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The Parent Show

Pardon My Parenting: Episode 4

POSTED ON 01/26/12
In This Episode

Can little ones learn from technology? Etiquette expert Anna Post thinks so! Discover new ways to teach tots valuable skills via technology, and share a laugh with Angela and Anna about thank-you note protocol.

Wired Family

  • MooneyDriver

    When I was a little boy, my mother made me take piano lessons. Typical of her home-spun psychology, she assured me that, if I practiced every day, I would grow up to play like Paderewski (that was 11 years after his death). It was 30 years later when my wife and I (on a trip to Paris) noticed a larger-than-life reproduction of the signature pages of the treaty on a wall in the Palace of Versailles. There among the signatures of Lloyd George and Clemenceau, clearly written in beautiful script was “I. J. Paderewski.” The fact that a piano player could also become Prime Minister of Poland shows how important it is to include music in the lives of every young child. Keep practicing!

  • Lou Iza

    There is an age that’s appropriate though. If the child is too young, their bones and mental capacity can’t handle it. The last thing you want to do is turn them off of music by being forced in to it. I’m a big advocate of the Karl Orff method – it’s fun and music! Check out this article to learn more:

  • Joel Dave
  • Anonymous

    MWS – please elaborate on how intensive, long-term music lessons are crucial to personal growth and development as opposed to either a less-intensive, shorter term study of music (maybe a music appreciation class) or the pursuit of non-musical alternative activities. I know a lot of people that never studied music at all after 5th grade. Most of them grew up to be satisfied, independent and capable adults. Some of them say they wish they learned to play an instrument in their youth, but when faced with the busyness of their daily routine they admit that even if they had, they wouldn’t have much time to play an instrument in their adult lives. My own wife, who has the opposite of the STEM mindset in every way, is very intelligent, hard working, and quite knowledgeable about topics such as literature, ancient Greek, proper use of English grammar and the meanings of a wide variety of words. But she also never studied music outside of church choir and casual singing. She decided one day to take up the cello. Her enthusiasm and interest fell away within a few months of purchasing the cello.

    Though in her 30′s, she has failing health from Lupus and diabetes. Most days she is functionally disabled. I also have two autistic children from a prior marriage. She is no longer able to work, but has been denied disability benefits, so I am raising a completely disabled family of four on my salary alone. I am earning “good money” that matches the market rate for someone with my position, credentials and years of experience. And while I have always had employer provided health insurance I have thousands of dollars in medical debt accumulated over the years, plus I am helping her pay off student loans. In spite of medical bills that accumulate each year, I choose not to live in abject poverty; so when my wife wants something that she really seems to care about I get it for her as long as I am not running a dangerously low bank balance. But cellos aren’t cheap, and like with so many of the various activities that schools and colleges try to convince us we need in our lives, the cost for her to learn from an instructor is just not something we can afford now, nor in the foreseeable future. The purchase price of the cello alone was a major hit to our finances, but I could pay every last penny to medical bills and more will come the next month in ever increasing amounts, so I’ve just accepted that the medical debts will grow to a point I can never repay anyway, so might as well let my wife have something to enjoy while she’s still alive. But end result is that I am staring right now at the dusty cello in the corner of the room that is never played or even tinkered with.

    People get caught up with the idea of who they are, who they want to be, what they want to do, and how they want to live their lives. I was certain that by this time in my life I would already be a seasoned scuba diver and pilot with my own seaplane to go off to explore. But reality is we have bills, we have responsibilities, we have people we are responsible for, and we have salaried careers that keep us traveling, working late, and taking work home on the weekend. Some of us have the luxury to scale back our expenses, but this is America and sooner or later you will have to pay the doctor, the modern day real-life Pied Piper.

    As for the “irrelevant” classes, to be honest I knew I needed good grades in all my classes, so I worked hard for the grade and got straight A’s. Music lessons were not associated with my school and weren’t going to show up on my transcript, so they were even easier for me to dismiss. I could have spent the time learning music studying a foreign language or pursuing an activity that I actually enjoyed instead. But the wonderful thing about “core curriculum” is that we all have to suffer through them together. Given total freedom I would have traded four years of literature classes for one year of “cultural literacy”, where the required reading would have been condensed to Cliff notes, with a greater number of stories covered with a quick summary of their plots and reasons the story was supposedly important for the culture that read it. Maybe a small selection of books would have been required reading cover-to-cover to at least familiarize the student with the process of reading a book, as well as a few essays that seem to be a rite of passage with few, if any, practical applications to life outside of academia.

    I would have been open to other non-STEM classes as long as they could be shown to have benefits worth their study. Art was always an elective all through middle and high school and never required, so that is at least a settled matter. PE classes really aren’t education so much as they are an opportunity to keep young bodies healthy. I would have taken a course in drafting and design technology, but that was not made available as an option to me. I actually signed up for an art elective my senior year because there were no other electives worth considering other than study hall. But the art instructor was teaching students who had been taking art starting back in middle school, and the grade was competitive. I was near the top of my class and needed an academic scholarship to pay for school, so risking my GPA just to have fun exploring an activity that was not going to be core to my academic or career goals just was not justifiable. Maybe I could have been more “well rounded” if we had an educational system that wasn’t driven by ultra-competitiveness. But we did then, and we still do. It’s really a struggle for survival. Had I ended up in a career that paid half of what I earn today my disabled family would be suffering much worse than they already are. I’ve sat in dental offices where children in tears of pain were sent away because their parents didn’t have enough cash to cover the treatment. There are government programs to help poor kids get dental care, but not if the parents earn too much to qualify but not enough to have a substantial sum of money ever on hand when it is needed. As a parent of two autistic children I have encountered many therapies that insurance does not cover, but I paid for those therapies out of pocket, and I can directly attribute my ability to pay for such therapies to my decision in my youth to work hard and focus my efforts on making sure I could get through college and land a very high paying job – not so I can live the easy life, but so I can survive America.

    As for history, I enjoyed studying history and still enjoy reading about historical events, even if just by perusing Wikipedia. Being an engineer is more than just knowing math, designing a circuit, and troubleshooting problems. I have to interact socially with engineers and non-engineers alike, and there are a wide variety of topics individuals can make themselves familiar with in order to facilitate casual conversations that are naturally going to occur between activities. We live in a society that harshly condemns all forms of social awkwardness, even though the awkwardness emerges as a reaction to how people are treated by their peers just because they look funny, suffer from illnesses or allergies, have disabilities, or interests that don’t align with mainstream culture. When was the last time you saw an attractive person sitting at the socially awkward table at the school lunchroom? If ever, it is only because they are trying to be a more awesome person by reaching out to the awkward kids. Similarly, when have you ever seen a business executive, top salesperson, or political figure that was dog-ugly or having a funny-shaped body? I’m not saying it never happens, but the most successful just also happen to be the most attractive. We are animals, social animals, and we are programmed to place the unattractive, the sickly, and the handicapped on the lowest rung of the social ladder, while we promote the attractive, physically capable and healthy on the highest rung. We do this while we attribute success to “social skills” that are conveniently ambiguously defined. But those of us stuck somewhere near the middle see the writing on the wall and make as good of an effort as we can to enhance our social standing, as we know full well that how well we are liked is more important than how competent we may be at fulfilling our duties. So history and literature are subsets of cultural literacy, and we at least need to be familiar enough to understand allusions, references to past events, idiomatic expressions, jokes, names, places, etc. Understanding that starting an engine with a dead battery by using jumper cables from an engine with a good battery is called a “jumpstart”, helps us to understand better what is meant when someone is talking about jumpstarting their morning or jumpstarting their career.
    We need to study various academic subjects so we can more fully develop our cultural literacy so that mistakes are not made when important ideas or instructions are communicated. Scientists and engineers have to be excellent communicators both to STEM peers and to others with less STEM exposure (ie physician to patient, engineer to equipment operator or developer to investor). The proper study of various academic subjects also help us to learn how to think critically, especially if and when critical thinking skills are specifically targeted to be honed in classes such as literature, political science, law, ethics, philosophy and others. As humans we also need to make value judgments regarding the actions we take. For myself I felt that STEM fields do more to enhance the physical security of the most people on our planet. Artists and writers might make the world more interesting and enjoyable, but unless they are engaging in activism for a particular cause they are not likely to produce work that helps people to live longer, safer, efficient, productive and sustainable lives for generations. Scientists and engineers can produce products that cause more harm than good, but again this is where critical thinking and deep values development and clarification can guide an engineer to pursue work that offers a net benefit to humanity.
    I am deeply concerned about how my one life will touch those I care about and also those people who will be affected by what I do and do not do in this life. I don’t think it is enough to try to do some good, if we have an opportunity to do much good, and certainly we should not spend our lives making up for our actions that cause harm.
    But spending hours daily learning to play an instrument that after years of practice yields relatively little improvement in capability to play said instrument and while also never resulting in an enjoyable experience, such is waste. For every hour of practice, for all the multitude of songs that were part of my lessons, I have very little to show in terms of fruit from that labor. I still cannot hardly clap in unison with a crowd, and have no desire to do so. Every musical term and all the cultural literacy that could be juiced from my musical education would be the same today if I had studied the instrument for one semester. We live in an age of artistic glut, with more free or low-cost instant streaming of music, images, movies, literature, entertainment and other artistic content than any one person could consume in their lifetime. The need to add more art to the mix just does not exist, unless the individual feels compelled by desire, and only if there is desire should a pursuit such as the playing of an instrument need be considered. Likewise for many other non-essential activities, such as scuba diving, aviation, football, video games or the like.

  • Anonymous

    About 5% of the human population gets no thrill from music at all. Check out the NPR article from 2014 “Strange But True: Music Doesn’t Make Some People Happy”. They are happy, healthy, socially functioning otherwise normal people who have fulfilling lives, experience pleasure, emotions, and sensation except that they just are not moved by music.

    Now, as a matter of fact, I am not actually one of those. I enjoy hearing some music. There are recordings that I enjoy hearing, and many that I do not. As for seeing beauty in the world, I think you have missed my points entirely. Locking someone away for hours on end to learn how to mimic the prevailing perception defined by others as to what is beautiful deprives them off the actually beauty that is all around them. Nature creates more beauty that I enjoy more than I have ever enjoyed in man-made art. The word “art” itself shares the same root word as “artificial”. It is a very poor substitute for the real beauty in the natural world, all available free of charge in most parts of the world. But this beauty is available to even the poorest, uncultured savage, without the need for teachers, school buildings, museums, galleries, tuition, fees, or crippling debt.

    The arts, as we know them today, are not much different from the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about. Fundraising for the arts competes directly with charities that provide for the needy, yet we have a society that puts all of these causes on equal footing. We have content in the forms of poetry, prose, visual and performing arts created by academics and pushed by their academic peers onto the captive audience in their classrooms. In daily brainwashing sessions the students are told what “great art” is, forming the desired traits in the consumer who will continue to prop up the system even after their school years have been served.

    In all other academic subjects we have come to expect all assertions to be questioned and challenged. We unleash the full force of brute logic, reason and scientific evidence to tear apart old ideas that were accepted to be true due to tradition, authority and superstition. We have seen this in philosophy, ethics, religion, science, mathematics, economics, history, and political science. Nothing is sacred, except when we walk into the arts classroom. We dare not question the importance of what we are studying, the opportunity cost of the time, energy and material put into the effort, or the validity of the many statements people often make about art without any serious reflection as to the ramifications of those dearly held beliefs.

    As you state your pity for me and accuse me of being a part of the world’s problems these days, you remind me so much of my alcoholic uncle who takes it as a personal insult that I would prefer a soft drink over consuming hard liquor with him. I never said I disapprove of his drinking, nor did I ever suggest that I was any better for sticking to my soft drink. But I’m not like him, so that makes me the bad guy.

    Please, I would like to know, just what are some of the horrible things that I am doing to destroy the world? Am I taking away donations that might have otherwise gone to programs that help families in poverty become financially self-reliant? Am I receiving grants from tax dollars that could have otherwise paid for cancer research? Am I creating marketing materials encouraging people to consume more than their natural inclinations would lead them to? Am I creating one work of art after another that will draw a whole lot of attention for a period of weeks before it is stuffed into our oversized landfills? I challenge you to go search a landfill and tell me then how much of the waste in our society is generated by artists working for marketing firms, producing posters, pamphlets, flyers, junk mail and promotional materials made from plastic and Styrofoam shipped all over the country and even the world for a campaign that will last a few weeks or months before it is all thrown away and more art created.

    We live in a world where there is a glut of art. We are surrounded by it. Buried in it. Most of it is noise and pollution. Greedy men lie, cheat, steal, and even fight wars with the goal of acquiring more art to showcase in the halls of their estates. A lot of today’s music is sending a message to stop caring about anything of real significance, instead to look out for their own prestige and pursuit of sex and bling. Misogyny has been a common theme in rap music for years, while young white supremacists are tuning into metal music about hate and violence. Stoners are overdosing while listening to songs about the meaningless of life, Jihadists are listening to songs about destroying infidels, while country music has songs praising the lynching of petty criminals and getting a good beating from their daddies. You haven’t listed one thing that I am doing to harm this world. I have listed several ways the MISAPPLICATION of the arts and misplaced priorities with regards to the arts. Technology too is not innocent and it is important for individuals to be discerning. I realized this myself at the beginning of my career when I began work in the defense industry. There are plenty of people and no shortage of funds to develop weapons of war, but the real difference to make now in this world is with medical technology, life-saving equipment, and products that are safer for human use while also being safer for the environment. So I left the defense industry in short order, though the events on 911 made me feel that defense was the more worthy pursuit at the time.

    As for STEM getting me a job and paying the bills, I think you are confusing me for a Wall Street investment banker or an accountant. If I spent my life pursuing the pleasure of art and music and never did anything to help anyone in need I would consider that to be a cold and empty existence. During my career I have worked on research for artificial limbs, something that can make a much more meaningful impact than if I was just another guy playing another tune on another instrument. One scientist, engineer, mathematician or computer programmer can put effort into a project and the fruit of that one effort can be built into millions of products that can improve public safety, reduce greenhouse emissions, help provide affordable housing, and even save people from dying from disease or injuries. And they can do this on a global scale affecting millions of people, without hardly ever receiving much recognition for the value of their efforts improving the human condition.

    I do not think art is bad or inherently evil. Far from it, I think art serves a role in society. There are people who need art therapy to help cope with PTSD and other mental health issues. A lot of people like to see art or listen to music. Many people seem to enjoy playing a song on an instrument and some people enjoy creating new music. I am just not one of them. There are also many other activities such as fishing, hiking, flying kites and RC planes, the thrill of discovery, the personal satisfaction that comes from troubleshooting an electrical problem, the sense of independence one gets from having the skills to repair their own appliances. But I do not think it should be my personal mission to press schools to make children go on daily hikes for the joy of experiencing all that nature has to offer. Nor do I think that people with no interest in fishing should be forced to endure several years of intense instruction in the proper techniques to catch fish, shrimp, crabs, crawdads, clams, oysters, and scallops, which are activities that I truly enjoy and I would find life to be a cold, empty existence if I didn’t have the opportunity to immerse myself into the natural world.

    While I am doing these activities I might have the radio on and enjoy music. I find the background music at restaurants to be pleasant most of the time. But I don’t get much pleasure from going to a concert, and I don’t see much point in sitting in a chair with headphones doing nothing while hearing music. And after spending all of middle and high school being forced to play a musical instrument that I made clear that I did not enjoy, I certainly can attest that I do not enjoy playing any musical instrument any more than I would enjoy recreational dentistry. Any song I could ever want to hear is available for a cheap download that I can play as often as I want for the rest of my life. More music has been recorded than I will ever have time to hear in my lifetime, even just to play each song only once. Playing a song that the “group” wants to play is not “self expression” – it is merely conformity to the group. Playing sheet music is just making an attempt to do exactly and precisely what the author of the sheet music already did once before, and 99% of the time you can download the performance with needing to play it. Those who are bored, want a hobby, and enjoy activities requiring hand-eye coordination and keeping a tempo can enjoy playing all the music they want. I just want people to know that not everyone feels like they do, and it is not right to try to make people enjoy the same things with the presumption that they will come to get as much out of it as other people do. And when somebody has something else they want to do with their life that will require the vast majority of their time (such as those who study medicine for instance, which requires one to dedicate their life’s energy to it), it is nothing short of unjustified punishment to make those people take up such activities as music, dancing, drama, sports, or anything else that some people would just rather not do but made to do it for 20 hours a week. People need recreation in their life, but making them do something YOU think they will enjoy can mean that there will be ZERO time left for them to actually enjoy a fun activity that they would like but now do not have any time for because they were forced to spend the little time they had on something they truly took no joy in.

    As for criticizing others, I was simply pointing out the total lack of logic being used to argue that because one person achieved success in an endeavor while they also happened to play piano proves how important music is. There is just no logic in the argument. One does not follow the other, no more than a boy growing up on a farm and becoming a world class surgeon would prove anything about the importance or usefulness of being raised with an exposure to rural life. Myself I have lived on a farm, and it is an experience that can open your eyes and give you a whole different perspective on where your food comes from and at what cost. But it is not a life for everyone and someone squeamish about plucking chickens or shoveling manure might not ever be able to enjoy the good parts of living on a farm. If they are going to pursue a career and live in a city, such an experience on a farm might slow them down, get in the way, and hold them back, especially if they need to build a social and professional network in the city where they will pursue their career. In some circles I could imagine that their farm experience could become a topic of ridicule and maybe some of their cultured, artistic urban peers might think less of them because of it. Just because I think there are many benefits of having an experience on a farm does not mean that I should force anyone to endure it just because of the values that I hold for myself. People need to be free and open to chart their own path.

    And for the record, I am not criticizing anyone who sees beauty in music. Those who want to learn to play an instrument should be free to do so. I’m not even going to suggest that my tax dollars should be withheld from funding their interests – with all of the inequality the persists in this country, public school is a place where students should be able to learn from the full palette of knowledge, skills and experiences. I would warn, though, that we set many people up for disappointment when we devout up to 50% of the school day helping kids get exposure to the arts with music, singing, drama, dance, poetry, fiction, film, art and appreciation classes. A huge number of those students are going to work hard in school, but it still won’t be enough. They will not be in the top 10% of their class. They will not go to Ivy League schools. They might not be cut out for grueling STEM degrees and careers. They might not excel in arts to a sufficient level to be competitive and make a living with it. They might not even have what it takes for a career in journalism, teaching, nursing, accounting or other fields. At best they might do okay with vocational training, and at worst they may get into insurmountable debt while taking liberal arts classes. Either way, the odds are unfavorably high that they will struggle to scrape by with a 40 hour work week, and many will work 60 or even 80 hours a week, perhaps at two or three different low paying jobs. They won’t have any more free time to engage in these artistic passions the schools have exposed them to, nor will they have disposable income to buy instruments or pay for the incidental expenses associated with their art. Regardless of their intentions or interests, they may end up existing as cold automatons, SURVIVING, but not LIVING. That would be a much worse place to be than where I am today.

  • StringAlong

    “Children can start to learn the violin as young as 3 – 4 years old. According to the Suzuki method, this is the time when they are very receptive in learning to speak their mother tongue languages.”

    read the full article here

  • Alex Garcia

    Children can start learning around 2- 3 my kid is taking lessons on his middle school already learn a few songs my dad got me a teacher when i was 7 so glad he did the good thing now is we have the internet and the chances of learning to play an instrument are more easy then never

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