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The Crayon Box That Talked

by Shane DeRolf

Summary

The Crayon Box That Talked considers questions about discrimination, prejudice, cooperation, and identity.

A girl goes into a shop and overhears crayons arguing. Yellow and Green hate Red and no one likes Orange. So the girl buys the box of crayons and uses all colors to make a picture, showing all the colors how each of them contributed to create something beautiful.

Read aloud video by Storytime with Mikhail

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

The Crayon Box that Talked raises philosophical questions about difference, cooperation, and identity.

At the beginning of the story, crayons converse with each other and mention that they don’t like certain crayons, especially Orange, whom they dislike without any specific reason. This raises the philosophical issue of feelings. How do individuals develop attitudes or form opinions, especially opinions of dislike? Some people might dislike others who hold differing opinions or values that they think are immoral or wrong. Sometimes, dislike can stem from societal biases. It is also possible that we are more aware of differences in people who we see in our daily lives. In that case, you may be resentful toward a person who has different capabilities than you, especially if they can do things that you want to do but can’t or are better at things than you. However, The Crayon Box That Talked hints at another answer–that individuals base their opinions on the opinions of those who they like or trust. Hence, a bigger group collectively accepts the judgment of a smaller group or maybe even one person, which might be why no crayon in the story knows why exactly they dislike the orange crayon. This raises the philosophical issue of why and how do individuals value opinions that may be formed through faulty mechanisms. Is there a correct way to form opinions?

The crayons begin to like one another when they find out the other crayons’ capabilities in the girl’s drawing process. This raises a question about the nature of opinions. Are opinions and feelings rigid or flexible? Can they change in their essence over time? For example, can a sense of disliking turn into indifference or a sense of love turn into hatred? Many philosophers would say yes. If so, what are the mechanisms of this significant change in opinions/feelings? How intolerance transform into acceptance? Maybe some people start liking people who are different than them when those people help them or when they discover something new about them. At other times, people might stick to social circles populated by people similar to them, which prevents them from getting to know other, different people better. Philosophers argue that we are all somehow fundamentally and inextricably connected. If that is the case, should we be bothered by our own feelings toward a person or group of people who are not connected to us by friendship, family, work, study, etc.? Should people change their opinions if having those opinions does not affect or disturb their daily lives?

When the picture was complete, Green praised Blue for being “so high in the sky.” By recognizing Blue’s unique talents, Green shows that different people can have different skills and capabilities that are not immediately obvious, and we shouldn’t be biased in our judgments based on obvious differences. According to sociologists, human behavior can be divided into cooperation, conflict, and competition. We see the crayons begin with conflict and progress to cooperation over the course of the story. The first philosophical issue asks how individuals collectively shift between these phases of conflict and cooperation. Does a change occur inside us individually that somehow effects a change in others? Or do all individuals have to experience this change at the same time for a collective sense of conflict to turn into cooperation? The second important philosophical issue here is the inherent value of cooperation, the question whether people can achieve more by working together or working alone. Could the crayons have achieved the same result without cooperation? If one can sometimes work better alone, why should we try to cooperate?

The story also hints upon the philosophy of identity. What makes each crayon what it is? In metaphysics, philosophers examine how much things need to change before becoming a different thing. When colors from two crayons were mixed, the girl noted that it created something new that did not exist before, so that when blue and yellow were mixed it made a new color, green. According to most philosophers, each thing has essential properties and accidental properties. Essential properties are those that, if changed, change the identity of something. Accidental properties are those that can be changed without changing the nature of a thing. Those philosophers who agree that essential and accidental properties exist do not fully agree on which property goes under which category. Hence, it is important for us to discuss whether the same criteria can be used to evaluate humans and their identities. Essentially, is there something that if changed, you would not be who you are? What defines your identity?

Overall, this story can be used to discuss the concept of diversity and what makes it hard or not hard for people to like and work with different people. Philosophy of identity is an additional topic that can be used during philosophy discussions with older students.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Forming Opinions

“I don’t like red!” said Yellow. And Green said, “Nor do I! And no one here likes Orange, but no one knows just why.”

  1. Why did the crayons dislike each other?
  2. Can people dislike others without knowing why? How?
  3. Do we mostly dislike people who are like us or who are different from us?
  4. Is it morally wrong to like or dislike someone before you really know them?
  5. What can make us like someone we dislike or vice versa?

Cooperation

We are a box of crayons, each one of us unique. But when we get together…The picture is complete.

  1. How were the crayons different?
  2. If the crayons were exactly like each other, would the picture be as beautiful?
  3. Do people need to like each other to work together and produce great results?
  4. How can different people contribute together to the world?
  5. Is it better to work together or alone?
  6. Do people who don’t like each other need a third party to make them work well together?
  7. Is it better for friends or people who work/study together to be similar to one another or different from one another?
  8. Can we enjoy work if we don’t like the people we are working with?

Identity

Colors changing as they touched, becoming something new.

  1. What does the author mean when he says that the crayons become something new?
  2. Can people also become something new when they interact with different people?
  3. How can we decide if people have changed?
  4. Is it better to accept new ideas and become new people or is it better to stay the way we are?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Zuha Shaikh. 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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