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.