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Clifford the Champion

By Norman Bridewell, Cartwheel Books

Summary

Clifford the dog enters a contest to find America’s Super Dog. When competing with the other dogs he is unable to perform as well as them because he is different. At the end, however, Clifford is able to use his unique abilities in a beneficial way.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

By Edward Manolii

The book covers many topics that could be used to facilitate a philosophical discussion. Some of these include being different and conformity, different types of love and the necessities of a relationship, helping others or altruistic behavior, exclusionary rules when it comes to sports and the expectations coded into those rules. One manner in which this book and the module itself differs from others is in the length of the novel. Since the book is somewhat short, there will be less content for the students to discuss with the class. While this may be seen as a detriment, and it could possibly be harder to engage the children in the story, it can also be beneficial in reaching our goal of getting the class to think about and discuss philosophical concepts. Since the book is not very lengthy, it can help stimulate a discussion based on philosophical concepts, rather than a focus on the book itself. This module can be a challenge to use because of the amount of story content the book provides, however, it can also be advantageous in getting the children to discuss larger concepts.

The first set of questions focuses on being different and conforming. In the book, Clifford is different from the other dogs and does not excel in the competition. Society today puts a lot of emphasis on fitting in and conforming. Similarly, peer pressure is a complex issue and being different from the norm can sometimes not be the easiest road to pursue. At times, some are viewed as “different”, but what makes something or someone different? Could it be a matter of perspective? The questions in this section are designed to get the children to define what being different means to them and relate it to their own lives, while engaging them in a discussion of whether being different can be beneficial or not. Can being different have a positive outcome, regardless of whether it benefits others or us? Some of the later questions broaden the discussion and center on peer pressure and on societal view of being different.

The second set of questions discusses love, and what is necessary for a loving relationship. Emily Elizabeth is still proud of and loves Clifford despite him being different from the other dogs. Most loving relationships in our lives are defined by some fundamental necessities that the relationship couldn’t exist without. Some examples the children might use are communication, caring for one another, good looks, etc. This section will discuss what degree of "normality" one has to have to retain a relationship, and whether a large deviation from normality can harm a relationship. Some of the initial questions are designed for the students to relate to their own lives and determine how changes would affect those relationships. In terms of pets, would you still love your pet if it became different one day? What if it lost its fur? The last few questions discuss different types of love, and what separates love that is resilient to adversity from other types, as well as the prerequisites of a loving relationship. Creating a chart to visualize the characteristics can help the participants pinpoint the fundamentals of a loving relationship. In terms of the chart, a good idea would be to split the board into two sides, writing all the opinions on one side and using the other side to write down which 3 of the opinions the class agrees are most important or necessary.

The third topic explores the ability to help others and altruistic behavior. Clifford helps the other dog in the story despite losing the competition. If faced with a real life situation that parallels the book, not everyone would act in the same way as Clifford when saving the other dog. These questions are designed to help the kids engage in a conversation of altruism and concern for the welfare of others, and whether or not Clifford acted unselfishly. This section also gives ample opportunity for the kids to be engaged; how would they have reacted if they were Clifford? How would you have acted? The last several questions are designed to specifically focus on whether or not we have a obligation to help those in need and what it means to act in a selfish manner.

The final philosophical set of questions discusses rules and especially how rules in sports are exclusionary. Although people of short stature are allowed to play basketball, the rules of the game and how the game is designed makes it a serious challenge for them to do so well. Therefore, rules can exclude individuals in a sense. This set of questions is designed to first engage the children in determining how these rules excluded Clifford and also how and if they exists in their school. The latter questions address whether or not this is fair and if a universal standard should exist.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Being Different

Although not by choice, Clifford is different from the other dogs.

  1. What does it mean to be different?
  2. Have you ever been different from your friends in something?
  3. In what ways is Clifford different from the other dogs? In what ways is he the same? (Create a chart outlining the differences and similarities).
  4. Is it bad to be different? Can you think of situations where being different is useful?
  5. Should individuality/being your own person be something to be strived for? Why/Why not?
  6. Who dictates what is “normal” and what is not normal or “different”?
  7. What is peer pressure? To what extent should peer pressure influence one's decisions?

Types of Love

Despite losing the competition, Emily Elizabeth still loves Clifford.

  1. Do some of you in the class have pets at home? What makes your pet different?
  2. Would you still love your pet if they lost their fur? Would your pet be worse than other “normal” ones?
  3. What reasons are there to change your opinion of someone if they become different? How different does one have to be for your opinion of them to change?
  4. Are there any types of love resilient to/can withstand all types adversity? What separates this kind of love from others?
  5. What is needed to love someone? (Write all the answers on the board, encourage the class to narrow their choices down to 3 things)

Altruism

Although he was losing, Clifford helped the other dog.

  1. Have you ever helped someone who you didn’t know and if so in what way? How did you feel after you helped them?
  2. Would you have helped the other dog? Why or Why not?
  3. Should Clifford have helped the other dog although he was losing the competition? Does this make Clifford the "bigger dog"?
  4. Should we help others or give something of value when we receive no benefit in return? What if helping others harms us, should we still do it?
  5. Do we have an obligation to be concerned to the welfare of others? Who is the obligation to? (Society, Our neighbour, etc.)
  6. When does it become selfish to not help someone?

Exclusivity in Sports

Because of the nature of the rules, Clifford lost the contest.

  1. In the dog contest, there are rules that needed to be followed. What are rules? What were the rules in the contest?
  2. Do any rules in the contest exclude Clifford? How do they work against him?
  3. Can you think of rules in sports at your school that exclude some or make it harder for them to do well because of being different? (If the students cannot think of one, provide an example of how in basketball, the height of the hoop excludes those who are physically short)
  4. Are rules that exclude others fair as they are or should rules incorporate exceptions to adapt to who is playing the game?
  5. Should there be a universal standard for performance in sports?

This book module deals with ethics, specifically love. You can buy this book on Amazon.

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