The Quiltmaker’s Gift
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The Quiltmaker’s Gift examines the nature of generosity and questions whether material wealth alone can provide happiness.
The Quiltmaker spends all of her time making quilts only to give them away. The King meets the Quiltmaker in a search for the one thing that will finally make him happy. When the generous quiltmaker finally agrees to make a quilt for a greedy king, but only under certain conditions, she causes him to undergo a change of heart.
Read aloud video by Nissa Peterson
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau and Gail de Marcken, is a story of generosity. It raises the philosophical question of what it is to be generous, whether that involves the giving of material wealth alone, or simply of giving another being happiness, comfort, or peace. It also raises the question of whether or not material wealth can provide happiness. In doing so, the question “what is happiness?” is raised. Is happiness simply an inner state as believed by traditionalists, or is it an outer behavior as believed by the behaviorists?
It is with these two philosophical themes presented in this book that children can explore their own experience in relation to the story and also explore the philosophical issues behind these complex questions. Children can identify within themselves the King who adores receiving presents, the Quilt Maker who spends her life giving to others, and the happiness that is present or lacking on both ends of the spectrum.
What may be gained through reflection on generosity? The fruits of the philosophical conversation inspired by The Quiltmaker’s Gift stray a bit from Matthew Lipman’s emphasis on logical thought and critical thinking. While the children engaged in this conversation may use logic or reason to support their understanding of the issues raised (mentioned above), the focus of this philosophical inquiry is to explore one’s own moral assumptions. While it is generally agreed upon that giving is good, the questions accompanying the story ask the children to examine the validity of this supposed truth. The questions also serve to present the tension between one’s personal happiness and that of others, and whether or not this tension can be reconciled. The story also raises an interesting question regarding whether or not it is possible to teach certain moral lessons to others. The Quilt Maker believes that the King will be happiest when he has given everything away and is poor, but it takes the King a while to learn this lesson, and even when he has done what she has asked, he does not consider himself to be a poor man.
Why is it important to address these issues? It is through an exploration of our concepts of generosity and contemplation of its role in our lives that we are giving the opportunity to relate to another as we would ourselves. The following example is of my own experience of the importance of contemplating generosity; however, I feel that it applies to most people. Most of my time is spent consumed with my own experience and understanding of the world. The information that I receive and the places from which I can respond to that information are aspects of my experience of self, which, due to circumstances physical, emotional, and mental are coming in at a louder frequency that those experiences of others. We might assume that most individuals are afflicted by this self-centered vision, which serves to isolate us from one another. By reflecting on the generosity and the feelings that it produces both in the giver and receiver of the act, one may begin to break down the barrier between self and other.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
The Quilt Maker spends all of her time making quilts only to give them away:
- Why does the Quilt Maker only give her quilts to the poor or homeless?
- Why won’t she accept money for her quilts?
- Does the Quilt Maker seem happy? Why/Why not?
- Would you be happy to work all day and give your work away? Why/ Why not?
At the beginning of the story, we are told that the King is “not happy at all.”
- Why do you think that the King is not happy even though he is a King with two birthdays and so many treasures?
- Would you be happy if you were a Queen or King with so many treasures? Why/Why not?
- Can you be happy without treasures? How?
The King meets the Quilt Maker in a search for the one thing that will finally make him happy. (However, at the end of the story, the King has nothing but is happy.)
- Is the quilt what makes the King happy?
- What does make him happy?
- How does getting a gift make you feel?
- How does giving a gift make you feel?
The King begins to give his treasures away in exchange for a quilt.
- Does one have to be a Queen or King with treasures to give something away?
- Do you have to give away a thing to make someone happy, or is there another way of giving?
Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Cassiel Owens and Marina Lawson. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.
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