The Philosophy Resistance Squad by Robert Grant | Magazine | Children & Young Adult | Interviews

By Robert Grant

The Philosophy Resistance Squad: An adventure story with philosophical dialogue at its heart!

I wrote The Philosophy Resistance Squad primarily to introduce philosophy and philosophical ideas to children. Having spent a few years (and many hours) doing philosophy with young people, I had seen first-hand how kids engaged with philosophical ideas, how they became excited when confronted with problems that were meaningful to their lives, how they got absorbed when conversations ‘started where they were at’ rather than decided for them what they should find interesting.

So my first instinct in planning the book was to avoid the direct approach. I didn’t want to write a series of lectures or explanations of other people’s ideas. Of course, there is a need for that approach too (and there are many great examples), but I wanted to try find a way to invite kids to think through ideas for themselves, to show philosophical thinking as it developed, as opposed to presenting the finished product of someone else’s thinking.

I also wanted to try make it fun (if that was possible!).

And so I ended up with The Philosophy Resistance Squad: an adventure story with philosophical dialogue at its heart.

The story takes place inside an oppressive techno-dystopian school, The Secondary Training Institute for Lifelong Employment (S.T.I.F.L.E.), run by the tyrannical mastermind, Dr. Finnegus Pummelcrush. Pummelcrush hates children, particularly those who question him. He and his mindless 6th years, the Disciplods, are in engaged in a secret industrial-scale brainwashing operation to remove the student’s will to think for themselves.

Pummelcrush, like all megalomaniacs, is driven by delusions of absolute control: he desires to rid the world of misbehaving children once and for all. In his narrow little mind, this is what will finally make education complete. It would also happen to make his school the wealthiest, most successful on the planet.

Enter a young troublemaker named Milo Moloney and his friends Katie and Sarah-Louise. Milo, always questioning things, grows frustrated at the brutal regime and clashes with the authorities. After getting kicked out one day and escaping the Disciplods he happens upon an idyllic garden tucked away in the grounds of the school and finds Ursula Joy, the school gardener, and former philosophy teacher (philosophy was banned by Pummelcrush, along with music and art).

Ursula sees something of a philosopher in Milo’s rebellious nature, and, starved of philosophical conversation herself, they embark on a series of dialogues about fairness, technology, reality, immortality, happiness, ethics, and more.

Others join the group, and ultimately, it is these philosophical conversations that – directly or indirectly – allow the kids to resist the REDUCON 6000, a virtual reality brainwashing device.

Like any creative work, from the process of creation unforeseeable things emerge unbidden. While my aim starting out was to write something fun and exciting that showed the mind-expanding wonder of philosophy, as the story developed other themes emerged that I had not considered. These themes echoed with what I was seeing in my own practice in the real world.

We often hear about the value of philosophy in promoting critical thinking, logical reasoning, and conceptual analysis. The literature often focuses on this view of humans as reasoning machines. And it’s true that these intellectual virtues are central to doing philosophy well.

But there is something special about the kind of ethical encounter that arises in the philosophical dialogue space. When we do philosophy with other people, we are drawn towards each other as fully equal human subjects. The heart is involved as well as the head.

Because philosophical questions don’t have obvious, easy, or ‘googleable’ answers, we tend to approach them with a more open and present posture. We tend to listen to each other more closely. We tend to accept misunderstanding and uncertainty as inevitable, rather than obstacles that lead to frustration or exasperation; we stay comfortable within uncertainty and continue to think, listen, and speak.

This kind of listening not only enriches our connection to other people, but also allows philosophical problems to open-up more fully, as we resist the urge to subdue or reduce complexity into something manageable.

It is this ethical encounter that strikes Milo in the story when he first meets Ursula. He is almost taken aback by the fact that she – an adult – actually pays attention to him. She listens to what he has to say and takes his ideas seriously. She doesn’t dismiss them because he is a child. This is what allows Milo to step into himself, to trust himself, and take the risks necessary to learn and grow.

I hope the book manages to get some of these ideas across, and that for some kids it might spark an interest in philosophy. And not just philosophy as a tradition of literature and theoretical systems, but philosophy as a way of being in the world, a way of being with other people, a way of opening up, turning toward life and each other, and listening a bit more closely.

(c) Robert Grant

About The Philosophy Resistance Squad:

An exciting philosophical romp about a wicked headmaster being taken on by a group of kids who have learned the power of critical thinking.

Milo is thrilled to be starting at the country’s most elite secondary school. But it soon becomes clear to him that something sinister is going on in this place. The principal, Dr Pummelcrush, has an agenda that has very little to do with education.

When Milo stumbles across a bright and colourful secret garden and meets its joyous gardener Ursula, he and his friends start to learn a whole new way of thinking – called philosophy.

But how on earth can a bunch of kids use thinking skills to resist Pummelcrush’s evil project and save children from being zombified?

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Dr Robert Grant is a philosophy tutor at Trinity College Dublin.

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