This week I read the poem “If I Were in Charge of the World” by Judith Viorst with a group of 9-11 year old students in our weekly online philosophy session. Using a lesson plan created by our Education Director Karen Emmerman, I asked the students to consider what they would do if they were in charge of the world.
The students each wrote for about 5 minutes and then went into breakout rooms, in groups of three, to share their ideas and talk about what they thought as a group would be most important if they were in charge of the world. When they returned, they put their ideas in the chat, coming up with the following:
If I Were in Charge of the World
Racism and all ethnic, religious, and racial hate would end.
I would unite the world under one country.
I would stop climate change.
COVID-19 would be banned.
I would make forever ice cream and candy.
There would be lots of veggies for me whenever I wanted no matter what.
Whenever I bought something it would be free for only me.
I would make ice cream have every single vitamin.
Climate change, tuna salad, and COVID-19 would be cancelled.
I would make peace in the world stopping wars.
Gasoline-powered cars would turn to electric.
I would make TV watching and video game playing healthy.
Pollution would be banned.
Baby penguins would be the symbol of America.
Grown-ups would have to stop being boring.
Everyone would have rights.
After a short break, I asked the children which of the items on the list they saw as really important or as items that shouldn’t be included. One student offered that she thought that the idea of uniting the world under one nation should not be on the list, because there was always the possibility that the one nation would be taken over by a dictator or other oppressive government, and there would be no other options for people. The student who suggested the idea conceded that this was an issue, but said he thought it would be most likely that the “one nation” would be a democracy, and if people didn’t approve of the government it could be changed. I mentioned Germany in the 1930s, and the rise of Hitler and racism after Hitler was democratically elected, and asked whether being elected was always a safeguard against the emergence of an oppressive government. The students talked about the benefits of having a diversity of nations to protect against a government like Hitler’s, while noting that the existence of many nations created other problems, like war. Everyone agreed that making peace in the world and ending wars belonged on the list. Several students commented that part of making that happen would involve requiring nations having disputes to talk with each other.
We then moved to the suggestion that “grownups would have to stop being boring.” The student who suggested this said that she thought adults should have to talk about more interesting things than money and politics, which led to a thought-provoking discussion about the responsibilities of adults, the differences between adults and children, what counts as boring and to whom, and whether anything can reasonably be said of “all adults” or “all children.” I think many of the other items on the list could have led to equally interesting conversations, but we were out of time!
Jana Mohr Lone is the director of the University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children, and her most recent book is Seen and Not Heard.