Some families watch TV at dinner. Some families eat separately. Some families talk idly about their day. Dinner at Agnes Callard’s house is different. She and her children debate.
Because she is a philosopher, many of their debates are philosophical. If a conjoined twin committed a crime, should both twins be punished? Is it possible for the other twin to be completely innocent? But some of the topics are silly. She explained on the Daily Dad podcast recently that they’d just finished a long family debate, led by her seven-year-old, on what would be the ideal type of glove.
It’s not the content of the debate that matters—it’s the activity. It’s that they did it as a family. It’s that they used it as an opportunity—countless opportunities over the years—to teach important lessons. As an expert on Socrates, Callard wanted to show her children how to ask questions, how to probe to the truth, how to never be satisfied with superficial answers. She also used these debates as a chance to illustrate what good faith looks like, how to change your mind, how to argue respectfully.
Like most great parenting strategies, this wasn’t some forced or formal activity either. They began as discussions between her and her husband that her kids wanted to join in. Each child came to see that the way to be included, the way to participate in the dinner discussions was to have something to say and have a point of view. So the dinner debates evolved over time. The rules are ad hoc, the tradition is organic. But in the end, it’s shaped the course of her family and their intellectual lives.
Can you say the same about your dinners? Maybe you should talk about it then. Maybe even debate.