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Socrates is a story about stereotypes, friendship, and respect.
Socrates is hungry, lonely and scared. Dogcatchers have taken his parents to the pound, and he hasn’t had any luck finding friends on the streets. Things change when Socrates finds a special pair of glasses that change his perspective completely.
Read aloud video by Zoe Klatz
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
Stereotypes and making judgments of others based on appearances is a key discussion point for the book Socrates, which can lead to questions of whether or not it was acceptable for people to judge Socrates based on his scruffy appearance as a stray dog. This can begin with a simple question, such as “what do people think of Socrates with the glasses on?” Students could respond in a variety of ways: they make the dog look better (smarter, cleaner, and more adorable) or that he appears to be associated with people or an owner, as glasses are worn by humans. Additionally, it is important to note that the musician doesn’t seem to care what Socrates looks like, with or without the glasses. Why? Why can he see past this, but others cannot? Other, more general questions may be raised to continue the conversation, such as: how can we understand those who are different from us? Is it ever OK to judge someone based on their appearance? Have you ever been judged by someone because of how you look?
Friendship is another related theme in Socrates, which appears throughout Socrates’ interactions with the other dogs and the humans. The contrasts between how Socrates is treated with and without the glasses can bring about a productive discussion about what friendship truly means, and the different types of friendships that one can have. This discussion can begin by pointing out the contrasts with Socrates’ interactions with the shopkeepers and the musician: are the shopkeepers Socrates’ friends? Is the musician a friend of Socrates? These specific questions allow for a more generic discussion about friendship as a whole because the children can relate to the concept of friends, while still tying back to previous discussion topics: what makes someone a good friend? Can you be friends with someone who is different from you?
Respect is a subtle theme found in the book but serves as a good closing discussion topic. Children are taught to respect their teachers, parents, peers, and other authority figures, but it is also important to teach children to treat themselves with respect. Prior to finding the glasses, Socrates is ignored and treated as an outsider, leaving him without any friends. Later in the book, however, we can see that Socrates appears to love his life and himself more as soon as others begin to treat him more favorably. An interesting example of this would be the difference in the way that he views the flowers, as they seem more beautiful after he gets the glasses. This raises interesting yet important questions: does Socrates see the flowers as prettier because his vision is better with the glasses, or because he loves life more? Can your opinion of something change based on your mood? Following this, the discussion can continue with more complicated yet important questions such as: what does it mean to respect yourself? Other people? Can you treat yourself with respect, even if others don’t treat you with respect? What are some ways to treat others with respect, even if they aren’t your friends? Even if they are different from you? This could lead to a fruitful discussion on the importance of treating peers, and oneself, with respect and kindness despite differences.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Stereotypes and Judging Others
“Socrates stepped inside the flower shop. For the first time, no one chased him away.”
- What do people think of Socrates with his glasses on?
- Why do some people care about his appearance, but others, like the musician, don’t seem to care?
- Is it ever OK to judge a person based on their appearance?
- How can we understand people who are different from us?
- Have you ever been judged by someone because of what you look like?
- Have you ever judged someone based on their appearance?
“Thanks fella,’ he whispered. ‘A good friend like you deserves a special treat. Let’s go home and cook up some dinner.’”
- Were the shop owners Socrates’ friends?
- Was the musician a friend of Socrates?
- Why are these two relationships different?
- Can you be friends with someone who is different from you?
- What makes someone a good friend?
“Everywhere he went there were smiles, pats on the head and treats. ‘Extraordinary,’ thought Socrates as he looked at his reflection. ‘This thing on my nose must be magical.’”
- Were the dogs disrespectful to Socrates before he had the glasses? What about the shopkeepers?
- Socrates thinks the flowers are prettier after he gets his glasses. Why? Is it just because he can see better, or is something else going on?
- Can your opinion of something change based on your mood?
- What does it mean to respect yourself?
- What does it mean to respect other people? Who are some people that you need to be respectful of?
- Can you treat yourself with respect, even if other people don’t treat you with respect?
- What are some ways to treat others with respect, even if they aren’t your friends? Even if they are different from you? What does this look like?
Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by AJ Van Zoeren and Anna McGinn. 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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