Philosophical Chairs

Philosophical Chairs is an activity designed to foster critical thinking, active inquiry, and respectful dialogue among students. To play, participants agree or disagree with a series of statements, but the game doesn’t end there. The most crucial element is what happens next: Participants discuss their points of view and can switch sides if their opinions change during the discussion. (For more tips on using Philosophical Chairs in a classroom or via a remote-learning platform, see the activity description in your Google Drive.)

Each topic statement is deliberately open-ended yet ties into a number of the themes present in Fire Shut Up in My Bones—including the pain of loneliness, the desire to belong, and the enduring impact of our past on our present. Set the stage for this conversation mindfully. Offer students a brief overview of the opera’s plot, setting, and context, and remind them how to build a safe space for productive conversation. Some of the topics might be confusing or hard—that’s okay! As you and your students explore and learn about Fire Shut Up in My Bones, you can return to these statements: What do they have to do with the opera’s story? How might these questions help us explore the opera’s story, history, and themes?

The Statements

  • Race affects all of us.
  • You are the same person you were yesterday, and you will be the same person tomorrow.
  • Everyone longs for affection.
  • Everyone deserves to be treated with respect.
  • Education is the key to success.
  • Growing up is easy.
  • Life is fair.
  • Revenge may be justified.
  • You are who the world says you are.
  • You control your destiny.
  • I am enough.

Keep in mind that the process of this activity is just as important as the statements themselves. Philosophical Chairs is designed to nurture civil dialogue, and students should be encouraged to listen actively, honor one another’s contributions, and show respect for a diversity of opinions and ideas.