Month: April 2014

Policing Bedtime

I’ve been pondering the idea of education a lot lately. Cultural, social, formal. But two different conversations, with two different neighbors, from this past week have propelled me in a direction that I hadn’t thought of in an educational sense: Practical.

I don’t remember how it got started, but one neighbor and I discovered we have a pet peeve in common – helplessness. Whatever task you are attempting might be difficult, and you might need assistance, but you are NOT helpless, and we both refuse to allow our children to feel helpless. No whining allowed – don’t stand there and be pitiful. Figure out what you CAN do, and DO IT! Chances are, that by DOING, you will discover that you are capable of more than you thought you were. If nothing else, it will propel you into discovering new resources. (Help is a resource, but I’m not going to do 100% of anything for you anymore – you have to at least show me that you tried.)

Fast forward a few days, and another neighbor called to inquire about a slumber party I was hosting for my daughter and several of her friends. “What time,” he wanted to know, “are you going to send them to bed?”

I explained to him that I did not intend to police bedtime. However, if the girls wanted me to put in a movie for them after midnight, then it would be Fantasia, since it is a rather calm and somewhat soothing film that they would be likely to fall asleep during.

It might be worth noting that this particular gentleman has mentioned in the past that bedtime is bedtime, regardless of the circumstances. Not surprisingly, they opted against attending the sleepover.

I will admit, this post is a little bit about what I wish I had said. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that both of these conversations are related.

I am an advocate of helping kids learn from their own experiences. Yes, by staying up until almost midnight the kids were all tired the next day (they were determined to stay up later, but just couldn’t do it). And I’m sure that at their next sleepover, they will do exactly the same thing. Eventually, though, the cause and effect will catch up with them, and they will understand that staying up late will result in being tired the next day. This is a lesson that I want them to learn now, rather than at 16, the night before a road trip. Or at 20, the night before a big final exam. Now, at 8, when they won’t be hurt by the consequences of the action.

I am not just raising children. I am raising children to become adults. If I just tell them that not getting enough sleep will make for a bad day tomorrow, they will never fully grasp it. It’s like teaching them not to touch the oven – they didn’t understand what hot meant, until they touched it anyway. But staying up late, and being cranky and tired the next day – now they’ve got it.

I trust my kids, and  I believe in them. I trust and believe that they are intelligent beings, who are capable of learning from their decisions, and building on that lesson in the future.

(Please note: we DO have regular bedtimes in our house. Part of the purpose of a slumber party, though, is to break routine. Also, while I believe in allowing the kids to make their own mistakes, I also believe in letting them fail safely – therefore, we do require bedtimes when we know that not having one is trouble.)

I believe that lessons kids teach themselves stick better. Sleep deprivation might not be a huge life lesson, but it’s one example of self-teaching. I want the kids to get into the habit of learning from everyday experiences. To realize that everything is capable of teaching them something. And it’s this habit that will, hopefully, keep them away from helplessness.


Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.  – Benjamin Franklin


Cogito ergo Sum

It should be no surprise to anyone else with young children that Frozen is popular in our house. Also probably not surprising, is that the kids and I have large swaths of it memorized.

This morning on the way to school, the kids were quoting Olaf.


 Olaf: You built me. Remember that?

Elsa: And you’re alive?

Olaf: Umm…I think so?

The kids thought it was silly that Olaf wasn’t sure if he is alive or not. So I asked the kids how they know for sure that they are alive. I wasn’t expecting Descartes or anything – I was just curious to know what their answer would be.

“I can wiggle!”

Me: So can jello, and it’s not alive.

“I wear tennis shoes.”

Me: Yes, but sometimes you get rocks in your shoes, too, and they’re not alive.

“I can stick out my tongue while wiggling and wearing tennis shoes at the same time. Aaaaah!”


I began to wonder if it would ever occur to a robot to stick out its tongue in an attempt to prove that it is “alive.”

I wish I understood more of Alan Turing’s work. I’ll have to pick up a biography at some point (add it to my ever-growing “To Read” list). It is his work that led to the Turing Test – if a human, through written conversation, can not discriminate the difference between a computer and a human, than the computer can be said to be “intelligent,” or to be “thinking” in a very basic sense. This is the basis for those aggravating CAPTCHAs we see everywhere. (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. Really. Awkward acronym, no?)

As I understand it, one of Turing’s ideas for creating artificial intelligence is that rather than create a machine with a complex “mind,” it would be best to create a machine with a simple, child-like mind, and teach it.

I don’t believe that a child’s mind is as simple as he would imagine.

There have been a lot of devices used in the science fiction and fantasy worlds to either illustrate “self-ness” or create sympathy for the automaton. Self-awareness (Short Circuit‘s Johnny Five); curiosity (“Star Trek: the Next Generation’s” Lieutenant Commander Data); hope and discontent (Philip K. Dick); subjective morality (Pinocchio); depression and paranoia (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘s Marvin the Paranoid Android and Star Wars‘ C-3PO); love (A.I.‘s David); being loved (Frosty the Snowman); sarcasm (ask an iPhone’s Siri, “What is the average airspeed of an unladen swallow?”).

My kids are still young, so I hope they can be forgiven this, but they are only familiar with a tiny bit of the sci/fi fantasy multiverse. (I assure you, we’re working on it.) Without any point of reference for proving life v. automation, they came up with silliness.

I am alive, because I know how to have fun.


If people never did silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done. – Ludwig Wittgenstein