Tales of Wisdom and Discernment

Grades: 
9, 10, 11, 12

Through four folktales from different parts of the world and wisdom traditions, learners will look at situations where characters were placed in difficult situations and had to make decisions which would extricate them from their problems. Learners will use decision-making to determine advice which others can use when faced with their own difficulties. They will also define discernment and wisdom and give examples of each in real life situations.

Duration 
PrintTwo Fifty-Five Minute Class Periods
Objectives 

The learner will:

  • use the geographic themes of location, place and human-environment relations to describe the setting and culture represented in the folktale.
  • identify the type of folktales represented by the stories.
  • analyze folktale themes that deal with opposites, in particular, "wisdom vs. foolishness" and "age vs. youth".
  • suggest other strategies the author could have used to solve problems in the story.
  • devise alternative endings to the story which will fit a character’s requirements for a conclusion.
  • recommend decision-making advice which would help others in difficult situations.
  • calculate the role of "ego" in destroying opportunities for "cooperation" among characters and others.
  • select words or phrases in a story that contain hidden lessons or morals.
  • illustrate situations that lead to unsolvable/unwinable arguments.
  • reflect on the process of choosing the correct path out of trouble.
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework: Learners will share one of the stories with a member of their family. They will then discuss recommendations that were made in class regarding advice on reaching the right decision when there are various paths to chose. They will discuss whether or not the advice is workable and look at other possibilities that could be selected.

Bibliography 
  • "The Magic Pomegranate." Schram, Peninnah. Jewish Stories One Generation Tells Another. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., ©1987. p. 180-181. Used with the permission of Jason Aronson, Inc. "Jewish Stories One Generation Tells Another, retold by Peninnah Schram, published by Jason Aronson, appears by permission of the author and publisher". www.rowmanlittlefield.com/aronsonj [no longer available]
     
  • "The Old Alchemist." Chinen, Allan B. In the Ever After: Fairy Tales and the Second Half of Life. Wilmette, Illinois, ©1992. pp. 31-33. Used with the permission of Chiron Publications: "Chiron Publications grants permission to use ‘The Old Alchemist,’ a selection from In the Ever After: Fairy Tales and the Second Half of Life by Allan B. Chinen."
     
  • "The Story of the Two Old Women." Choudhury, Roy and Pranab Chandra. Folk Tales of Bangladesh. New Delhi: Sterling, ©1976. pp. 55-56. Used with the permission of Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. "License to publish THE STORY OF THE TWO OLD WOMEN from FOLK TALES OF BANGLADESH by Roy Choudhury is given by Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi." www.sterlingpublishers.com
     
  • "The Wise Quail." Martin, Rafe. The Hungry Tigress: Buddhist Legends and Jataka Tales. Berkeley, California: Parallax Press, ©1990 .Used with the permission of Parallax Press . www.parallax.org "Reprinted from The Hungry Tigress (1990) by Rafe Martin with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California."

Instructions

Print
  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Put the terms "wisdom" and "discernment" on the board. Have the learners define both terms and then distinguish the subtle differences between the two terms. Ask for examples of each.

  2. Explain that it is important to understand people and their environment when studying folktales. The first story comes from Burma, now known as Myanmar. On a map, locate its absolute location (longitude and latitude) and relative location (general descriptors of where the place is located).

  3. In a brainstorming session, have the learners describe Burma as a place by listing recognizable physical characteristics (landforms, water bodies, climate, soil, natural vegetation, animal life) and human characteristics (inhabitants, settlement patterns, languages, religions, how they make a living).

  4. Read "The Old Alchemist" together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson of the story.

  5. No father likes to see his daughter scraping by when she has a husband who is capable of earning a living. He had to be wise enough to help his daughter but also help his son-in-law to take on responsibility for supporting the family. Have the learners identify the various times throughout the story that the old man was wise in his words and actions.

  6. Folktales often have themes that deal with opposites. Was this story an example of the opposites of "wise vs. foolish" or "age vs. youth"? Was this a story of "wisdom" or "discernment"?

  7. "The Story of the Two Old Women" is a folktale from Bangladesh. The Tetan Buri (clever old woman) and the Boka Buri (the foolish old woman) have an arrangement which only benefits one of them and how the arrangement gets changed makes an interesting story. Read the folktale together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson of the story.

  8. It is not the Boka Buri who is able to discern how to solve her problem. It is the clever barber. Ask the learners to explain why this is a tale of discernment. Are there other strategies that could have been used to solve the Boka Buri’s problems?

  9. The Jewish tale "The Magic Pomegranate" is a short but detailed tale about making the right decision when all choices seemingly are correct but only one can be selected. Read the folktale together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson of the story.

  10. This is a folktale that could have had various endings. Divide the learners into small teams and let them each select one of the brothers who did not get to marry the princess. Devise a different ending in which the princess selects a different brother without violating the father’s wishes. Have the learners discern a different course of action which could be correct with an explanation that is also satisfactory to the reader/listener.

  11. Discuss how many times in life it is difficult to know which course of action to take. Solicit examples from everyday life. What advice can the learners suggest that might aid others to know what to do when it is not clear which way to go? Put the list on the board and save it for the end of the lesson.

  12. In many Buddhist tales the Buddha takes the form of a wise animal. In the next story, "The Wise Quail," the Buddha appears in the form of a quail. Not only is it a story of wisdom, it also talks about cooperation versus ego. Read the folktale together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson(s) of the story. In real life, are there many situations in which "satisfying one’s ego" can wreak havoc? Ask the learners to identify instances, if they are willing, in which ego created a problem that never should have occurred.

  13. Reread the story together out loud. Each time words or phrases are read that contain a lesson/moral, write them on the display board and let the learners explain what lesson is taught. An example might be:

  14. Phrase: "You yourself, Wise Quail, have taught us all we need to know in order to be free."

    Lesson: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

  15. When the birds are arguing, they say some cruel things to each other. In the story they argued so much that the storyteller eventually added, "An argument had started and, as is the way of arguments, no end was in sight." In the real world some children look before starting a fight to see if there are adults around who they believe will break up the fight before it goes too long. This acts as a sort of "insurance" to make sure they will not get hurt (very much) if they actually do get in a fight. What happens when there is no one who will step in and stop an argument or fight? Because we can never know how things will end, what extra care should be taken before engaging in a situation that will cause cruelty or hurt to ourselves or others? What advice can the learners suggest that might aid others to know what to do when they are getting caught in a situation they may have difficulty extracting themselves from?

  16. Working independently, have the learners reflect on their lives and think of a time when they were "in trouble" and had to chose a path out of the difficulty. Ask them to reflect on their decision-making process and determine if their decision was the right thing to do. They should relate the situation to one of the stories and make comparisons or contrasts on the two situations. What advice would they give others based on their own experience with difficult times? See Wisdom Essay Rubric (Handout One).

Assessment 

The "Wisdom Essay" may be used as an assessment of learning for this lesson. Ask the learners to devise a poster which graphically represents examples of decision-making or advice recommended by the learners for those facing difficult situations. These may be posted in commons areas so that they may impart "wisdom" to those who view them.

Cross Curriculum 

Learners will create posters that graphically represent examples of decision-making or advice recommended for those facing difficult situations. These will be posted in commons areas so that they may impart "wisdom" to those who view them.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Analyze philanthropic traditions of diverse cultural groups and their contributions to civil society.