By Robert Munsch
No one in Stephanie's class has a pony-tail. Stephanie decides she wants one. The loud, unanimous comment from her classmates is: “Ugly, ugly, very ugly.” When all the girls and even a few boys copy her ponytail, she decides to try some new, and even questionable styles.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Lisa Jordan and Andrea Diamond
Robert Munsch’s children’s book Stephanie’s ponytail raises interesting philosophical questions about the nature of copying and trickery. Stephanie is a young girl who decides one day that she wants to wear a ponytail to school. She decides she wants a nice ponytail “coming right out the back”, but when she goes to school all the other children say it is “ugly, ugly, very ugly”, leading to Stephanie to respond “It’s my ponytail and I like it.” The next day when Stephanie goes to school all the children who made fun of her have ponytails coming right out the back which infuriates Stephanie leading her ponytail choices to become more and more outrageous in the hopes that there won’t be anymore copycats. Even though her ponytail choices become more outrageous the other children in school still copy her, even when she has a ponytail coming “out of the top of her head like a tree.” Finally to stop the copycats Stephanie goes to school and announces to her classmates that she is going to shave her head and when she comes to school the next day she will be bald. The next day when she comes to school she has a nice ponytail coming right out the back while all the other children have shaved their heads.
The story raises questions about the morals of copying and tricking and whether or not doing so is right or wrong and what different motives drive people to trick and copy in the first place.
The first set of questions focus on copying and the different feeling and actions associated with copying. Some people associate copying with being wrong such as copying a test, which is frowned upon. Some people associate copying as a form of flattery, for example copying a person’s hairstyle. Different people have different experiences with copying, especially children, so depending on who is answering the questions copying can be associated with either positive or negative connotations. Copying also brings up the question of whether of not a person even has a right to get mad at others for copying them or if the copycats have equal right to whatever they are copying. In the case of this story Stephanie finds copying annoying and gets mad at the people who make fun of her ponytail’s one day but then copy her the next day. Ask the children if the perceived authority a person has makes a difference in the morality of any copying they might do.
The second set of questions focus on trickery and the moral questions that follow. Once again the question of whether or not trickery is wrong is brought up just like the questions of copying being right or wrong was brought up. Tricking people can sometimes be considered right or wrong depending on the situation. Ask the children different situations of trickery that they have encountered themselves and then ask them what makes these different situations right or wrong. Asking them specifically about the situation of Stephanie will bring up some interesting questions because she tricked them all into shaving their heads because she didn’t want them copying her anymore, but the children who copied her also made fun of her and then copied her which makes them hypocrites, so there isn’t a clear answer to who is right or wrong when it comes to tricking or being tricked. The question of happiness comes up, in the form of happiness for the greater good or happiness for one person, which will allow the children to consider the greater good of happiness.
It is important to remember that not all children may be able to relate to this story immediately. It is important to focus on the emotions that Stephanie feels when being copied or that her classmates feel when they are tricked as opposed to focusing on the ponytail aspect. For the children who can’t relate to ponytails, bring up copying of a shirt a child may have worn or a picture a child might have drawn.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion