Giraffe Can’t Dance
By Giles Andrede and Guy Parker-Rees
At the beginning of the story, the reader is introduced to Gerald, a tall giraffe who has a long neck, thin legs, and crooked knees. One day, Gerald decides to go to the Jungle Dance, an annual dance festival. Unfortunately, when Gerald steps onto the dance floor, the other animals start laughing at him before he even starts dancing. Gerald feels embarrassed and sad, but is soon comforted by a cricket, who tells him to “dance to his own music.” After talking to the cricket, Gerald gains some confidence and is finally able to dance. The story ends with the other animals seeing Gerald’s newfound dancing skills and acting impressed.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Nicki Polyakov and Dylan Zeng
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrede and Guy Parker-Rees explores several interesting philosophical topics. The book gives us a great opportunity to discuss stereotypes. At the beginning of the book, the lions start laughing at Gerald before he even starts dancing. The animals seems to make negative assumptions about Gerald’s dancing skills just because he is a giraffe. When discussing the book with children, we can explore why the other animals make negative assumptions about Gerald. Did they see other giraffes dancing badly and assume that Gerald couldn’t dance? We could also apply this question to daily life. We can ask the first graders to investigate whether they ever make assumptions about others based on a group that they belong to. For example, do they ever think about someone differently because of the way they dress?
After talking about how stereotypes come to be, we can discuss the ethics of stereotypes. The book explains that Gerald has some physical characteristics that may have led him to being a bad dancer. For example, as a giraffe, Gerald has long legs and crooked knees. Therefore, it seems like the belief that Gerald is a bad dancer may have a legitimate foundation. We can ask the first graders whether it is okay for the other animals to assume that giraffes are bad at dancing because of their physical characteristics. More broadly, is it okay to make assumptions about people based on physical characteristics? For example, is it okay to think that someone is good at basketball because they are tall? We can also explore some of the more positive aspects of stereotypes. For example, is it ok to assume that someone is dangerous because they are holding a gun? Through these questions, first graders can discuss when stereotypes are harmful and when they are helpful. We could also ask first graders to come up with some examples of “bad” or “good” stereotypes.
Stereotypes also have a large effect on the way we see ourselves. Not only do the other animals think that Gerald is a bad dancer, but he also thinks this about himself. Because other animals constantly tell Gerald that he is bad at dancing, he thinks that this must be true. We can ask first graders to contemplate how the way others see us affects the way we see ourselves. For example, if you are a girl, and someone tells you that girls are bad at math, how would that make you feel? Would this make you worse at math, or would it act as an incentive to make you try harder in math class? At the beginning of the book, Gerald was bad at dancing, but after talking to cricket, his dancing skills improved. We can ask first graders to examine the advice that the cricket gave to Gerald, paying special attention to how it may have made Gerald have more confidence in himself. We can then ask first graders to think about how believing in yourself leads towards better performance. We could first graders to think of some things they are good at, and ask whether their confidence in their abilities affects their performance. For example, if you’re having a lousy day and aren’t feeling great about yourself, does that make you perform worse? Exploring how confidence affects a person's abilities could help first graders see the value in believing in themselves.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Stereotypes (Causes + Ethics)
“He’d never felt so sad before — so sad and so alone.”
Stereotypes + Beliefs About Self
“‘Excuse me!’ coughed a cricket who’d seen Gerald earlier on. ‘But sometimes when you’re different you just need a different song.’”’