She looked down at the ring, which sat on her finger, shining and odd. It couldn’t be, could it? She quickly moved to the edge of the street where there was a trough of water for animals outside the bath house and looked into it.
Where she should have seen her reflection, there was just… sky. She was! She was invisible!
A person only does the wrong thing if they don't know what is right - at least, according to a mysterious note that Delphi receives one morning. Could it be from Socrates? But even stranger is the golden ring that comes with it. When Delphi tries it on, she quickly realises that knowing what is right and wrong might be much more complicated than she thought...
Does it matter if you do something bad?
What should we do?
What do 'right' and 'wrong' really mean?
Thinking of examples to support an idea
Using 'if' to consider possibilities
Using 'then' to consider consequences
This lesson is a philosophical enquiry about ethics. The children will investigate the idea of moral responsibility by considering different situations – firstly, what they would do if there were no punishments for acting badly and then what they would do with super powers. This enquiry will lead children through making a distinction between what they ‘would’ and ‘should’ do, and then to seeing the difficulty of knowing what the right thing to do is. The skills focus is on using ‘if’ to think of examples to support their ideas about these questions.
Lesson Blog: The Ring
13th October 2019
This week we took on moral decision making, with a philosophical classic. The Ring of Gyges, a mythical ring which makes the wearer invisible, was raised by Socrates in Book 2 of Plato’s Republic as a challenge: should you do the right thing even if there are no consequences for being bad? This session also focuses on the skills of using ‘if’ and ‘then’ to build children’s skills in considering examples and consequences. Both aspects of the lesson proved to be quite powerful in our classes, as you’ll see!
We start with a mysterious note, seemingly from Socrates. All it says is: “A person only does the wrong thing if they don’t know what is right.” This little line of Socratic philosophy would become a touchstone for the rest of the lesson. The children responded brilliantly straight away, with no input from me. It’s great to have these little warm up discussions, just to see how far we’ve come already.
You can tell I was quite pleased with that last one!
Along with the note was a mysterious ring, which of course Delphi had to try on…
Cue a lot of giggles and children desperately trying to cover up what they’d written in their notebooks! I can at least say the depravity of their responses wasn’t quite as bad as Rosie’s Year 5 class (but I’ll leave Rosie to tell you about that later!).
It’s very important not to moralise during these sorts of discussions. We’re looking for the children to realise the consequences of their actions, not just tell them or dismiss their ideas straight away. By far the most popular response in my class was to steal their mum’s phone. Just in case you were wondering.
From there, Delphi gets a little bit… carried away. The children were delightfully shocked as she causes chaos in the Agora, stealing cake, tripping people over and getting other people into trouble. I could sense some of the children already getting a little bit uncomfortable about what she was doing and were ready for the next big question.
It was at this point, we introduce the ‘If… then…’ sentence stem. I love to explain the word ‘if’ as ‘let’s imagine!’ To use the word properly, the children have to understand that to use the word ‘if’ is to constrain what might happen – in other words, to have a premise from which to build a conclusion.
These next few videos show how the children’s responses developed as we started to use ‘If… then…’. To start with, and this is very common, some children wanted to talk about the possibility of Delphi being caught. This shows they haven’t yet understood the ‘if’ as a constraint – if Delphi definitely isn’t going to get caught, then there is no way she can get caught.
After a little more explanation, the children then started to use the sentence stem to express their ideas. This girl for example could use ‘if’ and ‘then’ but hadn’t yet fully considered what those consequences meant.
This led to a fantastic discussion. Now children were using the sentence stems to challenge this idea – and to change their minds.
As Delphi also realises the consequences of her actions, many of the children started to think deeper about the ‘then’ part of their reasoning. The silence in the room when reading this section of the story was quite amazing – there was a real sense of realisation that these actions have significant consequences. In the next discussion, the same girl had changed her mind completely.
These videos are a great example of how the sentence stems, the discussion and the story all combine to move children’s reasoning skills forward. We revisited our first ideas about what we’d do with the ring and realised that our actions would have some consequences.
The discussion moves on as Delphi decides to use the ring to try and do the right thing. Cue lots more excitement!
By this point the children were using ‘if’ and ‘then’ quite freely. There was lots of talk of rescuing people from danger, but also quite a lot of disagreement. One boy said he would be able to ‘sort out’ all the bad guys, but immediately another child challenged him by saying: ‘then you would be a bad guy too!” I challenged them to create some ‘if’ and ‘then’ sentences out of their idea, with their partner trying to challenge them by showing them the consequence.
By this point in the story, Delphi was getting desperate. Her attempts at helping people had caused a lot of unforeseen consequences. The children were sensing the difficulty she was having. Now the class were finding it extremely difficult to say for sure what she should do, as the consequences were becoming more complex. Delphi tries to take some money and give it to the cake seller she stole from yesterday, but all this does is leave him very likely to get arrested.
The children were seeing ‘if’ and ‘then’ easily by this point. If she gave the money to the cake seller, he would just be arrested. If she didn’t give it back, then someone else would be blamed for it. The children were starting to give up on the ring just as Delphi herself realised she had no idea what to do with it.
This, of course, was the idea all along. By taking children on this journey through the story, we’ve moved their thinking from their initial response, to considering consequences, and then to the realisation that this is a much bigger and more complicated question than we first thought. The suggestion of throwing the ring into the river was actually made by a child when I first taught a version of this session about six years ago. Many children in my class agreed – in fact, the general consensus was that this wasn’t enough and it should be locked up somewhere so no one else could get hold of it. Others thought Delphi should find someone who did know the right thing to do. One boy spoke for all when he simply said, “I’m not sure yet because of all the consequences.”
Welcome to moral decision-making children!
Rosie, with her Year 5 class, seemed to have a great time with this session too!
I don’t really know where to begin with writing about this lesson. It was just out of this world. The adventure we took together with Delphi and the discoveries we made along the way were incredible. We had so much fun and the children were thoroughly engaged with Delphi’s story from beginning to end. (The protests at the end of the lesson when they realise it’s over for another week are seriously getting rather noisy, I wouldn’t be surprised if they start making placards soon.)
Anyway, it all began with a mysterious note. “A person only does the wrong thing if they don’t know what is right.” Immediately, the children jumped at the chance to discuss the meaning of this. We had time to respond with our partners and then we set out in trying to explain to the class. Yet again, the sentence stems we had already introduced were in full swing and I felt like I had handed control mostly over to the children to manage the discussion between themselves – something they would have struggled to do only a couple of weeks back. It was all rather tame and amicable. The class were being very respectful towards each other’s responses and on their very best behaviour.
But then came the ring. This ring changed everything! All I had to do was to pause on the big discussion question: “If you had a ring that turned you invisible, what would you do?” and suddenly my class erupted like a wildfire. The ideas they had! The tricks they would play! The crimes they would commit! One child said he would sneak into first class on a plane. Another said she would stand directly behind people and literally breathe down their neck. One said they’d steal all the pudding, while a few made links directly with Delphi and suggested she freed Socrates with it. Some suggestions were so disgusting that I don’t think I’ll look at some of those children in the same way ever again. This ring let them into a world with no boundaries, where they could do what they wanted and not have any consequences for it. Of course, that’s what Delphi had thought too.
This lesson was focused on giving examples in response to a question and then moving onto the consequences of actions using the ‘If…then…’ sentence stem. The great thing about using a story as the basis for a lesson is that the children learn as the character learns. In this case, Delphi suddenly came to realise that all of her ‘free’ actions she had done hadn’t resulted in the best for other people. As I was reading this part of the story, the atmosphere in the room all of a sudden changed from being over-zealous and carefree to regretful and solemn. The realisation that Delphi had experienced was also being felt by thirty other children sat in the room. This was a perfect way in for identifying the consequences of ideas and using this to structure our thoughts. The children returned to their initial thoughts and added responses like ‘if I snuck into first class then someone would lose their seat they paid for and won’t be able to go on holiday’ or ‘if I stole all the pudding then that wouldn’t be fair on other people.’ Straightaway, as a teacher, I could see that the children had moved forward in their thinking skills and this certainly stuck with them through the remaining parts of the lesson.
Towards the end of this chapter, Delphi is sat by the river, contemplating what she should do with the ring. She eventually decides it’s too much responsibility and throws it in the river. The children were asked to reflect on Delphi’s choice and whether they would have done the same if it was them. This year my class responded in an entirely different way to my last class, which was quite interesting. Most of this class were convinced Delphi had done the wrong thing and that she was wasting the power of the ring by throwing it away, the opposite of my previous class. Lots of them felt like this ring was a sign from Socrates and that he wanted Delphi to use it to help him to escape. Some suggested she should hold onto it in case it comes in useful and one said that she should keep it but wait until she is old enough to use it responsibly. There of course were a few who disagreed with this and thought Delphi had been right. We ended our lesson with a very powerful discussion between the children about their choices and it was so satisfying to see how much they cared about it. I don’t think they even realised how much philosophical thinking they had done in just one hour.
What I love about teaching philosophy is that the children are being trained to be free thinkers. They can analyse a situation in their own way and there’s no judgment upon their opinion as different perspectives enhance our enquiries as a whole. There was one child who really stood out to me this week because of their free thinking. Right from the start, this child had their suspicions about the ring. In a classroom full of children writing down the craziest of evil plans they had for when they were invisible, one child wrote down ‘I would not keep it because it could be dangerous and it could do other things that are bad so I would sell it.’ I questioned her about her idea and she could justify herself using lots of examples. I asked her what she had meant by ‘other things that are bad’ and she replied “It could be a trick. If she puts it on her finger then she might not be able to get it off and she’d be invisible forever. It might make her transform into other things or send her to a different place.” Throughout the lesson, this child stuck to this opinion, the events in the story supporting her reasoning and the class were amazed at the end of the lesson when it turned out she was proven to have predicted what Delphi realised far later in the chapter. It felt like a very special moment for that child and it really highlighted to me why it is that lessons like this are so important.
We are providing the platform for children to be able to think for themselves and not be afraid to do so. Here’s to continuing this ambition through to week 5 and beyond!
If you want to take your class on this journey, or at least find out what horrendous things they would do if they could get away with it, then you can download ‘The Ring’ Enquiry Pack by clicking the link below! Or you can download the entire Delphi the Philosopher scheme by clicking here!
Until next week, thanks for reading!
(This enquiry started life as an enquiry from The If Machine by Peter Worley, at the Philosophy Foundation, which offers a goldmine of philosophy resources and training. Many thanks to Peter for supporting our work!
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, TA superstar, for taking the photos.)