University of Washington’s Center for Philosophy for Children
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Title and Author: Chapter 12, “The Schoolroom,” in Stuart Little by E.B. White

Field of Philosophy: Ethics

Plot Summary: Stuart, who despite being the son of human parents looks exactly like and is the same size as a field mouse, has taken a one-day job as a substitute teacher. He tells the class that he would like to be “Chairman of the World,” asking them what they think is important and suggesting that the world needs some rules to run properly. The students suggest rules like “No stealing,” “No being mean,” and “Don’t kill anything except rats.”

Note: It is fun to read this chapter with students as a kind of “play,” in which students are assigned characters and recite that character’s lines.

Some discussion questions:

What are the important things?
How do we know these things are important?
Are there some things that are important for everyone?

Activity: This is a useful activity for a first philosophy class. Pass out index cards to the students and ask them to envision a classroom in which they are bound by only one rule. What rule would that be? Each student then writes down this one rule on the index card. Once students have formulated their rules, collect the index cards and then, after mixing them up, pass them back. Each student should now have a rule that he or she didn’t write. In groups of two, students then work to come to an agreement about which of their two rules they would choose to be bound by. Depending upon how large the class, you can repeat this process with groups of four and have those groups come to an agreement on one rule out of the two each pair group had decided upon earlier. Once the full list of rules has been winnowed down, write the remaining rules on the board. The students then discuss and eventually vote on the five rules that they will choose to be bound by for the remainder of the class. (Remind the students that they will always have the option of reconsidering the rules they choose; if good reasons can be given for changing them and the class can agree that changes are warranted, the rules can be changed.)