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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.

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