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And Tango Makes Three

by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Summary

A same-sex penguin couple hatches an egg of their very own, offering questions about family structure, freedom, and identity.

And Tango Makes Three depicts the true life story of Roy and Silo, two chinstrap penguins who reside at the Central Park Zoo. One day Mr. Gramzay, their keeper, notices the penguins’ attempts at hatching a rock. Why not just hatch an egg? Because both Roy and Silo are male. Mr. Gramzay then provides them with a fertile egg and a chance to become a family. When the egg hatches, they name the chick Tango because “it takes two to make a Tango.”

Read aloud video by Michael Kinsell (no ads)

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

And Tango Makes Three is a book that focuses on contemporary philosophical issues, three of which are addressed here: What constitutes a family? Is there an ethical dilemma regarding zoos? Is there a way to understand what makes a person a unique individual?

Throughout history, the idea of the family has changed. At one time, a family consisted of an entire clan of related people. Over centuries that definition has come to mean less a bloodline and more a nuclear family, which is traditionally taken to be a romantically linked heterosexual couple and their offspring. However, as a result of LGBT+ rights movements, the idea of the family is shifting again. This module will attempt to determine what it is that explicitly defines a family. Where does a non-traditional family, such as homosexual parents or adopted children, fit in? Does a family require that its members be biologically related? Ideally, one thinks of family as being connected and defined by love. In this case, what about three friends that live together and care about each other–are they a family? Is it even required for a family to live together?

In addition to the family unit, we can think about a broader philosophical issue: the ethics of zoos and, ultimately, the scope of freedom. The story talks about how families go to visit the Central Park Zoo for enjoyment. Is it fair to the animals to be kept in confinement all day long? In some cases, zoos exist to help preserve and rejuvenate endangered species. How does that fact affect the morality of the animals’ confinement? Wild animals manage to survive and procreate without human interference. Should they all be subject to captivity in zoos, or are they entitled to their own freedom? Because animals cannot consent to living in zoos, is it fair to assume that they would prefer a lifestyle in which their basic needs are easily fulfilled? Does the fact that human beings enjoy seeing animals in zoos justify animals’ captivity? This discussion questions whether humans have the right to continue to keep animals in zoos, or whether animals are entitled to their own freedom.

Finally, And Tango Makes Three addresses the question of individuality in its afterword. We all wonder what distinguishes us from everyone else. Tango has two dads. Is this fact essential to identify Tango as Tango? A student may think that the best way, if not the only way, to tell himself apart from another student is through physical characteristics: gender, hairstyle, or skin color. Is there a way to distinguish you from someone else in more than physical terms? For example, one rock is different from another identical-looking rock even though they share their physical characteristics. They were not formed in the exact same process, nor do they occupy the same space. Are historical differences enough evidence to account for our individuality? Identical twins would not share identical life experiences, but is that all it takes to distinguish one from the other, or is it something else? What could that something else be?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

The Nature of the Family

The animals make families of their own. There are red panda bear families, with mothers and fathers and furry red panda bear cubs. There are monkey dads and monkey moms raising noisy monkey babies. There are toad families, and toucan families, and cotton-top tamarin families, too. And in the penguin house there are penguin families.

Family Structure

  1. Tell me about your family. Who makes up your family?
  2. Are Roy, Silo, and Tango a family? How do you know if they are or are not?
  3. Can you tell me what kinds of things make up a family?
  4. How do you know when a group of people is a family?

Adoption

  1. Why did Mr. Gramzay give Roy and Silo an egg?
  2. Was it a good idea for Mr. Gramzay to give the egg to Roy and Silo? Why or why not?
  3. Was Tango happy with Roy and Silo? How can you tell?
  4. Sometimes human couples adopt children. Are these children part of the family even though they came from a different set of parents? Why or why not?
  5. What kinds of things do parents do to show that they consider that child part of their family?

Homosexuality

  1. What makes Roy and Silo different from the other penguin couples?
  2. When do they notice the difference?
  3. Why do Roy and Silo try to hatch a rock?
  4. Why do Roy and Silo want to have an egg?
  5. Like Roy and Silo, some human couples are both men or both women. Does it matter if both parents are men or women? Why or why not?

Animal Freedom

And all the children who came to the zoo could see Tango and her two fathers playing in the penguin house with the other penguins.

  1. Do you think that Tango is happy living in a zoo? Why or why not?
  2. Would a penguin rather live in a cage or in the wild? Why do you think that?
  3. Is it right to keep animals in cages or zoos for people to look at for enjoyment?
  4. Is it right to keep animals in cages or zoos if the animals are part of an endangered species?
  5. Are animals entitled to their own freedom?

Human Freedom

  1. What if people were kept in cages? Would that be right or wrong? Why?
  2. Should people be able to be free? What are some reasons for your answer?
  3. How is human freedom different from animal freedom?
  4. Do people deserve to have freedom more like or more unlike animals? (This answer might depend on the children’s answer to “Are animals entitled to their own freedom?”) Why?
  5. What about criminals? Is it right to take away their freedom and put them in jail?
  6. Is there a way to know if anything deserves freedom?

Individuality

There are forty-two chinstrap penguins in the Central Park Zoo and over ten million chinstraps in the world. But there is only one Tango.

  1. The end of the book (afterword/information section) says that there are lots of chinstrap penguins but there is only one Tango. What does that mean?
  2. What makes Tango different from other penguins named Tango?
  3. If Roy and Silo did not adopt Tango, would she still be Tango?
  4. There are billions of people in the world but only one you. What makes you stand apart from other people?
  5. If someone else has the same name as you, would you two be the same or not the same? Why?
  6. If you had an identical twin or a clone, what would make you different from your identical twin or clone?
  7. If you had different experiences from your twin or clone, is that enough to make you an individual? If it is not, then what is?
  8. Is it possible to figure out what makes you, you?

Summary by Jayme Johnson. Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Chelsea C. Jenkins. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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