July 24, 2010

"I like to ask my kids interesting, but age appropriate, ethical and epistemological questions while we sit around the dinner table. Help me think of some more."

A great Ask Metafilter question. 

(I give an answer, using my Metafilter screen name, Alizaria.)

Do you/did you do things like this with your children?

56 comments:

DKWalser said...

Yes, such discussions were common around our dinner table. I picked up the practice from my father. He loved generating a philosophical debate. I thought it helped me develop reasoning skills and, so, tried it with our children. I wasn't as formal as my father -- he would sometimes assign each of us sides in the argument and would then have us take the opposite side part way through the discussion.

My children are all grown now. When we visit my parents, dad still tries to generate a discussion by posing a question. Only now, it's three generations (if my kids are visiting, too). Dad gets a twinkle in his eye when he thinks he's come up with a good stumper.

GMay said...

Socratic method is a blast with kids.

I don't generally pull stuff up out of the blue. I try to ask them to tell me one thing they learned from each subject that day, then see if it sparks anything interesting.

chuck b. said...

My dad taught me the multiplication tables at the dinner table, and I remember them very well.

Haha. No, really, I remember the teaching of it all very well. Those were the most memorable dinner-table discussions in my life.

chuck b. said...

I know the assignment was to be moral, not memorable. But whatever.

chuck b. said...

Or not moral, but ethical and epistemolablablah. What does that even mean? You and your fancy words.

rhhardin said...

Three salesmen rent a hotel room for the night.

The clerk tells them it's $30, they pay and go to the room.

Later the clerk realizes it's only $25 and sends a bellhop up with a refund.

The bellhop figures there's no way three guys can split $5, so he pockets $2.

The men paid $27 for the room, the bellhop took $2 which makes $29.

What happened to the extra dollar?

("The dishonest bellhop")

Jason (the commenter) said...

rhhardin: ("The dishonest bellhop")

The answer is: it's not just the bellhop who is being dishonest.

Freeman Hunt said...

My Dad did this constantly when I was growing up. I went to summer camps that were almost entirely devoted to it. Now my husband and I have these discussions together.

Our oldest child is three. Oh, the discussions in store for him! (Hope that's the sort of thing he likes because if not he'll find us very annoying. Well, I suppose he might find us annoying anyway.)

Bill White said...

We don't generally do moral dilemmas. Our recurring favorites nowadays are - what was here at our little part of the prairie n years ago/what will be here n years in the future; if you grew up on Mars, what would it be like to visit Earth for the first time; planning habitations on other planets with various environments. We also hit word games, puns, biology, anthropology, etc., etc.

edutcher said...

Give the kids the chance and they'll ask better questions.

PS That question is the premise of one of the Command & Conquer games from about 15 years ago. Albert Einstein uses relativity to travel in time to kill Hitler right after WWI. WWII still happens and is fought against the Russkies with the Krauts on our side.

PPS We win.

rastajenk said...

What's this "dinner table" thing being mentioned?

Chase said...

All the time when the kids were growing up.

Here's a thought: the majority of regular commenters here probably did/do. It springs from being interested in communicating one's opinions, which the regulars here do in spades. Of course they would do it with their families.

Am I right?

David said...

"Do you think your sister is real? Or could she be just an annoying hallucination?"

Quayle said...

Our family (2 adults, 2 children) solved hypothetical personal as well as real moral problems at the table.

We lived in Europe when the kids were teenagers, so we could sit at the table for the entire evening if we wanted to (and pay 6 marks or 35 francs for every coke - no free refills.)

To my wife and I, it didn't really matter what the question was.

But the "right" answers always centered on what an actor's motive was - selfish, self focused, self promoting ("incorrect motive") versus selfless, other focused, other and group unity promoting ("the moral motive.")

But then, when talking about motives, the problem always arises that it is nearly impossible to know what someone's motive is - impossible with few observations, and very difficult even with a lot of observations.

Therefore, better give others the benefit of the doubt until you see enough about them that you can make a more measured conclusion about their motive tendencies.

And even then, people usually motivated by poor objectives can have moments or whole episode arising from good motives, or can entirely change their whole outlook and approach to life if they want to.

Hopefully, this all created two moral children without the judgment and condemnation that can so easily follow from a sense of morality.

Time will tell if it did.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

What happened to the extra dollar?

("The dishonest bellhop")

The clerk took it? Never trust those clerks.

Quayle said...

BTW, Ann, you posed a great question set.

It really is an interesting question whether some people have easier lives than others.

Most of my life I would have answered 'yes', but as I get older, I'm now of the opinion that the answer is 'no'.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Or sometimes we kids could turn it around. When I was five I asked my father "How big is God?"

After a moment of contemplation he replied "As big as he needs to be."

Well, my father has known the answer to that question for eight years now, but I still respect the considerable wisdom of his response.

The apple tree under which I asked that question is still there, and my sister still makes the applesauce every autumn to nourish our quite aged mother.ds1671

RLB_IV said...

We always ate in the dining room. The first topic was "what did you do today at school?". In the third grade we learned about the state of Florida in our geography session. We moved our desks to the side of the room and drew a map of Florida on a huge roll of paper. We started with our location on the map then added cities on the map, The Capitol, Tampa, Orlando, Key largo and Key west. Then we added major attractions, Silver Springs, Weekee Watchee springs, Rainbow Springs, the Turtle Crawls in Key West and more sites as kids drew where they had traveled in the past.

My Dad loved this when I,the 3rd grader, explained what we were doing. I will never forget what he said to me "How can you know where you are going if you don't know where you are? Someday you will leave us and make a life for yourself in the world. If you know where you are from you will know how to come back and see us."

Paul said...

Type of question my kids like to discuss around the dinner table:

Would you rather eat a cupful of fingernail clippings or the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag?

Paul said...

The mystery of the missing dollar will be cleared up once we fully understand the fine print in the Financial Reform Bill.

MaggotAtBroad&Wall said...

Sounds like one of those Peter Singer bizarro questions. He can twist logic around so beastiality is moral as long as the animal is not harmed....or newborn infants don't have what he calls the elements of personhood - "rationality, autonomy and self-consciousness", so killing a newborn can never be morally equivalent to killing a person.

The Crack Emcee said...

That was a good question, Ann.

When my nephew stayed with me, I'd always have his friends stay for dinner and engage the group in moral discussions. They were just a bunch of wannabe ganstas, so getting them to think, about what they were thinking of doing, was a great way to keep them from doing it.

They still seek me out for advice.

bagoh20 said...

I remember that "dishonest bellhop" thing. My grandfather pulled that on us 40 years ago and this is the first time I've heard it since.

It's misdirection: The $2 is part of the 27, not outside of it. The dudes paid $27 (including the $2) and got $3 back, = $30.

John Lynch said...

If a man is in a forest and no woman can hear him, is he still wrong?

DADvocate said...

I have such discussions with my children when reality brings up the circumstances that make it appropriate or necessary. Otherwise, I talk with them about their lives and how things are going with them. I'm more interested in learning about them and understanding them than teaching them some lesson that makes me feel smart.

Freeman Hunt said...

I'm more interested in learning about them and understanding them than teaching them some lesson that makes me feel smart.

It's not supposed to make you feel smart. Why would it? It's supposed to make your kids smart by honing their abilities to analyze different situations and ideas.

dave1310 said...

To those interested, there is no extra dollar. $25(room charge) + (3*$1)(Amount salesmen got back) + $2 (the bellboy took) = $30.00 The question's premise is incorrect.

(Sortta like a DemoPublican doing a budget. Or a bailout. Or financial regulation) (But, like the bellboy, the lifetime politicians manage to grab a few bucks for themselves, regardless!)

Freeman Hunt said...

I prefer the less open-ended questions. I also prefer the questions that are more grounded in reality. All of them are fun, but I like those sorts better.

Almost Ali said...

Can't relate because the food was awful and so was the conversation. The challenge was to survive the meal, the fury, the adults coming apart at the seams. Kids made easy targets.

Penny said...

We didn't have conversations like this at my house, so I was always left to wonder about things no one talked about.

For instance...

If a tree falls in the forest and then springs back upright as a joke, do the squirrels freak out?

Penny said...

Haha, the above was a joke. Got that as a birthday card about ten years ago. FAVORITE CARD EVER!

Alex said...

I can see this thread is filled with people trying to impress about how smart they are.

DADvocate said...

It's supposed to make your kids smart by honing their abilities to analyze different situations and ideas.

I disagree. Your strutting your supposed cleverness and, perhaps, honing your children to analyze situations and ideas you imagine matter. I prefer helping my kids learn to deal with real life situations rather than pretend I'm clever and use hypotheticals. Its much better to explore and learn with them.

My kids are high acheivers, honor students, top notch athletes, blah, blah blah. I've learned more from them than I could ever teach them. I can't tell you the number of people I know that can analyze any number of hypotheticals but can't figure out what to do with clip full of money they find on the snow.

We turned it into the police. It happened to belong to the grandfather of the receptionist at the police station. She was grateful. He was grateful and sent my son 20 bucks as a reward though it wasn't expected. You do things because its the right thing to do. Plus, we helped establish a good rep for ourselves at our small town police department. That simple incident taught my son more at the age of 5 than I could ever teach him through stupid dinner time quizzes.

Penny said...

This was a great AskMe question though, and if the person who asked it is reading here by chance, the NYT's has a section called "The Stone" which is a new blog focused on philosophical questions.

I also recommend that philosophical types check out Bob Wright's Bloggingheads because he has many such conversations there.

*I heart Bob Wright*

He is ALL about win-win, and I can't think of a better concept to teach our young people growing up in the internet age.

Young-at-heart bloggers would do well to take some lessons there too. ;)

Penny said...

"I can see this thread is filled with people trying to impress about how smart they are."

Quite the contrary, Alex. Philosophy is a great equalizer. No right answers. No wrong answers.

Only questions.

reader_iam said...

Watch those elbows.

Penny said...

"Watch those elbows."

Not lately!

I usually trust familiar joints. ;)

Paul said...

DADvocate said...but can't figure out what to do with clip full of money they find on the snow.

We turned it into the police. It happened to belong to the grandfather of the receptionist at the police station.


Wow! What a coincidence! And I'll bet the money clip was engraved with his name.

If I found a wad of bills with no identification and turned it into the police station, I assume it would go to the coffee-and-donuts fund.

Paul Snively said...

Both of my parents were teachers, and one of them was a PK. So as you can imagine, we talked about all manner of things around the dinner table.

Largo said...

("The dishonest bellhop")

A nice chance to teach the kids the difference between a mathematical error and and accounting error.

Pogo said...

My wife and I both had parents that made each of us report what we had learned that day. Woe to he who said "Nothing."

"Then we don't need you to go to school tomorrow and see your friends anymore. You can stay home and work all day."

Education was important. Doctors, lawyers, nurses, architects and CPAs were a result.

We did a version of the same with our kids. The philosophical questions arose mostly from real-life moral quandaries, and the question "Why do you think that's true? and What if you're wrong? What would happen?

I wanted them to consider the unintended consequences.

Quayle said...

"I can see this thread is filled with people trying to impress about how smart they are."

"I disagree. Your strutting your supposed cleverness and, perhaps, honing your children to analyze situations and ideas you imagine matter. "

I see it as just the older helping out the younger, giving them the benefit of the few more years of stuff they've seen - what's worked for them, what hasn't.

I don't think it is about "smarter." What does "smarter" even mean?

Freeman Hunt said...

I can't tell you the number of people I know that can analyze any number of hypotheticals but can't figure out what to do with clip full of money they find on the snow.

"Hey kids, if you found a clip full of money in the snow, what would you do with it? Oh wait, nevermind. I didn't mean to strut my stuff with a hypothetical like that."

HDHouse said...

When my kids were all under 10, we use to ask them about the birds outside the window, what they were thinking and what they just saw..

Mark O said...

We certainly do this, but usually only after finishing our Chopin pieces, editing New Yorker articles for struggling friends and solving world hunger.

At least, that's what I will write about my modest self.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

How do you know that when you see "green" and I see "green", they are the same colour "green"? Maybe green to me looks like red does to you, but we've both just learned to call it the same thing?


This is one that I've often thought about since my Mother was very colour blind. Couldn't distinguise between blue/green red/green. Pastels were undistinguishable. When looking at a beautiful sunset, such as the ones in Ann's photos, what in the world did she see??

We would do something like those questions and analysis of television shows, news shows and especially commercials to try to develop some critical thinking skills.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Here's one: If you hold up one mirror in front of another mirror, can you see infinity?

DADvocate said...

Wow! What a coincidence! And I'll bet the money clip was engraved with his name.

And, I bet you're a dumb ass. It had the first letter of his last name engraved in it. I bet your kids just loooove talking to you at dinner time.

DADvocate said...

My wife and I both had parents that made each of us report what we had learned that day. Woe to he who said "Nothing."

Unfortunately, when my kids tell me that, I believe them.

Freeman, since you can't seem to figure it out, my point is that I've known plenty of people who can "analyze" situations to infinite details but consistently fail to act ethically in their lives. Most adults I've known who like to discuss these "ethical and epistemological questions" are on massive ego trips.

When you show by example, and life throws lots of opportunities at us, the lessons become real and not an intellectual exercise whether you're on an ego trip or not. If you want your kids to appreciate nature, for instance, you don't sit at the dinner table and talk about it. You take them out into the woods, mountains and streams. Let them discover the wonders and explain it to them the best you can. And, then you can talk about your experiences at the dinner table.

MayBee said...

Yes, but we also loved to have whimsical discussions. Imagination is a wonderful thing to encourage in kids. Especially if you can steer it toward a little life (or knowledge) lesson.

Freeman Hunt said...

DADvocate, what on Earth are you going on about? You obviously err in assuming one can only do one (discussions) or the other (real life experiences). It's also just bizarre that you think run of the mill dinner discussions of hypothetical questions are "ego trips" or chances for the parents to show off. When my father did this, it was never about him. It was about having great discussions and thinking things through. My brother and I did almost all of the talking. It was great fun.

Freeman Hunt said...

And this might blow your mind, but we sometimes had these discussions while out on long hikes or walks through the neighborhoods. Hypothetical questions *and* real life experience going on at the same time. You might think that the combination would result in a reaction, a detonation even, but it never did. Thankfully.

Freeman Hunt said...

Sorry, DA. I am in a foul mood. I do disagree with you and think you're drawing a false distinction, but I apologize for being a complete jerk about it.

david.kocur said...

Hmm, this post made me wonder what kind of memories my kids will have. I wrote a flash card program to teach them the math facts! It worked so well I now sell it.

A Dad said...

I asked the kids (ages 13, 10, 8) the following. One 18 year old kid smokes cigarettes and one copies songs from their friend's iTunes library. Which is worse?

It was fun to see them wrestle with it.