Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
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This classic Dr. Seuss story can be used to introduce a discussion about individualism vs. communitarianism among other topics.
How does one bring balance to their life? How do we figure out the rights and wrongs of our individual lives while honoring the community in which we live? This funny and rhythmic book explores the big questions in life.
Read aloud video by Michelle Obama (PBS Kids)
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
Dr. Seuss’s children’s book Oh the Places You’ll Go raises the question about the theory of individualism vs. communitarianism. The book uses the phrase “The brains in your head, the feet in your shoes” as a metaphor for the skill, abilities, and knowledge one has to help them succeed within a new life phase, for example, graduation. Dr. Seuss also discusses the moments within a new phase where there will be struggles and difficulties, and at times, you will be stuck in “the waiting place.” The “waiting place” is where you may be waiting for opportunities to come or preparing for these new opportunities. This story raises questions about how we get the “brains in our head and the feet in your shoes.” Are we able to develop the skills, abilities, and knowledge on our own, or do we need the help of others and our society? Is it possible for us, as individuals, to create our own opportunities, or do we need other’s help in order to pull us out of the “waiting place?” Furthermore, it could be argued that our skills, abilities, and knowledge are a product of our individual nature. However, if we are a product of our society, then it could be argued that we need our society to help us through new life phases. Although we live within a community, it is easy to feel as though you are alone. An individual’s identity may be seen as a product of their relationships with others, or it may be viewed as just an individual nature that one has chosen out of their own free will.
This book also considers the element of what is right and wrong through making decisions as a new chapter in your life begins, such as graduation. There may be a guided discussion on not only what is right or wrong, but also why we think something is right or wrong. Also, it would be important to consider where we learned how we come to these conclusions, whether it is innate or learned by society and those around us. Working through this thought process, children will be able to look at their own morals and also consider why they have come to such conclusions. When looking at this, there could also be a discussion guided towards the possibility of knowing something is right or wrong but choosing to do the opposite of this. Exploring the deontological view of rules and duties may come into play at this point. From there, you could look to whether just because something is deemed right or wrong, you may not always decide to do the right thing.
Furthermore, it could be discussed as to whether what is right for one person may not be right for another, and what circumstances come into play when this happens. As the book looks at what to expect after you graduate, there are many decisions one must make. The book explores some tougher times of a journey through life, which is a realistic view on what to expect. Through these tough times, the question of what and how you will make of those tough times comes into play. The book looks at choosing to get out of such slumps, but how exactly do we get out of these slumps and what is the right decision to make when choosing to do so.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Turn to “You have brains in your head” page and discuss the following:
- Has there ever been a time where you have felt like you could do anything?
- Why did you feel like you could do anything?
- “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.” You have all the resources you need to go where you want to go. Who helped give you those resources?
- How do you know you have made the right decision? What determines if a decision is right?
Turn to “And when you’re in a slump” page as well as “…for people just waiting” page and discuss the following:
- Has there ever been a time when you have felt left behind? What made you feel that way?
- Why is it hard to get yourself out of a “slump”?
- Did you feel alone when you were in a “slump”? Did you have to make decisions for yourself?
- Is the “waiting place” positive or negative? Why?
- How do you escape from the “waiting place”?
Turn to the “All Alone!” page and discuss the following:
- Has there ever been a time where you felt alone?
- How do you go on alone? Or do you always need help from others?
- What scares you? How do you overcome your fear?
- Do you need other people to help you overcome your fear?
Turn to “On and on you will hike” page and discuss the following:
- What prepares you to face your problems? How do you know you are prepared?
- What do you think “Life’s a Great Balancing Act” means?
- Is it possible to know what is right and wrong and still get them mixed up?
- What is success? Is success the same for everyone?
- Will everyone’s path to success be the same?
Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Danielle Perris and Lindsay Romanic. 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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