For the past two years, student volunteers from Gordon College in Wenham, Mass. have engaged in meaningful lunchtime conversations with elementary school students in Lynn, Mass. as part of The Family Dinner Project’s Lunch Circles program. Recently, after several weeks of exploring topics ranging from nutrition and food justice to body language and cultural heritage in lunchtime conversations, mentors noticed many students seemed interested in reading fantasy world novels (Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter, etc.). So they thought, why not start a conversation about creating a fantasy world?
The Lunch Circle mentors were interested not only in how outlandish and creative the KIPPsters could be, but also wanted to think critically together about what ingredients are necessary for an ideal world: a utopia.
Once the mentors explained what the word “utopia” meant, the sixth graders caught on quickly. The conversations moved through the whimsical possibilities of living in mansions, owning unicorns, eating unlimited candy, and living underwater to more serious possibilities. The 6th graders asserted that “there should be no crime or discrimination” and “people should be able to trust their government.” Many Lunch Circles drew upon their knowledge of fantasy books to create their utopia. Amy Root, the Gordon College student leader of the Lunch Circle mentors, observed that “some conversations started off just on material things in a society, but all groups ended up exploring a “deeper” side of things.”
Amy and the other Lunch Circle mentors felt this topic was a real winner for fun and meaningful table conversation, because it tapped into the sixth graders’ imaginations and each Lunch Circle took the conversation in very different directions. Perhaps prompted by her Lunch Circle experience, one student said “everyone would have to have family dinner every night in a perfect society.” Out of the mouths of babes…
Here are tips for talking utopia at your own family meal:
A fun way to create your own utopia–your own imaginary place where the government, laws and social conditions are perfect–is to brainstorm together at the table. Free yourselves from the restrictions of realistic and critical thinking, and see what you and your family can come up with!
Agreements for Brainstorming:
1. No comments, negative or positive/ verbal or non-verbal, on anyone’s suggestion. It is okay to build on someone’s idea, or to bounce off of it.
2. Don’t worry about whether the idea is good or if it will work.
3. Come up with as many ideas as you can.
Ways to Stimulate Creative Thinking:
The Two Solution Rule: Ask each person to come up with at least two suggestions and go around and share within the group.
Different Hats: Ask everyone to wear a different “hat” for one minute, i.e.that of an optimist, a five year old, a journalist, a government official, an immigrant, a Mom, etc…How does the issue or challenge look now?
Questions to Consider:
– Who makes the decisions? Who has the power? Why?
– How are leaders chosen/appointed? Why?
– What are your values? What is the overall goal of your community?
– How will your values be upheld?
– How will people acquire food, water and shelter?
– How will people trade resources?
– What kinds of traditions will be in place?
– What role will family play?
– How will people learn? (education)
– What is the name of your utopia?
– Location, climate, language, wildlife…etc.
(Facilitation tips adapted from The Mediator’s Handbook by Jennifer Beer, Questions to Consider from FDP’s Seeds for Conversation)