The Golden Mean
Delphi passed him the large bottle of Confidence and he looked down at it. Delphi plucked the Kindness out of his other hand. With only a little hesitation, they both pulled out the cork at the top.
“Just a sip?” Plato suggested, and Delphi nodded.
“No wussing out,” she whispered. They clinked bottles, counted to three and drank.
Delphi thinks she might have found out how to be a good person - it all lies in the strange potions she finds in an abandoned shop. Of course, Delphi persuades Plato that they must find out if they really work. Surely drinking a Kindness potion wouldn't change her that much anyway, would it?
What is a good person like?
Can you be too kind or too confident?
What virtues make a good person?
Thinking of examples to support an idea
Asking 'what if' questions
Considering the consequences of an idea
This lesson focuses on what makes a good person and the idea of ‘if’. The children will develop their enquiry skills, particularly in terms of asking ‘What if…?’ to both predict what might happen and also to try out different ideas and possibilities. The content is based around Aristotle's virtue ethics, and the children respond to the idea that the ideal person has the ‘middle’ of every pair of virtues (not too kind, not too selfish, for example).
Lesson Blog: The Golden Mean
20th October 2019
This week’s lesson took a little more preparation than usual. Delphi lessons don’t require a lot of resourcing, but this time I made a trip to the supermarket to prepare these…
Yes, this week Delphi and Plato break into a potions shop and discover virtue ethics. While last week we focused on what makes a good action, today focuses on what makes a good person – moving us from Socrates to Aristotle. We’ll also continue to build up understanding of using the magic word ‘if’.
We kicked off by asking the children whether they thought Delphi was a good person.
The general consensus was that she was, but sometimes she just gets things wrong if she doesn’t think about things properly. These warm up discussions are a great way of seeing where we are at before beginning the learning for today. I was really pleased to hear lots of ‘because’s and ‘if’s in their answers, but also some awareness that it isn’t a simple question or answer. This next girl’s response shows this perfectly – using ‘I agree and disagree’ (which is something we’ll focus on in the next couple of weeks).
This kind of response shows the development of more abstract and analytical thinking – a great sign of progress in her thinking skills.
But on with today! Delphi and Plato sneak into the shop and discover a set of potions. Having some real potions make this particularly exciting for the children.
As soon as the children understood the premise they swiftly worked out what they needed to do. Which potions will we need to make a good person?
To start with, most of their responses were a list of positive virtues, but there were one or two children who felt we needed some of the ‘bad’ sounding virtues too. When asked, they thought that we might need a little bit of unkindness or dishonesty, as we couldn’t be kind and honest all the time.
Of course, Delphi manages to persuade Plato to drink one of the potions….
Don’t worry, it wasn’t really Confidence potion. Or wine.
The children could predict what they thought would happen. Delphi becomes super kind and Plato super confident, and they immediately start acting very strangely. Delphi offers to give away her house to a stranger and Plato picks a fight with a soldier.
We use all of this as a vehicle to start asking ‘what if?’ – our next sentence stem. What if someone was too kind? What if someone was too confident? The children practised asking these questions and were quickly convinced that this wasn’t the way to be a good person at all.
When Plato drags Delphi back to try and fix the problem, one boy suggests Delphi should drink the selfishness potion to get back to normal. It is always very satisfying when the children predict what’s coming next. Plato insists Delphi drinks the potion, so we tried it too…
The children listened in horror as Plato became a quivering wreck from the Cowardice potion and Delphi first becomes horrible, and then drinks an unlabelled red potion and seems to become surprisingly very friendly with Plato.
Listening to the story also gives children time to think. By this time, children were already coming up with other solutions to how they can get back to normal. It’s always such a delight when you hear a child discover a new idea. You can see it in this next video, when this girl basically discovers Aristotle’s Golden Mean (the idea that all virtues should be in balance) for herself:
Once this had been suggested, most children were convinced this was the solution – but I was glad to see, not everybody. There were still some children who thought that mixing all the potions would just make you mad. It’s important that children know they can disagree not just with each other, but with the story too.
Whether you agree or not, the mixed potion seems to work and gets them back to normal just in time to stop Delphi’s love potion makes her do something really embarrassing. The moment when Delphi almost kisses Plato was greeted by almost uncontrollable laughter from the children. When Delphi realises what she almost did, she is mortified and furious at Plato (even though he had just saved her). By this point one girl was literally rolling around on the floor, laughing uncontrollably. Who says teaching ethics can’t be funny?
I was really impressed with my class during this session. They seemed to be ahead of the story every time, and it really led them on to the next step of their thinking very easily. Using ‘if’ seems to be becoming second nature already, and I’m seeing more and more development towards abstract thinking about these big questions. Plus, they got all the jokes. What more could I ask for?
Perhaps being brave enough to drink the potions themselves, like Rosie’s Year 5 class…
After the madness of last week, the children were incredibly keen for philosophy this Friday. They were especially intrigued by the mysterious bag I had at the front of the room. The lesson began with a sense of curiosity as to what was meant by the ‘golden mean’ – the name of this week’s chapter. Lots of children predicted that this was yet another challenge sent by Socrates whilst others were convinced this was a sequel involving the golden ring from last week. Either way, it was fantastic to see the children talking, listening and debating with one another right from the very start.
The beginning of the lesson gave children time to reflect once more on the big question from lesson 1 of Delphi the Philosopher – what makes a good person? They used Delphi as a character to evaluate and I could hear that their ideas had progressed since that very first lesson in September. Children were using the sentence stems more independently - some shouting them just so that I was sure to hear them using them: “I’M NOT SURE YET BECAUSE Delphi did some bad things with the ring but she didn’t realise they were bad.” Furthermore, it really felt like the children were comfortable with developing their independent thought processes and not being afraid of sharing their opinions. This really highlighted to me how much Delphi the Philosopher has encouraged and built up a safe classroom environment, where all ideas are welcomed without being judged. It has also increased the children’s attitude towards accepting other people’s disagreements and using these to either challenge their own thought or find different ways to convince others they are right.
This lesson explicitly focuses on exploring this idea of a ‘good person’. After Delphi and Plato stumble upon a shop filled with the most mesmerising of potions that represented virtues of a person, the children were asked to fill up an empty bottle with the virtues needed to make a good person. This was relatively early on the lesson and it provided a perfect platform for the children to springboard their thinking from as the lesson developed. There was a wide variety of ideas in my classroom as responses to this activity. A lot of children listed many ‘positive’ attributes, including kindness, courage, patience and honesty. Some children added in quantities and demonstrated the idea of balance within the potion mixture. A couple of the class were adamant that a potion wasn’t needed to make a good person, with one explaining: ‘You are the only thing that can make a good person.’
When we took feedback, the class was immediately drawn into a debate centred around honesty. Would a good person just have honesty or a bit of dishonesty too? On initial thoughts, the majority of my class argued in favour of a good person having honesty only, with good reasons and examples to back it up. But one child threw a spanner in the works by saying, “If you are honest about everything then you might get into trouble. You may need a bit of dishonesty to protect yourself.” As well as using one of the sentence stems without prompt, this child’s comment had an immense impact on their peers. It influenced them to question their initial thoughts and begin to think in a completely different way. Of course, this was then reflected in the story by Delphi drinking too much kindness and Plato drinking too much confidence. The children could immediately draw on their learning about consequences the previous week and identify what the problems would be for our two main characters. When they decided to try the selfishness and cowardice potions, I heard audible gasps from the room and I knew this was because the children were thinking all about the drastic consequences that might have been.
I found that this chapter was particularly poignant at getting the children fully involved. As a teacher, I love to tell stories to my class and it is a joy to have a story to read that hooks in every single child for such an extensive time that they become emotionally invested in the characters and what they go through. The text for this lesson is perfect for doing just that. Firstly, the different virtues that are explored within the characters of Delphi and Plato are brilliant for using real characterisation when reading. Secondly, as suggested in the teacher’s guide notes, the children can actually experience the events themselves. I had made up some potions especially just for this lesson. All it had taken was some bottles of water mixed with food colouring, a variety of juices for the sweeter virtues and some balsamic vinegar for the bitterness of selfishness and the children were immersed in that world. I even managed to find some edible glitter to fill the mysterious red potion with to make it all the more intriguing! I don’t think my class quite believed me when I asked for some volunteers to actually try the potions but it didn’t take much convincing against it either! We had a Delphi and a Plato each time and as a class we would chant “1, 2, 3” and they would take a sip. It was all quite entertaining. The red potion in particular was the funniest, with almost all of them desperate to try it without even knowing what it might do to them. I allowed around eight children to try it in the end and if you know the story, you can imagine just how embarrassed they felt when they finally discovered what this mysterious potion was all about!! I had a lot of blushed faces and open mouths to end the lesson, that’s for sure.
All in all, a very enjoyable lesson that really challenged my class’ thinking. They had to consider all sorts of ‘what ifs?’ and ‘if…thens…’ , which not only built upon their discoveries from the previous lesson but also made small steps towards the goal of week 6’s lesson. We’ve been going for five weeks now and the progression I have seen in these children, who didn’t even know what philosophy was in September, has been amazing! Not only are they much better at actively listening and responding to each other’s ideas, they are now critically questioning their own ideas and daring to move their thinking in different directions. It is an absolute joy to be teaching them these important skills and I am having so much fun doing it!
You can help you class discover virtue ethics by teaching this enquiry yourself! Download The Golden Mean 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!
(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.)