Monday, September 12, 2011

Nature Vs Nurture: Do we train the tester out of our Kids?

While working through a serious of tests on our automation framework today, a thought came to my mind.  Do we train our kids to lose the very attributes that could make them a great tester?  Do we risk killing their curiosity, or train them to accept what is told, because that's how our schools are run?  Psychologists and scientists have argued nature versus nurture for a long time now, but I never really framed it in this way before.

We have two young children, and I've had the privilege of watching my first born grow into a smart young boy.  Now our almost two year old daughter is starting to pass 'little milestones' hand over fist.  I remarked to my wife today that she looked like she had grown three inches since breakfast.   Then later this evening while putting her to bed, my eyes did another visual inspection of her height; this time against something I knew was constant:  The height of the bed rail for her baby crib.

Earlier this week, we had to take down the pack and play yard because she had discovered a way to easily climb out of it.  Plus we knew she had grown to a size that had become too big for it anyways.  So we knew she was getting bigger, growing as all kids inevitably do.  Then tonight was the kicker, I saw her gymnast style on an uneven parallel bars nearly pick herself up to climb over her crib's bed rail.  Then switching to a new tactic, she climbed up one of the spindles of the crib, one side of one foot on one side, and the other on the opposite.   She was climbing as I've imagined or seen climbers on TV working an ascent on many a wall faces of a mountain, before slinging her leg over the rail, just as I reached out and caught her in shock and awe of all I have seen.

I love my little girl, she's been a blessing even when she was born and admitted to the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), but she continues to amaze me.  Born a couple of weeks early, you'd never know it to look at her now.  She's a runner, a climber, a ball player, and a wrestler.  Not to mention she sometimes likes to practice tackling her much bigger brother from behind.  She's my little explorer, my future Venture Girl, and I wouldn't trade that for the world.  Both of my children are special, and highly intelligent, but lately as I grow as a tester and parent to her and to him, my mind ponders how best to raise her.

The natural inclination of a parent is to want to protect, and keep their little ones safe from as many dangers as possible.  Yet we as parents know the perception of our provided security is is not complete, as much as we may want, we cannot protect them from every possible hurt or injury.  Just as testers realize that many of the security features we test, provide only a facade of protection, in this current day and age.

The process of rearing children has me pondering this fact.  Parents set up rules for their kids behavior and activities in and around their home.  Some of these rules may seem unnecessary or excessive at times, but they provide a structure, a framework around which they can begin their learning experience.  Then later, if you follow the public model, they go off to school, or other extra curricular activities that provide additional rules, and layers of precepts that try to mold the child into a particular form.

Sometimes I wonder, just what are we trying to achieve?  Are we stifling creativity by requiring them to paint within the lines?  Are we killing their spirit by requiring them to sit like mindless zombie automatons.  As I've watched my children in recent days I'm amazed at how many times they look fresh at some toy or item in our house, and find another unique way to interact or play with it.  Many times this is fine and worth encouraging, other times it could be something they are doing is unsafe.  Our urge is to jump, rescue, and shield them from this dangerous situation, but are we doing more harm than good?

I wonder.  More with our younger child than our oldest, I hope to hone and focus that curiosity.  I'm very cautious about how I deal with her when in the course of exploring she is doing something that could bring harm to her.   It's like walking a tight rope though.  I want to encourage the curiosity, embrace the questions, and the goofy ideas that may come.  I want to give her the freedom to learn without constraining her to the factory school of thought.

We opted to keep our son home for his first year.  Everything we'd read about child psychology suggested that boys may do better if not thrown into the structured environment of elementary school.  Three years later we are still home schooling.  What started off as an experiment to provide him room to grow paid high dividends.  He has grown as he has learned, and it amazes me how much he can learn in a short span of time. Seeing his progress makes me sad at times, because I know that we may cover as much if not more than what a single day of school might cover, and yet he absorbs ever more. Heck this kid in second grade was upset that we hadn't taught him multiplication tables yet.

Our youngest isn't yet of schooling age, but I already see her reaching out and testing the boundaries the environment provides.  Some of them are provided by us her parents, and some of them are a structure of nature and design of the furniture, or artifacts in our home.  Yet I'm more cognizant of the decisions we make to correct, or alert her to dangers in her environment.  If you're reading this entry and pondering the same things, I'm curious as to your perspective.  Does our rule, and school structure result in breeding out the curiosity, the intellectual spark that may draw a child to be a creator or investigator of the world around them?

If like me, you have thought about this, and come to the conclusion that these factors do affect the development of the mind of a potential tester.  Do they affect them for the worse, or the better?  How can we improve them to harness that curiosity and prepare people to test the applications and services of tomorrow?  I don't have the answer to these questions, but I may continue to ponder them for some time.


  1. Thought you might like this article if you didn't catch it on Twitter

    So while teenagers might not be able to make cars, they can certainly get into the software business, because the entry barrier is so low. All you need is imagination, talent, time and persistence. But it really helps if you're schooled in an environment that encourages tinkering and experimentation, rather than one which just preaches utilitarian use of information appliances with "no user-serviceable parts", as the saying goes...

  2. Philk,

    Exactly. The current US Education system was designed for what? To help provide a base line for industrial employees. Well guess what? It not only isn't accomplishing that, but it is in effect dumbing people down, taking the fun out of the learning, and when learning isn't fun, you lose people's interest.

    The other thing is this one size fits all box mentality that the government schools try to force onto schooling. Look at a group of kids as they grow. Some get taller faster, some have trouble with one subject or another. For me early on it was reading. I hated it, it was a chore, and then I got identified as high intelligence and placed into the gifted program. That one thing changed my life forever. I got to challenge myself and forced to stretch and learn new exciting words. Reading books, novels that I never thought I could get through. By the time I was out of elementary school I had turned from a struggling reader, into an excellent one. Why? Because someone showed me a better way to view it.

    That's what I hope to accomplish with my kids. I want them to be inspired to achieve more than they are, I want them to enjoy the learning experiences. I don't feel the public schools do that right now, and that's just plain sad, because I know not everyone can home school their kids like I do.

    Ultimately, I think the way to fix this is to get out of the idea that all people learn at the same rate and should graduate high school by 18? Why 18? Honestly, I could have gone to college 1 year earlier and done better I think. Why? All I needed was 1 credit (Senior English), and they didn't let Juniors take it alongside Junior English. I had doubled up on Algebra II and Geometry as a Freshman, in the hopes I could take some college classes in my senior year.

    Unfortunately, college classes as part of my highschool career wasn't an option. My father had been out of work for a while, had just gotten back, but there just wasn't the resources there to take advantage of it. So Instead I looked for interesting courses that would expand my horizons, and maybe that's a good thing, I got to learn typing and how to use word processors, and spreadsheets. I learned IBM Basic, which really got me excited about possibly using programming in my Engineering track. I took a course on Mechanical Drawing (Drafting), and another physicslite course that was highly experimentally run instead of theoretical. Altogether it ended up being okay, but I think I made the best of what I could do in my situation. I'd love to see more opportunities for other kids as they learn and grow though.

    Thanks for the comments :D

  3. Thanks for the reply and background info on your story

    I was 'lucky' - when I was going to school I was picked out as a quick learner so I went through the school system a year faster than most kids so I went off to uni at 17 rather than 18. Dont know if I would have got bored and miserable having to do schooling at a slower place.

    Good luck with your kids, I think they'll turn out fine

  4. I agree with you completely.
    My first son will soon be born and I've been thinking a lot about it lately and reading a lot of stuff also. You have to check this amazing talk be Sir Ken Robinson (