My colleague Karen Emmerman, the Center for Philosophy for Children’s Education Director, has contributed this guest post:
Doreen Cronin’s book Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type is one of my favorite books to use in philosophy for children sessions. It lends itself to many different sorts of wondering.
In the book, animals on a farm acquire a typewriter and generate a list of demands for Farmer Brown. The cows and hens are cold at night and demand electric blankets. Farmer Brown is angered by these demands and insists on productivity from the animals. In return the cows and hens go on strike, refusing to produce milk and eggs.
Through a neutral third party (the duck), negotiations ensue, and a compromise is reached. The cows and hens get their blankets and they are supposed to return Farmer Brown’s typewriter to him. Unfortunately for Farmer Brown,, the ducks take the typewriter and write a letter demanding a diving board for their pond, thus beginning a new cycle of demands on the farm.
Recently, I read Click, Clack, Moo in an online session with second-grade students. We talked about how the cows, hens, and ducks made demands and then we generated a list of students’ demands for their teacher. The resulting list contained everything from “less homework” to “movies all day instead of school.” We then reviewed the list, vetting the demands for whether they were reasonable, a good idea, and/or something to which everyone could agree.
One demand was that English Language Arts (ELA) be made more challenging. We discussed whether that demand would work for everyone— whether more challenge is what everyone needs. Several students noted that they do not need to be more challenged in ELA and that new students might find too much challenge upsetting or off-putting. The demand was then modified to: “Make ELA the right level of challenge for each student.”
We also carefully considered the demand to lessen or even eliminate homework. The students thought together about the goal of homework, with some noting that if your goal is to get an education and have a good job, then some homework is likely necessary. I always share the list of demands with the teachers and the conversation continues in the classroom beyond philosophy time. I often find the children are delighted to have an opportunity to think of what they would demand from school if they were in the rare position to do so.
Another, quite different, direction Click, Clack, Moo can take is to think together about human interactions with other animals. Students have asked why Farmer Brown is so angry, for example. That has led to rich discussions of what humans expect from other animals and how we make demands on their lives and bodies.
Students have also wondered why the cows asked for electric blankets, which enabled us to discuss what needs animals have and whether humans caring for them are morally obligated to meet those needs. The use of the typewriter often raises question about how other animals communicate and whether/when humans can understand them.
The versatility of Click, Clack, Moo makes it a great philosophical prompt for students of many ages.