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Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Big Box: Rules and Freedom


The Big Box, by Toni Morrison and Giselle Potter
Hyperion Books, 1999

This text is a reproduction of a module written by Taryn Hargrove, Mary Cowhey and Thomas Wartenberg, and translated by Mariana Zárate and revised by myself for Teaching Children Philosophy, a project Story Philosophy contributes to through translations and original contributions of picture book based philosophical discussion modules.  





















The story
Because they do not abide by the rules written by the adults around them, three children are judged unable to handle their fredom and forced to live in a box with three locks on the door. 

The philosophy in the story
The Big Box is about three very energetic children "who just can't handle their freedom". To make these children abide by the rules, the grown-ups create a world inside a box, a world with toys and games, treats and gifts, and all kinds of stuff they think kids need to be happy and carefree. They are three locks on the door, which opens only one way. 

Life inside the box
The first set of questions is designed to elicit discussion regarding the life in the box. 


Life in the box, depending on how you look at it, may be a happy place for the children. The children can be who they are and have no one judge or punish them. They are free to do what they want in that confined area. On the other hand the box could be an unhappy place for the children. The children are given everything that adults assume would make the children happy. Are the children happy with all the clothes, toys, and candy? What makes us happy? There is a conflict between happiness and what people perceive happiness to be? Some children consider happiness to be freedom of speech and freedom to do what they what. Other children may be happy with materialistic things. 


The questions make us think about what truly makes us happy. If you were put into the box, what would you choose to put in the box with you? Why do the children stay in the box? Some may say they are scared to go out and face the rest of the world. Others may say that they are happy in their own little world.

Questions to prompt philosophical discussion about life in the box

  • What is a one-way door?
  • Does our classroom open two ways or one?
  • What are the locks for?
  • What's good about life in the box?
  • Do kids need toys, snacks, and cool clothes?
  • If they have cool toys, clothes, snacks and other stuff in the box, why aren't they happy?
  • What would we need to give you that would make you happy to live in the box?
  • Why do they stay in the box?
The meaning of rules
The second set of questions explores the meaning of rules. These questions allow us to evaluate whether rules are important in our communities. What would happen if our society did not have rules? Rules are important for structure, organization, and safety in society. Do the rules we have make our communities perfect? Even though we have rules we still have the freedom to make our own decisions.

Questions to prompt philosophical discussion about the meaning of rules

  • Do we need rules in our homes, classroom, school, and community? Why?
  • Who makes the rules?
  • Who has to follow them?
  • What if there were no rules?
  • Would you like to go to a school with no rules?
  • What would be good about it? What might be bad about it?
  • What are some good rules that you like at home or at school?
  • What rules did the kids follow?
  • Did anyone even notice what they did right?
  • What are appropriate consequences for breaking rules?

The concept of freedom
Freedom is the last topic of discussion. We are absolutely sure that there are at least some cases where we make decisions, and that in making them we are free and hence responsible for these decisions. We cannot imagine what it would be like to live in a community in which there is no such thing as responsibility. On the other hand, does freedom actually exist? With a lack of resources are we still free to do what you wish to do? Freedom appears to be impossible in a world where everything runs its ordinary course and no irregularities happen. But why is that so?

Questions to prompt philosophical discussion about the concept of freedom

  • What does that line mean, when the adults say to the kids, "You simple can't handle your freedom."?
  • What if parents decided that their two year old could handle her freedom and just let their baby go free? What would happen?
  • What if the parents decided you could completely handle your freedom and just told you to go free? What would happen?
  • When you are 18 years old, do you think you will be ready to "go free"?
  • When you are free, do you still have to follow some rules?
  • Why do people call the United States of America a free country if there are rules here?
  • If a two year old is not able to handle freedom, what would make someone older ready to handle freedom?
  • What does the older person know or have that the two year old doesn't?
This text is a reproduction of a module written by Taryn Hargrove, Mary Cowhey and Thomas Wartenberg, and translated by Mariana Zárate and revised by myself for Teaching Children Philosophy, a project Story Philosophy contributes to through translations and original contributions of picture book based philosophical discussion modules.  

(c) of all the illustrations in this post, Giselle Potter, 1999

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