By David Mckee
Tusk Tusk is about black and white elephants that wage a war against one another. The peace-loving elephants disappear into the jungle and the other black and white elephants kill each other. For many years there are no elephants in the world, until the grandchildren of the peace-loving elephants emerge from the jungle.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Sulaiha Schwartz
David McKee's book, Tusk Tusk, is a fairly short and simple book, yet it raises many complex issues. It serves as an excellent departure point for philosophical discussion with elementary aged students about prejudice, discrimination, and violence.
In the story, two groups of elephants - black and white - hate each other so much that they wage war against one another. The peace-loving elephants go deep into the jungle and are not seen again. In the meantime, all of the other black and white elephants kill each other. For many years there are no elephants in the world, until the grandchildren of the peace-loving elephants emerge from the jungle. These elephants are all the same color: they are grey. However, the book ends on an ironic note: "...the little ears and the big ears have been giving each other strange looks." The reader is left to predict what will happen next. Will the grey elephants uphold their grandparents' peace-loving ideals? Or will they wage war against each other as their ancestors had done over the color of their skin? These questions may be an excellent way to start a discussion of the book. A discussion beginning with questions about the nature of the "peace-loving" elephants could result in a more broad philosophical discussion on the nature of humans. If the grey elephants were peace-loving, why were they still finding fault with one another's appearance? Would you still consider the elephants to be peace-loving even though they were prejudiced towards each other? Do you think it is possible to not be prejudiced at all and to never judge someone based on a character trait? Some would argue that humans are inherently prejudiced and will never escape this cycle of discrimination. Some would argue otherwise. See what your students have to say!
Facilitators may also choose several other departure points to begin a philosophical discussion with students based on Tusk Tusk. The topic of prejudice is perhaps one of the most prevalent throughout this story, however different approaches to the topic may be taken. A slightly different approach to the topic from that mentioned above is the notion of moral implications of prejudice. Is discrimination wrong independently of the context within which it occurs? Some philosphers believe that not all prejudice is equal. For example, it would not be as equally wrong to prefer certain breeds of dogs to others as it would be to prejudge someone based on their skin color. Others would argue that all types of prejudice are equally morally wrong. Using these question sets, facilitators can delve into the issues of morality and prejudice with students. The elephants in the story did not like each other because of the color of their skin. Is this a fair judgement? Do you think it is as okay to judge someone because they look different than you as it is to not like someone because they were mean to you? These types of questions can guide the students towards a discussion about the larger issue of the morality of prejudice and whether, or not all prejudices are equally wrong. Another point of departure for discussion about Tusk Tusk may be the theme of judging someone's character based on their outer appearance. What is the relationship between a person's outer characteristics and their inner qualities? Does one's appearance or physical characteristics reflect one's inner characteristics? Are they two separate things? The elephants in the story did not like each other because they looked different from one another. Do you think that is fair? Do you think that the elephants' skin color means that they are bad?
Lastly, Tusk Tusk raises the issue of the morality of violence. Upon first thought, most would say that violence is not a good way to solve problems. However, some philosophers have argued that in our world today, non-violence doesn't always work to solve problems. The black and white elephants kill each other because they do not like each other. Is it good to hurt someone because you don't like them? Is it always wrong, or do you think that it is acceptable to use violence to solve problems sometimes? Should the peace-loving elephants have run away, or could they have done something to help solve the elephants' problems?
Educators and parents alike may choose any, or all of these issues to discuss with their students and facilitate powerful philosophic inquiry regarding prejudice, violence, and human nature.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
The black and white elephants kill each other because they do not like each other. The peace-loving elephants run away.
The elephants in the story did not like each other because they looked different from one another.
The elephants in the story did not like each other because of the color of their skin.
At the end of the book the grey elephants don’t like each other because they have little and big ears.