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The Carrot Seed

by Ruth Krauss

Summary

The Carrot Seed introduces the conflict between individuality and obedience to authorities and also explores the concept of knowledge.

A little boy decides to plant a carrot seed. Despite his parents and his brother telling him not to water the plant because it won’t grow, the boy keeps watering his plant and pulling up the weeds, day after day. Eventually, the carrot comes up.

Read aloud video by Harper Kids

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Ruth Krauss’s book about a little boy who stands his ground and grows a carrot in the face of doubt from his parents brings up themes of individuality, standing one’s ground, and what it is to know something (the basis of knowledge).

The issue of individuality, and the role it plays in governing our daily lives, is addressed in the first section of this module. Individuality is a topic that can be found at the center of the majority of philosophical and political theories, often in quite different interpretations. These theories range from libertarianism, the pursuit of complete individual freedom, to communism and some formulations of utilitarianism, in which the role of the individual is dedicated to advancing the greater good of the society.

All of these theories have a central issue, which is the question of when should one follow their own personal pursuits and at what point doing so is no longer morally permissible. The Carrot Seed provides an interesting glimpse into the preconceived notions of individuality and where one draws this invisible line. Asking questions about whether the boy was right to keep watering his plant, and if so, why, gets to the core of individuality and our pursuit of personal liberty. Additional questions about when it is right to follow authority can also be asked. For instance, should it matter that it was the boy’s parents who told him it was a bad idea to keep watering the plant? What if it was a greater/lesser authority?

This issue of when to stand one’s ground is easily relatable for both children and adults, as everybody can recall situations when they had their opinion swayed or stayed true to their thinking. What sorts of factors change our opinions? What reasons do and should influence a person and when should one stand their ground? These sorts of questions are the focus of the second section of this module, which covers the logic of when one remains steadfast to an idea and how the outcome affects the way decisions are judged. Does whether or not the carrot in the story grows affect whether the boy was right to try to grow it? On a larger scale, does the result of a decision determine the merit of that action or idea?

Aside from personal freedom and individuality, an additional topic of interest within The Carrot Seed is the concept of knowledge. When the carrot grows at the end of the story, the text reads that the carrot came up “just as the boy knew it would.” How did the boy know this? The third and final section of this module covers this topic and how one comes to obtain knowledge and what this actually means. When you know something how do you actually know it? This section raises further questions of what amount of knowledge one must possess in order to be considered an “expert,” and how knowledge can affect how those decisions are judged.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Individuality

The carrot came up in the end, despite the boy’s parents telling him that it wouldn’t.

  1. Was the boy right to keep watering the carrot seed?
  2. Was he right? Why/why not?
  3. Who was telling the boy not to keep watering the carrot seed? Were they right to tell him this? What were their reasons?
  4. Can you think of a time when someone told you not to do something and you did it anyway? What were your reasons?
  5. Can you think of any examples of when it is bad to do your own thing and not follow advice from others? Why is this bad?

Standing Your Ground

The boy’s parents told him to stop watering the plant, but the boy still did.

  1. How do you know when it’s right to stand your ground? Can you think of an example of a time when it’s not right to do so?
  2. Does the background of the person telling someone not to do something change whether that person is right/wrong? What if the person who told him not to care for the carrot was a friend his own age? What if it was a teacher? What if it was the world’s leading expert on carrots?
  3. What if the boy and his family are in a drought?
  4. If there was only enough water for one person to grow a carrot, and the boy had more food than others, would he still be right?
  5. If the carrot had not come up at all, would the boy have still been right to keep watering the carrot?
  6. If you try something and it fails, are you right to have tried? If an idea doesn’t work, does that make it wrong?
  7. Can you think of an example of when you tried something and it didn’t work? Would you say you were wrong to not stop when people told you to?

Knowledge

And the carrot came up as the boy knew it would.

  1. Did the boy actually know that the carrot would come up? If so, how did the boy know that the carrot would come up?
  2. Did it make sense for the boy to believe the carrot would grow? Why or why not?
  3. If the boy had grown many carrots before, would it have made more sense to believe the carrot would grow?
  4. What is the difference between believing something and knowing something?
  5. Can you be certain about something if you’re wrong?
  6. Should we believe that something will happen in the future because it happened the same way in the past?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Emily Cudhea-Pierce and Noah Plewa. 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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