An Intro to Philosophy class might seem like the perfect time for a college student to delve into some deep reading.
Descartes' "Meditations." Plato's "The Republic." Aristotle's collective works.
And then there's Mo Willem's venerable philosophy masterpiece, "Knuffle Bunny."
If there's a sense of confusion about how a children's book about a preschooler's lost stuffed bunny could be in the same conversation as Plato, York College assistant professor Rory Kraft gets it.
But he also has found that mixing classic works of philosophy with children's literature - and showing students the similarities in themes and ideas - can help freshmen and sophomores "get it."
Even if they don't "get it" the first time he asks them to do required reading of a book that might have five words on a page.
"My parents were like, you have to get what books?" recalls Ben Gehret, a sophomore from Baltimore.
Gehret, like several others in Kraft's class this semester, seems to have figured it out.
Kraft, in a class on Monday, had students talk at length about the themes of communication in "Knuffle Bunny."
The story, mostly done in illustration, chronicles a preschooler, Trixie, who is too young to say anything but a muddled "Aggle flaggle klabble!" when she realizes her beloved bunny is missing.
Her dad doesn't realize the bunny is gone, and the barrier in communication isn't fixed until Trixie's mom realizes what happened. Once the bunny is found, Trixie utters her first words: "Knuffle bunny!"
And all of that shows the difference between language and communication, Kraft explained to students as he had them analyze how humans interact and what happens when words fail them.
"Knuffle bunny might have been the first English words Trixie spoke, but I wouldn't say they are her first (communication) period because she was speaking in toddler language," one student opined.
"Maybe he just isn't around his kid as much," another student guessed about the relationship between Trixie and her dad.
Kraft said he assigns four to five kids' books per semester.
"At the very beginning of the semester, they're confused," he said.
But then they gradually understand, such as when he uses a passage from "The Wizard of Oz" to talk about the transformation of the Tin Man and how that affects who the character was and is.
Gehret said he likes the differing approaches to philosophy.
"He gives you a different way to think about it," he said of Kraft.
Having children's books is effective and fun, he said, and not just because it makes reading assignments a breeze.
"The story is so short you can think about it in its entirety, think of the basics and the concept," he said, adding that's a much tougher task when it comes to Descartes or Plato.
Kraft said he started the approach a few years ago while working with middle and high schoolers as a way to get them more talkative and interested. The simple stories help make abstract concepts more visible in everyday life, he said.
"These problems are all around, it's just that most of the time we don't pay attention to it," Kraft said.
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