What do teenagers today think innocence is?

My William Blake project began in earnest today because I conducted my introductory lesson by getting my A Level students to do a “P4C” type exercise, exploring what innocence is. Many of them hadn’t done “P4C” — Philosophy For Children — and weren’t familiar with sitting in a circle and interrogating a topic with lots of searching, philosophical questions. However, after a stuttering beginning, many students “got into it”. It set me thinking that P4C is very useful for English teachers because it does really get students analysing a subject in much more depth. I think at the heart of many of my students’ problems with in-depth analysis is that they don’t quite real fluency with asking searching questions of themselves, of their own thought processes and other people’s. But I could see with practice, the P4C way, they could do this.

I asked the question: “What is innocence?” to one person, and then the group asked questions about what that pupil had said. After doing this with two classes, a few key themes emerged: most students felt that innocence often connected with naivety, of ignorance, of not knowing stuff, and that experience was “knowing”. Innocence was generally agreed to be a pleasurable state but also a worrying one because you were vulnerable as one pupil put it; you could easily be manipulated, and you could easily be corrupted. Experience, on the other hand, was a different state; a state of “knowing”, of being “self-aware”, of “self-consciousness”. There was general agreement that children and babies are born innocent, with original sin, and are, in a funny way, in a state of grace because of what they don’t know. We had a wide ranging discussion and many students were thinking outside the box.

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Blake’s ‘The Little Boy Found’ — God, the father, finds the missing child

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The little boy lost in the lonely fen,
Led by the wand’ring light,
Began to cry, but God ever nigh,
Appeard like his father in white.

He kissed the child & by the hand led
And to his mother brought,
Who in sorrow pale, thro’ the lonely dale
Her little boy weeping sought.

You can compare different versions of this poem here.

Questions to answer on the poem

What effects are created when the poem is read aloud or sung?

What interests you most about the poem? Why?

What questions might you ask about the poem?

What is the poem about?

What effects does the language create?

What is the effect of the poem’s structure and form?

What are the similarities and differences between other texts?

How do other people interpret this poem? Find sources/links…

What might make a good creative response to the poem?

How might you teach this poem?

The Blossom — can animals and plants be happy?

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Merry Merry Sparrow
Under leaves so green
A happy Blossom
Sees you swift as arrow
Seek your cradle narrow
Near my Bosom.

Pretty Pretty Robin
Under leaves so green
A happy Blossom
Hears you sobbing sobbing,
Pretty Pretty Robin
Near my Bosom.

You can compare different versions of the poem here.

Questions to answer on the poem

What effects are created when the poem is read aloud or sung?

What interests you most about the poem? Why?

What questions might you ask about the poem?

What is the poem about?

What effects does the language create?

What is the effect of the poem’s structure and form?

What are the similarities and differences between other texts?

How do other people interpret this poem? Find sources/links…

What might make a good creative response to the poem?

How might you teach this poem?