By Leo Lionni
Module by Nicole Giambalvo
Winter is near and all the field mice are busy preparing and gathering food for the cold months ahead - all except for Frederick. Always the daydreamer, Frederick is preparing a small surprise that will warm the hearts and feed the spirits of his fellow mice when they need it most.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
Frederick raises many philosophical questions. The Nature of Community and the social philosophy that governs community is just one. Frederick's story appears to be sympathetic to Collectivism, a term that describes any moral, political or social outlook that stresses human interdependence and the importance of a collective, rather than the importance of separate individuals. Early socialist and communist philosophers inspired Collectivists, like Hegel and Marx. Collectivists are concerned with community and society and seek to give priority to group goals over individual goals. They believe that a type of “social contract” exists in which the terms of this contract are decided by the “general will” of the people. In the story, Frederick contributed to the mouse community in a different way than the other mice. Yet, did he violate the social contract by not also helping to gather food?
Frederick also poses questions about the Nature of Work. There are many arguments about what actions are considered to be work, and it is not clear-cut in our society what is considered work and what isn't. In the story, Frederick does not physically work, but still makes a contribution to the mouse family. Is Frederick working? Karl Marx's Labor theory of value suggests that the labor one does is only equal to its value in society. Use-value determines the value of goods produced. Marx would view Frederick's contribution as not socially necessary or not valuable or as valuable as the other mice's contribution, since they contributed to the survival of the whole family. If they had not run out of food, Frederick's poetry may not have had any use-value. On the otherhand, one might argue that Frederick's contribution was necessary. Perhaps poetry is unique and only valued for as much as one is willing to pay. If Frederick were a famous poet, would his poetry be more valuable? Again, the focus on community and the roles of people in their community are addressed. Part of Marx's socialist theory stated that everyone would have to do some work in order to reap the benefits. Is it fair that Frederick gets to eat the food?
The social importance of art and the role of the artist in society are other topics addressed in the story. What was Frederick's role? Many poets debate these questions among themselves. Some focus on how much or why a poet is paid to write as essential to knowing the social function of poetry. Others say the content of poetry reflects its specific utility, or that the way a poem makes us feel and connects us to other human beings serves as its social function. Still others argue that poetry's social function is to just be, that one can take what she wants from poetry. Thus, the importance of poetry, or any type of art, in our society is not clear. Frederick's contribution of poetry to the mouse family was useful, but many would argue that food and shelter are more important than art in regards to the family's survival.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Click to show an abridged question set for working with smaller groups or individuals:
The Nature of Community
"I am gathering words. For the winter days are long and many, and we'll run out of things to say."
The Nature of Work
“I do work,” said Frederick. “I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days.”
The Value of Work
"What about your supplies, Frederick?"
The Nature of Poetry
"But Frederick," they said, "you are a poet!"
Reader Anne Macvean from Melbourne, Australia, submitted this follow-up activity for Frederick based on her work at the Deutsche Schulz Melbourne:
After the 5 to 7 year olds to whom Frederick was read discussed the questions about community, they were asked to think about and give a few examples of what people in their school community contribute. The children were then asked to complete a table with the names of each person in the community and their contributions. Children who could not yet write drew pictures, for which the teacher added descriptions (as dictated by them). This concrete representation of our discussion could from a basis for future sessions in which the children might further consider ideas about the contributions that different people make to their community, about the value of different contributions, about sharing resources within their community and what it means to them to be a part of their school community.