Child Philosophers Shining in Cincinnati
What a grand, simple pleasure it was on January 8 to sit in a circle of 38 child philosophers at Evanston Academy. I asked my host at Xavier University to make arrangements for me to chat with some local third graders, and he chose a public school nearby. Our two topics for our time together were gratitude for simple pleasures and the benefits of sitting quietly. How open the children were, so hopeful, thoughtful, and eager to understand the one word on the board: Philosophy. We jumped in. What are simple pleasures? What brings us joy free of charge, those pleasures that are plentiful and easily available? I offered a few to start, lingering on the pleasure of good conversation with friends. (They told me that yes, there were birds singing in Cincinnati, too!) After reflection in an inviting room, their answers tumbled out, no two alike: a letter in the mail from my pen pal, real mail, not email…teachers…hearing my dog bark…listening to the rain…improving in math, whenever it happens…somehow getting to fourth grade…. And then: how I feel when I help people, with homework or chores…I’m thankful for my life in this great world…philosophy, talking about all these things….
The children’s understanding of the connection between stopping to recognize simple pleasures and the gratitude that comes from paying attention to them was quick to happen. They embraced gratitude as motivation for self-improvement.
Next, an exercise in a powerful simple pleasure that can last their lifetimes: sitting quietly. We did just that. Posture improved—shoulders pulled back and an imaginary string pulling their heads toward the ceiling extended spines. Slowly, slowly, inhale from deep down up through the nose…1, 2, 3, 4…exhale, slowly, slowly, 1, 2, 3, 4. Their eyes closed or focused on the floor in front of them, a breeze picked up in the room. How did they feel? Relaxed! Cool! Calm! Happy!
When could you use “sitting quietly” to help you out? Situations galore: before getting a shot at the doctor’s office…right before I become annoying…before playing sports or a music recital…after my brother destroys my toys…when I’m feeling angry…anytime I want to clear my head and think straight. And, looking around the room knowingly…before a test…well, during the test…especially after the test! Really—just about any time. (We decided when being chased my dogs was not prime sitting time.)
While it was a rainy day in Cincinnati, it was sunny inside Evanston Academy. I thought about Plato’s image of wisdom growing as we exit a dark cave and gradually climb into the sunlight of mental clarity. What did the child philosophers teach me? I should continue spending time in classrooms with small chairs. I can gorge on simple pleasures, sunup, sundown. For my 38 young philosophers, Richie Havens sings and I say "Here Comes the Sun."