This year the journal Questions: Philosophy for Young People, which I founded 20 years ago and which has become one of the official journals of the organization PLATO (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization), publishes the philosophical work of young people. The theme of the 2021 issue is hope.

I recently met with a group of fifth grade students to talk about hope. We began by watching the video “What is your hope?” A Missouri middle school put the question “What is your hope?” on a chalkboard outside school before students arrived, and created a video of the ways the students and teachers responded.

After viewing the video, I put these questions in the Zoom chat:

What do you hope for and why? 

What is hope? Is it an idea, a feeling, a virtue? Something else?

Is hope necessary for living a good life?

Can art express hope? How?

Can hope ever be a bad thing?

Can it be good to hope even if there’s no good reason to do so?

We talked for a few minutes about the first question. The students’ hopes included the following: that there be opportunities for everyone to learn, that there would be better understanding among people, that there would be no more racism, and that everyone would feel they belonged.

We then talked a bit about the meaning of hope. Some students said that they thought it was a feeling, and one student suggested that hope is also an attitude, a way of dealing with difficult situations by imagining a time in which the situation no longer exists. A couple of students observed that hope can be a bad thing when we strongly hope for something that is unlikely  ever to happen and become worried or depressed as a result.

The students then spent about 40 minutes writing and drawing to express their thoughts about hope. It seems an especially timely topic in this moment in our world.

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