of thought, creativity and responsiveness.

In the next few weeks I will post a more detailed review of the book and some of Michael’s ideas for stimulating curiosity, whoever and wherever you are.

What about you? Are you a meliorist?

I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

Thank you

Empowerment – the importance of having a voice

In a previous series of posts I wrote about science inaccuracies in a picture book and questioned with whom lay the responsibility for providing young children with correct information.

While this post builds upon those posts, it also takes a divergent path: the need for children to have a voice; to be empowered to ask questions, to state their needs and report wrongdoings.

On a highly respected educational website Scholastic, with the by-line “Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life.”, in an article about Eric Carle author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, children are told that

“Eric already knows that a caterpillar emerges from a chrysalis, not a cocoon! So don’t bother writing to tell him.”

This seemingly innocuous statement may be easily overlooked but packs a powerful message.

What does it tell children?

The author has been told many times, already knows and isn’t going to do anything about it.

The author is tired of being told he is wrong and doesn’t want to hear it any more.

The author is “right” and not to be questioned. (The book, with its misinformation, is highly acclaimed by millions around the world. However if, in answering a question on a test, children were to write that a butterfly comes out of a cocoon, they would be marked wrong. Explain that to them.)

For me the most insidious part of this message is

He already knows, “so don’t bother writing to tell him”!!!!!!!!

You can’t change it.

You know it’s wrong, but you can’t change it, so don’t bother trying.

Although many societies are now moving to eradicate it, child abuse is still far too common worldwide. Not only must the attitudes of societies change, but children must be empowered, they must be encouraged to speak up and they must be listened to: their voices must be heard.

In a recent child abuse case that occurred at a Queensland primary school, the student protection officer reportedly said that she couldn’t understand why the children who had been sexually abused did not come forward.

couldn't believe 1

The accused had continued in his role as child protection contact for a year after the first complaint was made. The student protection officer found it hard to believe that her colleague was a paedophile;

couldn't believe 2

and still she says she doesn’t understand why the children didn’t come forward!

Click here to read the complete article.

It seems to me the children did come forward if the first (indicates there were more) complaint was made more than a year before anything was done about it.

The children tried to say, but were not believed. The predator was believed and protected while the plight of the innocent victims was ignored. The report states that parents who complained about the abuse of their children were ostracised by the school community and made out to be the “bad guys”.

Is it any wonder that, if not listened to and not believed, and if more is done to protect the offenders than the abused, the children become increasingly reluctant to tell?

After the first children had come forward and not been listened to or believed, may not they have said to others, “There’s no point in saying. They already know. They won’t do anything about it?”

Or what about the parents who were ostracised and made out to be the bad ones?

Doesn’t it make the message very clear – you are powerless. Your voice won’t be heard. Your opinion doesn’t matter.

Carry this message over into countless other situations and you have a population who is afraid to speak up, fearing the disdain of reproach, the embarrassment of being unvalued and the helplessness of one’s message being unheard.

How many times have you felt you must remain silent for fear of ridicule, rejection, or worse?

How many opportunities for creating a positive change have been missed because the task seemed insurmountable or the personal repercussions too unpleasant?

When have you stepped up and made that change happen because you were not afraid to speak up or speak out when faced with an issue you felt strongly about?

What changes can we make to empower children (and adults) everywhere?

By the way, in that article on the Scholastic website, it is reported that Eric Carle believes that “the most important part of developing a book . . .is working with editors to revise it.”

Would it make any difference to the magic of The Very Hungry Caterpillar if, after all these years, Eric Carle rewrote a corrected version with a butterfly emerging triumphantly from a chrysalis?

What would that act tell all the countless children who have written to tell Eric about his mistake, and the many others who wanted to but were told there was no point?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Please share your thoughts.

Related posts:

Searching for meaning in a picture book — Part A

Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B

Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C

Finding power in a picture book – the main event

Finding power in a picture book – the main event

Teaching critical literacy through picture books

This is the fourth is a series of posts about the role of picture books, especially The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

The purpose of this post is to discuss the importance of critical literacy and the necessity to teach children to

  • think critically
  • not accept everything that is presented in text (oral, visual or print)
  • evaluate the source of the information and the intent of the author
  • match incoming information with prior knowledge,  and
  • question, question, question.

In these previous posts

Searching for meaning in a picture book – Part A

Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B

Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C

I suggested ways of including The Very Hungry Caterpillar in an early childhood classroom and discussed the responsibility that authors have in differentiating between fact and fiction in story books.

In Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C I pointed out the inaccuracies in The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the pervasiveness of the misconceptions, if not totally attributable to the book, then at least in part. This is verified by Jacqui who, in 2011, wrote on the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust website

“When speaking to teachers I often find raised eyebrows when I explain that butterflies’ larvae do not make cocoons. The teachers refer to Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, where he refers to a ‘cocoon’.”

Note that Jacqui refers specifically to this book, rather than to sources in general.

As shown by Jacqui, though, it can be difficult, even for teachers without specialist entomological knowledge, to sort out fact from the fiction.

These are two pieces of misinformation contained in the story:

Misinformation 1:

Caterpillars eat a lot of different food


Most caterpillars are fussy about their diet, some eating only one specific plant, others eating a variety of plant foods.

Misinformation 2:

Butterflies come out of a cocoon.


Butterflies emerge from a chrysalis.

Moths come out of a cocoon.

Watch these two videos:

This one by Strang Entertainment shows the caterpillar becoming a chrysalis.

This one shows a silkworm caterpillar spinning a cocoon (about 2 mins in).

They are two very different processes.

However a quick glance at these Google search results shows just how pervasive the misconceptions are:

Cocoon to butterfly

butterfly cocoons

Even seemingly authoritative educational websites misinform. Look at the way these two websites promote themselves, and consider the misinformation they are peddling.

The website Math & Reading Help

Maths and Reading Help

states that The Very Hungry Caterpillar is “factually accurate . . . teaches your child to understand this biological process … a butterfly. . .(is) a caterpillar that has emerged from its cocoon”

Primary upd8 which promotes itself as “UKs most exciting science resource”

primary upd8

also suggests using The Very Hungry Caterpillar for teaching about the life cycle of a butterfly.

primary upd8 knowledge

If self-professed “authorities” can’t get it right, how are we laypeople meant to make sense of it. Suggestions like these reinforce the need for the skills of critical analysis to be developed.

Unlike those above, I contend that this book has no place in the science curriculum. Its greatest value is as a tool for teaching critical literacy.

When children have learned about the life stages of a butterfly and then listen to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, they are very quick to pounce on the inaccuracies and immediately want to write to the author and tell him of his mistake.

When told that he already knows and that he isn’t going to change it, as confirmed in an interview reported on the Scholastic website, they are incredulous.

“Why would he do that?” they ask.

Why indeed.

When told that he doesn’t care that it isn’t right, they are indignant.

But herein lies its value:

I am able to affirm their learning: they know more than Eric Carle; and, more importantly, I am able to reinforce with them that just because something is in print, doesn’t make it true.

In addition, it is important for them to realise that misinformation does not occur only in picture books, nor only in this picture book. It is just as common in news media, as shown by this article from Brisbane’s Courier-Mail on December 7 2013

Butterfly emergingtext for photographs

Nor is misinformation restricted to caterpillars and butterflies.

This article, again from the Courier-Mail, on January 26 2014 also contains inaccuracies:

Deadly thirst for glidersFurry flyers text

Squirrel gliders don’t fly, and they don’t have wings.

Suggestions for teachers and parents:

  • point out inaccuracies and inconsistencies
  • encourage children to think about what they are reading and hearing and to evaluate it against what they know
  • support children to verify the source of the information and to check it against other more authoritative/reliable sources
  • help them to recognise that every author has a purpose and to identify that purpose
  • invite children to ask questions about what they are reading and to interrogate the content
  • encourage them to question, question, question.

As demonstrated by the Google results shown above, there is a good deal of misinformation available, often cleverly disguised as fact. Being able to navigate one’s way through it is a very important skill.

Eric Carle says “If we can accept giants tied down by dwarfs, genies in bottles, and knights who attack windmills, why can’t a caterpillar (sic) come out of a cocoon?”

What do you think?

Do picture book authors have a responsibility for informing their audience? Is a butterfly coming out of a cocoon in the same realm as giants tied down by dwarfs? Would we accept a child hatching out of an egg? What parts of a story should be based in reality and which parts can be imagined?

“Why can’t a butterfly come out of a cocoon?” asks Eric.

Well, Eric, they just don’t.

Please share your thoughts.

Thinking about Philosophy

18457-Bubbles-Comic-webThe third Thursday in November has been identified by UNESCO as World Philosophy Day, and the theme for this year is Inclusive Societies, Sustainable Planet”.

A round table discussion will include topics such as “the growing inequalities between rich and poor within many countries and between countries and sustainable development” including “concepts of social justice, solidarity, exclusion and inclusion in different societies, as well as issues related to the vulnerability of various groups – including women, children, young people, people with disabilities, minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, people living in poverty – and the interfaces between these issues and sustainable development.”

18457-Bubbles-Comic-webThe development of global citizens who are able to reason, think critically and contribute positively to the world by the ability to identify, discuss and suggest ways of resolving such moral and ethical issues can begin with the study of philosophy in schools.

Peter Worley, co-founder of the charity The Philosophy Foundation, is just one of many philosophers who believe that children are able to engage in philosophical discussions, and are convinced of the importance of placing the study of philosophy at the heart of education.

In his article “Class Act”, published by The Philosophers Magazine (April 2, 2013) Peter Worley explains why he considers philosophy should be taught in schools. The following is an excerpt from that article. Please follow the link to read his article in full.

“The “basic” argument: Thinking and reasoning are even more basic than the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) given that reasoning (the fourth “R”?) and the concepts involved in reasoning underpin all three. Philosophy is the subject that specialises in conceptual thinking and reasoning, therefore we may appeal to a very basic educational need for doing philosophy, i.e. conceptual thinking and reasoning.

The “truth” argument: By honing the concepts that we use in all other truth-seeking subjects (e.g. the sciences), philosophy, which is singularly concerned with concepts and reasoning, is the subject best placed to improve the thinking on which the other truth-seeking subjects are based, thereby improving our efforts to reach truth. (This is to paraphrase an argument owed to Catherine McCall.)

The incoherence argument: When incoherence occurs between disciplines (or simply in the way the world seems to “hang together” or not) one needs the tools to deal with such incoherence, to be able to attempt to make sense of it. Philosophy is the subject that specialises in making sense of incoherence. Therefore philosophy should be taught. (This is a paraphrase of an argument put forward to me by Stephen Boulter.)

It is worth noting that incoherence is just as much a feature of school children’s lives as anyone else’s. Just think of the way the children learn objectivity in the sciences but then are taught something like universal relativism in other aspects of their schooling, perhaps in religious education or the classroom mantra “opinions are never wrong” and such like.

The inescapability argument: Philosophical problems are inescapable. Every time you read something in a newspaper or on the internet you are faced with a philosophical problem: how do you know when something is true? When the teacher teaches you about atoms and shows you the atomic model: how do they know that atoms look like that if they’ve never seen one? If it’s true that philosophical problems are inescapable then surely there is an argument for preparing people/students for how to respond to these problems intelligently and philosophically. (This is a paraphrase of an argument put to me by Michael Hand.)

Perhaps the last word on teaching philosophy to children should go to Montaigne, who wrote, back in the sixteenth century: “Since philosophy is the art which teaches us how to live, and since children need to learn it as much as we do at other ages, why do we not instruct them in it?”

I am grateful to Peter for permitting me to reproduce this excerpt as my contribution towards the celebration of World Philosophy Day. For more information about Peter’s publications, please visit

The Philosophy Foundation.

Watch this video to listen to Peter and Emma Worley, co-founders of The Philosophy Foundation, explain why it is important for philosophy to be taught in schools:

Teaching philosophy in schools

You may also enjoy this entertaining and enlightening video, written by Emma Worley, “What has philosophy ever done for us?” (adapted from Monty Python’s Life of Brian):

What has philosophy ever done for us?

What do you think? How important is philosophy to you?

Why do I have to?


School attendance during some years of their childhood is compulsory for most children around the world. In Australia schooling is compulsory for children between the ages of about five and fifteen. Most children accept this attendance without question and, in fact, many really enjoy it! A society in which schooling was not compulsory and children didn’t want to attend would be very different from that which we currently enjoy.  So while I have some misgivings about the type of schooling on offer, I guess I feel grateful that it is compulsory and that most children are happy to attend.

Given that schooling is compulsory, I believe that a school must be a place where children wish to be; where they feel safe and comfortable, respected and valued; where their needs are met and imaginations excited; where they have some sense of purpose and control; and where they are challenged to be more than they ever thought they could.

For some children, schooling does provide all these things and, as adults, they may look back on their school days with fondness. Others become disengaged, unable to see the purpose in endless tasks and expectations that appear to bear little connection to their lives either now or in the future, as they imagine it. Reigniting enthusiasm for learning once the first flush has faded is more difficult than maintaining it in the first place, which is often challenging enough.

The study of philosophy in schools may help students understand the purposes of what they are learning, maintain their engagement with the curriculum and contribute to their excitement for learning and the desire to stay in school.

I have always had a personal interest in philosophy and philosophical discourse, though I do not claim to have any great knowledge of particular philosophers and their thinking. The “Philosophy for Children” program developed by Dr Matthew Lipman, which has been implemented in many schools throughout the world, including Australia, favours a community of enquiry and democratic approach in which students are encouraged to think; critically, creatively and reflectively. They are also encouraged to think and talk about thinking. When I was first introduced to the approach in the mid-1990s, I was not surprised to find that development of the approach had been influenced by John Dewey’s ideals of progressive education. The program not only fitted with my philosophy of education perfectly, but expanded my thinking and gave more credence to what I believed. I was pleased to receive, through use of the program, guidance for implementing these important thinking skills in my early childhood classroom.

Recently, on the recommendation of my friend and fellow philosophy-enthusiast, Glenn, I listened to a podcast “Philosophy in Education” available on the Philosophy Now website. In this podcast, three philosophers, Peter Worley, Dr Michael Hand and Dr Stephen Boulter, discussed the question “Should schools teach philosophy?” All three were unanimous, of course, and presented some very interesting and convincing arguments for the inclusion of philosophy in the curriculum.

The discussion dealt with questions about values and basic morality, what one ought to do or should do, and the reasons why. It also raised the importance of “why” questions in maths and science e.g. “Why do we know that 2 + 2 = 4?”, or “How do we know that what we perceive in the natural sciences is reliable?”


All three agreed that the importance of the basics in education can’t be denied, but Stephen contended that if we want to improve the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, then we need to start with philosophy. He said that secondary school students are already asking philosophical questions about the material they are being taught in subjects like chemistry and history; questions like “Why do I have to learn this?” or “Why is this important?”  (I suggest that children are asking these same questions from a far younger age.)


Stephen asserted that these questions about the curriculum are philosophical questions that must be answered if students’ engagement with the curriculum is to be maintained.

This argument was the most compelling for me as it confirmed the importance of providing students with an understanding of the purposes for the learning they are required to undertake. Michael explained that while the basics are important in education, education is more than just that; it is for the “whole of life”. Stephen agreed, insisting that children need to know the reasons why adults force them to go through so many years of formal education. He said that although there were answers to these questions, they were infrequently given to students.

Peter agreed that children need more than just the practical reasons, for example learning to count so that you can add up when you go to the shops. Stephen maintained that students would find it easier to engage and put effort in if they saw the point of the learning, including an understanding of what it is to be an educated person. Not only that, children need to know why they should believe all the information they are being presented with in school, not just because the teacher tells them so.


The arguments for including philosophical discussions in school, and I would suggest in all curriculum areas, are very convincing. Peter explains that philosophy is inescapable as it deals with concepts and the ability to reason and suggests that these underpin the basics. He questions whether, if the basics haven’t improved for a long time, it may be because no one is questioning what needs to be learned before these skills can be developed. Maybe philosophy and the development of reasoning and concepts is the answer.

What do you think?

How important is it for you to understand the reasons for what is expected of you?

If a seemingly meaningless task is expected of you in your role, do you more willingly accept the requirement if the reason for it is explained?

All clip art used in this post is copyright but used with permission of the eLearning brothers.