Kids are born scientists

  • #1
jack action
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
1,961
2,016

Main Question or Discussion Point

I wish more people would understand this concept:


When I see an adult shutting down a curious mind, I'm always disappointed.
 
  • Like
Likes Dadface, YoungPhysicist, OmCheeto and 2 others

Answers and Replies

  • #2
18,201
7,809
Yes! My wife is a Montessori teacher and this is a main tenet for them.

What are ways that we destroy that inner scientist?
 
  • Like
Likes BillTre
  • #3
jack action
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
1,961
2,016
I was with a 3-year-old once, throwing rocks in a small creek (1-2 feet deep). The creek had also a lot of big rocks in it (a few feet in diameter), such that they were partially out of the water.

So we're throwing rock close to the edge where we were and they were, of course, sinking to the bottom. So I asked the little boy why he thought that was. He answered: «Because rocks sink to the bottom.» So I challenged his statement by pointing the big rocks on the other side of the creek that appeared to be floating: «What about those rocks?» The kids paused for a few seconds and answered with all the confidence in the world: «Because some rocks sink and some rocks float.»

I was amazed by this behavior from a 3-year-old. It was exactly what a scientific does. He made an observation (small rocks sinking to the bottom) and elaborated a theory (all rocks sink). When his theory was challenged with a new observation, he corrected his theory accordingly! I wish I could have taken the time to take him across the creek to show him that the big rocks were actually resting on the bottom as well, but we were called by the other adults for supper and we left it at that.

Once with the other adults, I shared this amazing behavior to one of the mothers (not of the kid in question though) and when I mentioned that the kid said «some rocks sink, some rocks float», she replied: «That's stupid, rocks don't float!»

She was focusing on the quality of the answer of a 3-year-old, rather than the process he used to get to this answer. That kid was doing this process with no shame whatsoever. One can easily imagine that if people tell him that what he's saying is «stupid», he will stop doing things that lead to «stupid» statements. That is when shame comes into play and self-esteem & confidence goes down the window and kids begin thinking they're not good in science, they don't have the «gift».
 
  • Like
Likes NTL2009, OmCheeto, DrClaude and 2 others
  • #4
StatGuy2000
Education Advisor
1,790
889
My speculation is that adults who lack all curiosity of the world and believe in following strict dogma when following the world (e.g. people who are strictly religious) are more likely to end up being parents that squelch the curiosity of their young children. I feel this is particularly true of parents who lack a formal education

(I should clarify that lacking a formal education does not in of itself necessarily mean that one lacks curiosity or would not encourage their children to pursue an education or nurture curiosity and exploration).
 
  • #5
jack action
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
1,961
2,016
My speculation is that adults who lack all curiosity of the world [...]
That is my question: Who are those people who are «lacking all curiosity of the world»?

It seems to me that all humans (i.e. kids) are born curious. Their survival depend on this. They need to explore to adapt. Why does it stop to be the case for most of us? Why the need to «kill it» on others as well?

I'm not looking for blame, just understand the motivation.
 
  • #6
18,201
7,809
It seems to me that all humans (i.e. kids) are born curious. Their survival depend on this. They need to explore to adapt. Why does it stop to be the case for most of us? Why the need to «kill it» on others as well?
Curiosity and sense of wonder is killed in the child slowly through parenting and social institutions. Sit down, shut up, don't touch that, pay attention. Early childhood development is mostly achieved via self experimentation. Over time, formal instruction takes over and they learn to be spoon fed and take directions.
 
  • Like
Likes nomadreid
  • #8
jack action
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
1,961
2,016
Curiosity and sense of wonder is killed in the child slowly through parenting and social institutions. Sit down, shut up, don't touch that, pay attention. Early childhood development is mostly achieved via self experimentation. Over time, formal instruction takes over and they learn to be spoon fed and take directions.
Yes, but why? Why does it seems to be the «right thing to do» to do so? Even if the politically correct answer everyone will say is to encourage curiosity and experimentation (which means that people understand what is the right attitude), the natural reaction is still to steer people (and kids) in the «right» direction.

I love this article about kids learning how to read and that fits more with what I think about how humans learn.

@Bystander : That is a painful thread to read, that we see too often on PF. I understand the concept of requiring using proper language to clearly express your ideas, but I feel some go out of their ways to NOT understand what others are trying to say; Like there is some sort of competition to win on a grammar technicality.
 
  • Like
Likes Tom.G
  • #9
18,201
7,809
Yes, but why? Why does it seems to be the «right thing to do» to do so?
I think it's a flawed system due to needing control and installation of strict code of conduct instead giving guidance and direction that is developmentally appropriate.
 
  • #10
symbolipoint
Homework Helper
Education Advisor
Gold Member
5,999
1,094
That is my question: Who are those people who are «lacking all curiosity of the world»?

It seems to me that all humans (i.e. kids) are born curious. Their survival depend on this. They need to explore to adapt. Why does it stop to be the case for most of us? Why the need to «kill it» on others as well?

I'm not looking for blame, just understand the motivation.
Children have less responsibility and can have more opportunity to think and play, and wonder, and depending on their impulses, try things. Adults, having more responsibilities to worry about, stop their play and curiosity - and sometimes try to stop it in others too.
 
  • #11
Andy Resnick
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
7,464
2,001
{snip]She was focusing on the quality of the answer of a 3-year-old, rather than the process he used to get to this answer. That kid was doing this process with no shame whatsoever. One can easily imagine that if people tell him that what he's saying is «stupid», he will stop doing things that lead to «stupid» statements. That is when shame comes into play and self-esteem & confidence goes down the window and kids begin thinking they're not good in science, they don't have the «gift».
I see this kind of behavior- adults, specifically parents, inappropriately interceding in the child's efforts- all the time in science fairs, for all age groups. It's obvious who actually came up with the idea and figured out how to test it.
 
  • #12
117
49
In my experience my mother tried to take over almost all of the projects I did at home in school and got angry at all of the people I worked with saying they did not do enough no matter how much they did, thus she killed my love of working with my hands thus making me now confused as to what I will do as an adult. I think parents should try to help their kids if they struggle but should not take it over and let their kids fail some times instead of taking control and get angry when the kid tries to do it themselves. Unfortunately this also killed my curiosity and my curiosity is only recently coming back slowly but I developed a fear of failure which I think is due to her controling
 
  • Like
Likes Tom.G
  • #13
Tom.G
Science Advisor
3,306
2,063
That is my question: Who are those people who are «lacking all curiosity of the world»?
A rather thorough explanation is in The Authoritarian Specter, Bob Altemeyer, Harvard University Press, 1996. The first part, with all the background info, is a bit tedious where he establishes his bona fides. The major part is quite informative and insightful (sometimes dense), it really gives a view into the minds of those <<lacking all curiosity of the world>>. Look it up on books.google.com. (There are even some free excerpts available online if you dig for them.)

No, I'm not associated with it in any way. Just think it's a good read.
Tom
 
  • Like
Likes jack action
  • #14
nomadreid
Gold Member
1,447
142
As Greg Bernhardt said, it's a flawed system. I taught mathematics and physics (and a few other subjects when the school required it) for many years in many different parts of the world and under different national systems- on the secondary level, but I had to see what was being done on the elementary level as well. In all of them the system was basically one going back to the Greeks with a few adornments from modern technology, in which subjects are compartmentalized ( I even went to interview in an alternative school once whose ideology clearly stated that there should be inter-mixture of the disciplines ...but in practice this was not executed. The International Baccalaureate system makes a brave try -- although too little too late -- with its "Theory of Knowledge" course that is supposed to be tie different disciplines together.), the pace of study is foreordained, the grouping of the students is inflexible, and the parents are more interested in the child receiving a certificate than whether anything worthwhile is actually learned. In most schools children are taught from an early age that the grades/evaluations/notes are the goal, because the teachers are under pressure to produce these numbers, and curiosity is transformed into grade-grubbing. Pavlov's dogs. Some alternative schools do away with grades until the last two years of secondary school, which is positive, but these same schools are coupled with ideologies which introduce several negative aspects which cancel many of the positive aspects. (I am thinking of the Waldorf Schools, with their hostility to technology and modern science.) Every time I hear a politician praise education, I shudder, because most times it is lip service which will not translate into anything concrete.
 
  • Like
Likes jack action
  • #15
PeroK
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Insights Author
Gold Member
13,788
6,272
I owe an enormous debt to the Scottish Education system. Twelve years at school and four at university. All entirely free.

Neither was perfect, but the good overwhelmingly outweighed the bad. And it was all there for the taking.
 
  • #17
3,379
943
One of my own favorite experiments as a kid was to put my hand out of the car (or train} window and see if I could generate lift like a plane does,

... I was told that is dangerous
 
  • #18
jack action
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
1,961
2,016
This blog post back in 2015 by Sabine Hossenfelder seems apt...

http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2015/06/i-wasnt-born-scientist-and-you-werent.html
Nice blog for this discussion. There are some parts I disagree with, but I'll try to address only what is on topic of this thread.

The author separates the 'curious' and 'bias' natural behaviors of humans, mostly saying the 'bias' nature goes against the scientific methodology, therefore 'kids aren't born scientists'. But it doesn't disagree with the fact that the 'curious' nature is the great motivator for science, which is the subject of this thread.

Her following anecdote:
When the girls were beginning to walk I told them to never, ever, touch the stove when I’m in the kitchen because it’s hot and it hurts and don’t, just don’t. They took this so seriously that for years they were afraid to come anywhere near the stove at any time. Yes, good for them.
is what relates the most to this thread. I'm not sure how much «good for them» is to frightening the kids that way (although I'm not saying a single incident like that is necessarily enough to influence an entire kid's life). Yes, they weren't burnt, but is that the only thing we care about? If a kid grows up to be afraid of everything, is «never been injured» such a plus in his or her life? I got burned in my youth (Once, when I was 8-9 y.o., I got off my uncle's tractor and used the exhaust pipe as a handgrip), the scars have healed and I probably have been less afraid and more respectful of heat sources I encountered afterward. It doesn't always (rarely?) end up with the most terrifying scenario.

But I do agree with her following statement, which is an extension of this thread:
The more prevalent problem though is the social biases whose effects become more pronounced the larger the groups are, the tighter they are connected, and the more information is shared. This is why these biases are so much more relevant today than a century, even two decades ago.
Expecting scientific thinking from everybody is needed more than ever today because there is so much information to deal with. Yet, it seems we prefer the «need-to-know» approach because we assume no one will ever be able to deal with such amount of information. But, it discourages curiosity and discussion, and encourages people relying on theses biases we naturally have, our last hiding place from the terrifying unknown.
 
  • #19
OmCheeto
Gold Member
2,124
2,553
...
I'm not looking for blame, just understand the motivation.
Insecurity?

Another guess would be that adults, in general, are conditioned not to admit, "I don't know.", as that would be admitting; "I'm kind of stupid."
hmmmm...... I guess that probably falls into the "insecurity" category, also.
 
  • #20
Andy Resnick
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
7,464
2,001
This blog post back in 2015 by Sabine Hossenfelder seems apt...

http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2015/06/i-wasnt-born-scientist-and-you-werent.html
Thanks for posting this- I had not read it before. For me, the critical paragraph is:

'Even though it often isn’t explicitly taught to students, everyone who succeeded making a career in research has learned to work against their own confirmation bias. Failing to list contradicting evidence or shortcomings of one’s own ideas is the easiest way to tell a pseudoscientist. A scientist’s best friend is their inner voice saying: “You are wrong. You are wrong, wrong, W.R.O.N.G.” Try to prove yourself wrong. Then try it again. Try to find someone willing to tell you why you are wrong. Listen. Learn. Look for literature that explains why you are wrong. Then go back to your idea. That’s the way science operates. It’s not the way humans normally operate.'

She's absolutely correct, and also provides some insight regarding anti-science attitudes. I don't like being wrong all the time, yet it's critical to produce good science. I imagine most people who are regularly exposed to 'you are wrong to think that', especially when they are young and in school, eventually tune out and decide rationality isn't worth a diminished sense of self.
 
  • Like
Likes PhDeezNutz, NTL2009, Bystander and 2 others
  • #21
Dr. Courtney
Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
3,222
2,331
In state level science fairs these past few years, it seems clear that kids are born BS artists. They are great at polishing turds and pretending to have done something important. Mrs. Dr. Courtney noted that as many times as science projects have claimed to cure cancer, it would be eradicated by now. Maybe 20% of the projects even demonstrate a proper application of the scientific method. And this is at the state level - these projects were award winners at the regional levels - none of the judges there caught the glaring errors and misapplication of the scientific method at the lower levels.
 
  • Like
Likes NTL2009, nsaspook, jfmcghee and 1 other person
  • #22
33,742
5,432
IMO, it's a stretch to say that kids are "born scientists." Curious, yes, but curiosity isn't the only attribute of a scientist.
 
  • Like
Likes symbolipoint
  • #23
jack action
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
1,961
2,016
IMO, it's a stretch to say that kids are "born scientists." Curious, yes, but curiosity isn't the only attribute of a scientist.
They are more than curious in my opinion. They also make hypotheses based on their observations as well.

But the thread objective is not as much as to determine if curiosity is enough to define scientific behavior, as to understand why so many adults try to shut down or discourage this behavior.
 
  • #24
33,742
5,432
They are more than curious in my opinion. They also make hypotheses based on their observations as well.

But the thread objective is not as much as to determine if curiosity is enough to define scientific behavior, as to understand why so many adults try to shut down or discourage this behavior.
OK, fair enough. The adult response you're talking about puts me in mind of a story I read by Ring Lardner many years ago. In the story, the son asked a question.
“Are you lost, Daddy?" I asked tenderly. "Shut up," he explained.”
 
  • #25
3,379
943
They are more than curious in my opinion. They also make hypotheses based on their observations as well.

But the thread objective is not as much as to determine if curiosity is enough to define scientific behavior, as to understand why so many adults try to shut down or discourage this behavior.
Not adults generally, but yes some parents can be overly protective of their children;
Everyone learns by making mistakes.
 

Related Threads on Kids are born scientists

Replies
40
Views
3K
  • Last Post
3
Replies
63
Views
19K
  • Last Post
Replies
3
Views
5K
  • Last Post
Replies
24
Views
21K
Replies
14
Views
2K
Replies
32
Views
11K
Replies
6
Views
11K
Replies
19
Views
13K
Top