Topic 2: Staring, excuses and reasons
‘I was sitting at the table with Miranda. (She’s my sister. She’s two years older than me.) Anyway, my mother was making a second helping of pancakes and she had her back turned to us. I had a forkful of pancake halfway to my mouth, and I just stopped and watched Miranda eat.”
At first Miranda tried not to pay any attention to me. But then she yelled out, ‘Mum, she’s looking at me again! Make her stop looking at me!’
Without turning around, my mother said, ‘Stop annoying your sister, Pixie.’
I just kept on looking. I figured I really wasn’t doing anything – just looking.
This topic is an exploration of a scenario, created by educator and philosopher Matthew Lipman, in which the character Pixie gets in trouble for staring at her sister Miranda.
The topic tackles the story’s themes in a couple of parts.
Firstly, we look at staring. We ask, is it ok to stare at something, like the moon? At emu chicks at the zoo? Why?
What about staring at a person? When might it be ok to stare at someone – and when is it not ok?
In Part 2 of the topic, the aim is to support students to distinguish between good and bad reasons – or the kind of ‘excuses’ a child might offer when accused of misbehaving.
Students are helped to discover:
- that in one sense of the term ‘excuse’, an excuse is a reason we offer in an attempt to justify an action that might be thought to be wrong, and
- that a good reason is one that is strong enough to justify the doing of an act or the holding of a belief.
Because giving and evaluating reasons for our point of view are central to helping us form opinions and make sound decisions, the notion of ‘reasons’ is revisited across a number of Primary Ethics topics.
ACTIVITY: Excuses and reasons
After you’ve discussed a couple of these scenarios, you might identify other scenarios that happen throughout the day that you can use as an opportunity for discussion!
[Explain] I’m going to read some scenarios, and I’ll be asking you:
− What excuse was given
− Whether it was a good reason.
1. Bec usually puts the bins out on a Tuesday night. But this week she says she can’t, as she has a sore foot.
[Ask] What is Bec’s excuse?
[Ask] Does Bec have a good reason not to put out the bins?
2. Last week, Carol told her friend, Zac, a secret. Today she found out that Zac had told her
secret to a whole lot of kids in their class. When Carol asked Zac why he did it, he said,
‘Because I felt like it.’
[Ask] What reason did Zac give for telling Carol’s secret?
[Ask] Was his reason a good one?
You can encourage and broaden discussion with the following questions, as needed:
[Ask] What sort of friend do you think Zac is? Why do you say that?
[Ask] If you were Carol, would you stay friends with Zac? Why do you think you would/wouldn’t?
Note: In ethics class, we have usually between 8 and 22 children participating, which makes it possible to get a range of reasons and encourages deeper level of discussion on the ethical questions posed. You can ask additional questions to encourage different views, for example. If the child says ‘I don’t think I would stay friends with Zac because I can’t trust him anymore’, you could then ask ‘let’s say Carol did want to stay friends with Zac – what might be her reasons for that?’
3. It’s Chris’ birthday next week and Chris’ big brother, Dan, has bought them a scooter. Dan tries to smuggle the scooter into his room and stuff it into his wardrobe without Chris seeing, but gets caught in the act!
‘What are you doing?’ Chris asks Dan. ‘What have you got – let me see!’
‘No way!’ says Dan, quickly closing the bedroom door.
‘I want to come in!’ squealed Chris. ‘Show me!’
‘No!’ Dan repeated. ‘You can’t come in. Get out Chris – now – off you go!’
[Ask] Does Dan give Chris an excuse as to why they are not allowed in?
The child will probably identify that either no reason is given, or repeat what Dan said ‘Dan said to go away’ in which case you can ask – so is that a reason? Did Dan give a reason?
[Ask] Why do you think Dan doesn’t give a reason?
[Ask] Does Dan have a good excuse not to give a reason? Why do you think that?