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Pearls of Conventional Wisdom Are Not the Answer

In a WSJ article published earlier this month, columnist Joanne Lipman expressed her surprise when late music teacher, Mr. K, received an outpouring of support from former students who felt indebted to him for the methods he employed which pushed them, beyond how they might’ve imagined, toward success. These now full-grown, successful adults were able to reflect upon the lessons they learned as youngsters which generalized to their later passions and pursuits in life beyond music class.

“Work hard.” “Practice makes perfect.” “No pain, no gain.” We’ve all heard these pearls of conventional wisdom.  Many kids, those with the skills needed to sustain focus during a group activity absent support, to ignore irrelevant noises and people in class, and to tune- out unnecessary pieces of information, might do just fine in a classroom full of students and a teacher similar in theory to Mr. K. Other kids, however, might not.

It’s the child who already noticed that he is less able than others to follow a set order who will inevitably miss the beat. It’s the child who is less able to understand spoken direction from a teacher who may not be able to tolerate hearing, just one more time, an adult who refers to him as “lazy,” when the child isn’t quickly at work on a given task. It’s the child who isn’t able to think in shades of gray who interprets Mr. K’s strict manner as a personal attack, rather than coming from a place of love. It’s the child who is unable to delay gratification, to think ahead to the future of next week, and keep in mind a possible feeling of pride they might experience next week, were they able to play a musical piece, despite the fact that their fingers are bleeding right. It is that child who will drop out.

Whether the loss of these children occurs in silence or the process unfolds by way of an active protest (i.e. a child who shouts back in his defense when referred to by a teacher as “unmotivated”), these are the children for whom a musical education (and a curious, compassionate adult in charge of helping them to learn in a way that works for them) will be most vital.

Share with us your experiences, and thoughts about the potential impact of classroom policy on our children’s ability to learn, develop their skills, and grow!

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