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The Cat in the Hat

From Teaching Children Philosophy, a Project of Thomas Wartenberg
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Author: Dr. Seuss

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers


Summary

Shaughnessy.the cat in the hat.image.jpg

There were two kids, Sally and Sam, whose mother was out. They were having a very dreary day, and then were graced with a surprise visit from a stranger, the Cat. He comes in, assures them their mom won't mind, and makes a very big mess. Before the Cat leaves, he cleans up his mess, and when Sam and Sally's mother returns home, nothing is amiss. The story ends with the question "What would YOU do, if your mother asked YOU?"

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

by Joey Shaughnessy

The Cat in the Hat is a book where an eccentric stranger (who's a cat!) comes into the house of two young children, Sally and Sam, who are having a very dull day. Their mother is out, and when the Cat comes in, he reassures the kids that their mother won't mind him or his tricks! This can offer an opportunity to talk about the first question set. You can discuss what trust is and who you can trust. It will be a concept that the kids will have been drilled about quite frequently, but hopefully the book will offer them a new vantage point. They'll be able to further develop why they have their opinions, not just what is right action in a strange situation.

The story continues as the Cat falls while trying to balance too many things, and drops everything that he was holding. While talking with the kids about this section of the book, you can draw on the second question set. They attempt to promote thought about who has responsibilities and why they do. Since children are often taught to not make a mess, it will offer them an opportunity to find their own reasons for why people keep telling them to be tidy.

The second issue that arises after the Cat drops what he was holding would be to discuss what wrongness is, and how we should respond to it. The third question set deals with this. The Cat is making decisions that are very careless, presumably to amuse the children and himself. However, some of the things he's doing are dangerous, and may not be acceptable to support. Should we laugh when people do wrong things to entertain us? Taking this approach can let the kids build off of their previous experiences, and can help them decide how they want to act when approached with 'wrong' behaviour.

The Cat, seeing that his last attempt to entertain was thwarted by his poor balance, tries another way to amuse the children. He brings in two friends, Thing One and Thing Two. These two Things make even more of a mess than the Cat did, and then the children's mother is seen coming home! This can bring up discussions about social expectations, which are in the fourth question set. You could talk about what is appropriate behaviour, and how it differs between your home, and the home of a friend. Secondly, after their mom is seen, Sam decides that enough is enough. He decides to capture the Things. This readily introduces the kids to the concept of rudeness, and whether it's okay or not to be rude to someone. It will be a concept that stems from the book, but relates to their lives.

As the mom comes in, we as the reader are left with the question, would you tell your mom? With ending the book like this, Dr. Seuss creates a perfect scenario to discuss lying. These are questions found in the last question set. They hopefully create the scenario to clear up some ambiguity about lying. Can people can be hurt even if they never find out that you've lied? Since this draws on situations the kids would have been in (deciding to lie or not), they'll be able to draw concrete examples, which will help keep them engaged. If they seem to be having difficulty engaging, you might want to create a scenario where someone has lied, and get the kids to discuss whether it's okay or not (could be lying that you cheated, lying to a friend). A note of warning, it's important that if you talk about examples the kids bring up that you make sure not to go into too much detail, because there's a chance that this 'incident' could have involved others in the class. I think lying is an important topic to introduce in a discussion, because most people are simply told not to lie, and not shown the damage of lying. When kids come to their own conclusions, they are much more likely to stick to them in times of distress.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Trust

The Cat reassures the children that what he is doing is okay and that their mother won't mind...

  • Would have you trusted the cat?
  • When can you trust strangers? What if they're a teacher, or a policeman?
  • How do you know that you can trust your friends?
  • What is trust?

Responsibility

The Cat, with all of his games, made quite a mess in Sally and Sam's house...

  • Is it okay that the Cat made a mess?
  • Since the Cat cleaned up his mess, was it more okay that he made it?
  • When is it okay to make a mess?
  • Is it okay to make a mess in your house?
  • Is it okay to make a mess if it isn't in your house?
  • Can you be responsible for a mess someone else makes?
  • What if it's in your house? What if they're your friend? Or a stranger?
  • Did the children have a responsibility to their mother to keep the house clean?

Wrongness

In the story, Sally and Sam had a very different view on what is right and wrong than the Cat did...

  • Is it okay if the children were entertained by the Cat, even though what he was doing was dangerous?
  • Is it okay to do things that are wrong to try and impress people?
  • Is it more okay to do something wrong if it's fun? Why or why not?
  • What makes something wrong?
  • Who decides if something is wrong?
  • Can something/someone be right even if everyone says it's wrong?

Social Expectations

In the story, the Cat invited himself in, and started taking action...

  • Was what the Cat did an okay way to act?
  • What are inappropriate things to do in a friend's home?
  • What makes them inappropriate?
  • Are they different things than what is innapropriate to do in your home? Why?
  • Should you make a friend leave if they are acting inappropriately?
  • Is it ever okay to be rude to someone?
  • Is it okay to be rude to someone to try and make them leave your house if they're causing harm?

Lying

At the end of the story, the reader is left to wonder if they would tell their mom what had happened...

  • Would have you told your mother what happened? Why?
  • Is it okay to lie to hide something that you've done wrong?
  • If we lie and get away with it, can people still be hurt by what we've done?
  • Should we tell the truth, even if no one would believe us?
  • If you tell someone only part of what happened, is this lying?

Resources

If you want to mix things up, you can put on a video rather than reading the children the book.