Bartholomew and the Oobleck
By Dr. Seuss, Random House
When King Derwin grows tired of the same four things always falling from the sky he ask his magicians to create something new. They say they will and that it will be called Oobleck. The next morning the pageboy, Bartholomew Cubbins, sees the Oobleck falling from the sky, causing problems all over the place. He tries to stop it as best as he can, but it is only when he gets King Derwin to take responsibility and apologize that the Oobleck stops falling.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Marek Buchanan
Dr. Seuss’s Bartholomew and the Oobleck provides many philosophical topics that could be discussed in the classroom. It poses questions about greed and desire, authority, the environment, and when some things can be seen as right or wrong. While some of these topics may seem difficult to grasp I believe that the children should latch onto them easily as these are areas in their life that are still being developed. Children are just beginning to experience situations where their desires and views of right and wrong can be developed. Also at young ages, children are presented with all sorts of authority in the form of parents, teacher, and anywhere there are special rules; thus, they will have plenty to say on their views of authority.
The book opens with the King growing tired of the same weather year after year. One of the first topics comes from his desire for a new type of weather and his thinking that he deserves to have it. The questions should allow for a discussion about desire and how it can affect the people around you. Whether or not desire should be placed over higher ideals is often discussed. Ask them what they think about wanting new things and if that's alright. Depending on their age, kids might have very liberal views of desire in that many of them may see nothing wrong with always getting what you want; work with this and see if there is a point where they eventually agree that a person can be wanting too many things and may never appreciate what they already have; try to bridge this it to greed. If one allows their life to be run by desire can this be seen as a form of greed?
The second question set explores social philosophy and the nature of authority. What gives rulers the right to rule has no definite answer to it; reasons could range from divine right to the necessity for a ruler to only be allowed if they do what it right for the people. It is a topic that can be easily brought up with the kids by examining King Derwin and they type of king that he is. This discussion can build into what makes a good king or what gives them the right to rule and hopefully you can connect these idea to authority figures in the children's life. They will have parents and teachers in their lives that they might want to talk about. Get them to explain how they feel about these authority figures and what makes them a good or bad person to make decisions for them.
Social philosophy is further explored in the third question set as a discussion could be had about the ways that we can or should govern. The world has never had a universal type of government. Views consistently vary on what legitimizes a government or gives it the right to govern. As many of the children might not be as familiar with the variety of forms of government in the world. Some examples could be dictatorships and how all the power is left to a single person, democracy, in which an elected body represents the will of the people, or communism in which every person in the society is equal. You may want to explain some of these basic ideas to the children even before beginning the discussion (more examples can be found here. If you choose not to introduce those types of government then the discussion will probably focus on the ideals behind certain types of government (e.g. democracy represents the people so the children will simply say something along the lines of "I think the people should get to choose what happens, not the king"). These questions could also be easily used to teach children about the different types of government in the world.
In the fourth set of questions the focus is environmental philosophy. The Oobleck wreaks havoc on the kingdom; both its people and the animals in it are harmed. However, this harm was caused by human action and this can be paralleled to our own relationship with the environment and how we should be treating it or if there are consequences for not treating it in the right way. Do we have certain responsibilities to our environment or is it something that we can use in whatever way we wish? There will probably be a large agreement about the fact that we do have responsibilities to our environment, but really try to get them to elaborate why and what those responsibilities might be.
The final topic of ethical philosophy, which covers similar ideas to the questions in the previous set, is brought up by the King’s apology at the end of the story. Issues are raised here in the discussion of when we should take responsibility for our actions, how and when should we help those in need, and when we can decide what is best for others. A large focus in the question set is played on the King's apology which in the story magically fixes everything; try and get the children to really think about if apologies can always make things better or if they are always a good thing. Part of this question set ties in to the previous sets dealing with authority and government
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
The Nature of Desire and Greed
At the beginning of the story the King is tired of the usual weather
The Nature of Authority
The King is obeyed for most of the book
How Should We Govern Ourselves?
This story takes place in the Kingdom of Didd
Our Relation to the Environment
The magic that creates the Oobleck is made up of some gross stuff
When the King says sorry all the Oobleck goes away
Oobleck is a substance that has been named after the oobleck in this story. It is simply 1 cup water, 1.5-2 cups corn starch, and a few drops of green food colouring (or any amounts with the same ratio). An activity would be to set out a large sheet of plastic wherever you're working and make some with the kids. Let them play with it for a while (If possible an oobleck fight would be ideal) then ask them how they would feel if this stuff was always falling from the sky.