Our Failure to Honor “mean” Parents and Teachers

mean teacher

You know the genre—Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom,  or the movie WHIPLASH , Annie Sullivan in THE MIRACLE WORKER saying to Mrs. Keller, “Helen’s problem is not physical; it’s your love.” They raise a fundamental question for teachers and parents: How do you best respond to the sharp developmental differences resulting  from satisfying the young person’s wants or insisting on the preeminence of their needs. Parents and teachers beware (and certainly you already know): aggressively advance the needs of those you are entrusted to nurture, and you run a heavy risk of rancor from both many of those you believe you are encouraging and their adult enablers.

The title of this post is self-serving. So I must include an admission that will not come as a surprise to many of you—-a substantial number of my students think I am mean. I wish they didn’t, but I understand why they feel that way. Hence, I am especially intrigued by this topic. My general feeling is that parents and teachers are often more concerned about their own needs to be loved than they are focused on the developmental advances of their children and students.  Yet I can never understand why the accounts of those parents and teachers who agree with me are so frequently unnecessarily harsh, senselessly abusive, and hierarchical tyrants.

The above is prologue to recommending  STRINGS ATTACHED , a remarkable book in many ways. First, I read the book in one setting, a very rare experience for me. In retrospect, the firm grip the book had on me especially surprised me in that the central character is a music teacher, a teacher of music about which I am woefully ignorant. On many levels the book has lessons to learn and questions to provoke conversation and reflection. The music teacher in question is to me another one of those autocratic bullies who are dedicated and successful champions of pushing young people far beyond the boundaries the young person would choose to visit if left to his or her own preferences. I kept wondering: Does he absolutely have to be so parsimonious in his compliments?  Must he holler non-stop? How many of his students were crushed by the same methods that proved so remarkably productive. If you are interested in this central dilemma of parenting and teaching, I cannot imagine a better book. If you can read this book and not alternately cry during its tragedies and thrill to the emotional clout of excellence on the students, you are more emotionally jaded that I wish to be.

For those of you who play an instrument or ever wanted to play an instrument, the book is a fruity treat.

For those of you convinced that music has a most special role in our identity, you will find strong confirmation here.

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