Chapter 10

Hemlock

“You can disagree with everything I’ve ever said.  Because to be a philosopher is to think for yourself.  To think the thoughts that other people perhaps don’t want you to think.  It is to be free.  And I truly believe it is the best way I could have lived my life.”

Delphi finally gets to speak to Socrates face to face - but what can she say?  Isn't there any way of saving him?  Their conversation will last long in Delphi's memory - and show her what it might really mean to be a philosopher.

 

Big Questions:

  • How important is doing philosophy?

  • What is the best kind of life?

  • What makes a philosopher?

 

Skills focus:

  • Explaining a philosophical argument

  • Responding to philosophical arguments

  • Evaluating what we've learned

Lesson Overview

This story comes at the end of the full scheme of work and so can be taught over one or two lessons depending on the amount of assessment desired.  This lesson, or these lessons, gives the children an opportunity to analyse a philosophical debate and then take up these ideas to debate between themselves.  The aim should be to consolidate all the skills developed through all their philosophy lessons, and so is best delivered once the children have developed skills in other lessons.  If taught over two sessions, the first lesson will tell the story and let the children debate the death of Socrates, while the second session provides an opportunity to reflect on the story as a whole and capture evidence of progress.

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Lesson Blog: Hemlock

December 2019

Hi again,

Well, here we are at the last lesson blog of this series and the last lesson of Delphi the Philosopher.  This week, not only do we see the conclusion of the story, but we really see how far the children have come on their journey to become philosophers too.  If you’ve read the series of lesson blogs, you will have seen the extraordinary reaction from the children about these lessons – and today’s conclusion didn’t disappoint either.

We re-join Delphi as she is finally taken to speak to Socrates.  The whole story is something of a reworking of Plato’s dialogues about the last days of Socrates, particularly the Apology, Crito and Phaedo, but this chapter follows these more closely.  I was always intrigued by a line in Phaedo when it said Socrates took a bath and then spoke to the women in his household, though this conversation is not recounted.  This is then, what could have happened, if Delphi had been there.   Firstly, why did he have a bath?

Xanthippe

OK, I know – it’s a cheap laugh.  But it does have some historical accuracy.  One of the few recorded stories about Xanthippe is that she did indeed empty a chamber pot over his head.  In any case, we use this opportunity to discuss why is she is so angry and start to let the reality sink in: Socrates is going to die, having had the chance to escape.  The rest of the story, and this lesson, is simply trying to answer the question: why?

Delphi has a moment of reflection while Socrates has his bath, and we considered what it is that Delphi should say to him.  The children were still quite keen to encourage Socrates to escape at this point, and most felt he certainly should do so. 

When the moment comes, Delphi is taken off guard by how calm and cheerful Socrates is.  Delphi on the other hand, realises she is quite overwhelmingly angry and demands to know why he wouldn’t escape when he had the chance.  Socrates, in a very Socrates way, reframes the question.  He says the question isn’t whether he should live or die, but is it better to die a philosopher?  Should he really give up on his philosophy just to extend his life?

This debate would run through the rest of the lesson.  One thing we like to do in Delphi sessions is change the way we set up debates – sometimes we sit in a circle, sometimes on the carpet, sometimes at tables.  Sometimes we have roles, and sometimes we roleplay a debate.  This time I gave the children the chance to choose where they sat – were they mostly agreeing with Socrates, Delphi or (importantly) were they somewhere in between?

Socrates debate

Delphi tells Socrates she has three reasons why he should stay alive, and we consider and debate these in turn.  This is where the children’s experience and skill at doing philosophy, something we have been developing through this story for the last twelve weeks, really came to the fore.  Their confidence to justify their thinking, the flexibility to change their mind, and the evaluative and analytic thinking they show when the answer ‘somewhere in the middle’ was fantastic to see.  As their teacher, I know it’s something they could not do before these lessons, and it is something we will continue to do in many more lessons in the future.

Socrates debate

These debates led to plenty of children changing their minds.  Socrates justifies his decision – that it would hurt his family more if he escaped and incriminated them, and then that the non-philosophical life (or indeed, the unexamined life) is not worth living.  As we went through these debates it was striking that more and more children started to agree with Socrates – but many more wanted to find the middle ground.

By the time we got to the third and final argument, that Socrates should be free to choose rather than be forced to die, many children were very hesitant to make a final choice.  However, many of them agreed that Socrates should be free to make his choice (making some great links to our previous sessions about freedom).  Some children gave some terrific examples of this – one boy saying that Socrates would always take the good path over a bad path if he had the choice (something Socrates would’ve agreed with, of course).  Another girl put forward the idea if Socrates died, he would continue to be a philosopher even after death.  Again, Socrates would like this argument – much of the Phaedo is spent justifying his belief in the afterlife – but even in terms of reputation, this has proved true.

All too soon, Delphi and Socrates conversation, and our debate, came to an end.  Socrates returns to the men in the next room to drink his hemlock and…  I’m going to hand you over to Rosie and her Year 5 class to tell you how the story ends.  I wouldn’t want to spoil it.

I couldn’t believe it was the final week of Delphi Philosophy and nor could the children! I was excited, however, as I knew that this would be the week where lots of questions would be solved, lots of the previous chapters would come together and all of the skills the children had learnt over the weeks would be applicable in a big debate between Delphi and her hero, Socrates. After our cliff-hanger from last lesson, the children were keen to see whether Delphi would be able to convince Socrates to leave his prison cell.

Delphi and Plato arrive in the prison and oversee a rather dramatic encounter between Socrates and his wife, Xanthippe. Xanthippe is fuming with her husband for being so selfish – she is so mad that she throws a chamber pot all over Socrates! The class were both horrified and amazed – it took us a while to get over it. The children were asked why they thought she was so angry as a starter question this lesson. They could tell it was because Socrates had chosen to leave her bringing up their children alone and not considered the pain it would cause his family if he were to die. This provided a starting point for Delphi in her journey for this chapter.

Delphi must then wait for Socrates to clean himself off before she can finally have her audience with him. It’s an anxious wait and it definitely felt like the children could feel that. This chapter is unlike any of the other chapters. It’s a serious matter yet it takes the reader through all sorts of emotions including despair, anger and happiness. I felt like this was the chapter that truly showed how invested the children were in Delphi’s quest to free Socrates and with all their attention on me reading the story it was obvious that they were well and truly hooked. While the children waited for his arrival, they were asked to think about what Delphi should say to Socrates.

What should Delphi say?

When the children meet Socrates again, he seems no different to the first time they met back in the Prologue. This ugly, yet gentle, philosopher appears unaffected by the misery that awaits him. Immediately, Delphi gets angry with Socrates and lets out her frustration at his stubbornness. She has worked so hard to get him out of jail and prove it to the people of Athens that naturally she feels cheated. Socrates tries to calm her down by suggesting they discuss reasons for him to be free in a philosophical manner. He deduces that the real question Delphi is asking is: Should Socrates give up on philosophy to stay alive?  This was it, our first proper discussion point and it well and truly started off with a bang. Take a look below:

Socrates debate

It was interesting and exciting to have so many different answers at this point. It was quite clear that the children weren’t afraid to give their own opinion and were able to extend each other’s points of views as well. This was only just the beginning of the journey in debate we would have during this lesson and there was a real sense of enthusiasm and confidence amongst the class to get our teeth into the arguments we would discuss.

In our next steps of the story, Delphi tries to give Socrates three reasons why he should leave prison. With each point, Socrates presents a counter argument for why it is better for him to take the poison. At the end of each argument, the children were asked to discuss who they thought they agreed with and why. The first point Delphi makes is that Socrates is causing pain to his family by taking the poison. Socrates argues that he’d actually hurt them more if escaped prison because the guards would be after them as well. This set us up for our next debate and it produced a wide range of possibilities and arguments as you will see in the next video.

What should Delphi say?

The next point Delphi makes is that living a life without philosophy is surely better than being dead. Socrates defends his standpoint by arguing that it would be like turning the switch off in his brain and not being allowed to think for himself again. As I read this part, I could hear children around the room whispering in agreement or disagreement with the points being made by Delphi or Socrates. It was great to see how invested they all were! It also led straight into our next discussion point on who was now winning this argument.

What should Delphi say?

The final argument Delphi tries to justify is that it isn’t fair that Socrates has been forced to die when he didn’t want to. Socrates agrees that this isn’t the choice he wanted but he would rather go along with it than live a life where he was unable to think for himself. By this point, there was a group of children who had changed their minds several times since the start of the lesson. They could see Socrates’ point and felt he was making the right choice. There were quite a few children, however, who confidently claimed that they were on Delphi’s side but they felt like Socrates was winning the debate! This was quite a poignant moment for me as I knew that this meant that they were confident enough in their own thinking that despite seeing that others disagree, they could humbly accept a difference in opinion without subsiding their own. They were thinking for themselves as all philosophers should.

Our discussion could have gone on for hours, perhaps days! They had so many answers, suggestions and examples to back up their ideas. Their thinking was much more structured than it had been right at the very start of these Delphi Philosophy lessons. I think this debate will stick with them for a very long time. It was such a special moment for me to share with my class. As were the final moments of our story. We had a few tears and I felt choked up at one point, but it was truly wonderful to experience this conclusion with them all.

The End

So there we have it! The end of twelve amazing weeks of Delphi Philosophy. It has been absolutely incredible to see the impact of Delphi on my class. From a discussion about a good person right at the very start that didn’t go very far to a massive debate in the very last session, in which the class were listening, questioning, reasoning and challenging each other. Philosophy is a massive part of our classroom now and I am excited to include opportunities in the wider curriculum for us to apply our thinking skills. I really hope that these lesson blogs have inspired you to get into the philosophical world – children and philosophy is a combination not to be missed!

Reading the final part of the story is an emotional experience for teachers and children alike.  There’s a real sense that we’ve gone through something special together.  The children have made some terrific progress (which we know and can measure from using our assessment tools, though that’s another blog in itself).  The impact of this story and the scheme of work is more dramatic than I ever expected it to be, and I know from previous year groups that the story and the skills they have learned stay with them long after the book is closed.

A huge thank you to all the children, to Rosie, to Agnes, to Hollie and everyone who has made these lessons and blogs possible.  Thank you too for reading – even when we got overexcited and the blogs got long!

You can teach your children about the story of Socrates by teaching this enquiry to your class too!  Download the ‘Hemlock’ Enquiry Pack by clicking the link below, or to get the full experience, you can download the entire Delphi the Philosopher scheme by clicking here!

Thanks again for reading!

(Explicit consent has been obtained to publish the photos and videos on this website. Do not copy or replicate these in any way. Many thanks to parents/carers for their support and to Mrs Hegedus and Miss Kasia, TA superstars, for taking the photos.)

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