Recently a facebook friend posted something like this:
What to do with my 10 year old who refuses to practice her violin?
He received a few dozen responses. Many, an overwhelming majority, said, "Let her quit or else you'll regret it." Maybe not so strong as that, but that idea. If it was your idea for her to take violin, and she doesn't like it, you shouldn't make her do it anymore. But, many of them added, if it was HER idea, you should make her keep going.
Why does this seem backwards to me? Sophia is the one who decided to take Irish dance. If she came to me tomorrow and said, "I want to quit" I would let her, barring any obligations she had made, for instance, signing a paper that said she would be on the team to go to Oireachtas. I might ask her what she would want to do next, or instaed, but I wouldn't make her continue.
On the other hand, if she said, "I hate piano and I want to quit," the answer would be no. Piano is part of her education. She doesn't get to quit math and she doesn't get to quit piano. Can she pick up another instrument (assuming there is time and available funds)? Sure. Can she drop that after a semester's worth of try? Also fine. But some things are set in my house that are obviously not set in everyone's house.
Music is part of education for us. Not competition or crazy amounts of stuff. I'm not making my kids try out for Muny Kids. I'm not forcing something unreasonable. An half hour lesson a week and practice, 10 minutes a day.
I talked with Mike about this, after reading the facebook conversation and wondering about it. And I wonder if part of my insistence is genealogy. My grandfather worked part-time in an instrument repair shop back when his kids, eight of them, were young. He was an airline mechanic and there wasn't a lot of anything to go around. But kids had instruments and they played in the band. Maybe because I know there was serious sacrifice involved, maybe it's more important to me.
I played flute, which I often joke is what happens when you let a 4th grade girl pick her own instrument. But I kept it up a long time, on my own, not forced, and although I eventually put it down, I wouldn't trade the knowledge it gave me. My sister Colleen played violin, played it well, and is somewhat self-taught at piano. Bevin and Ian didn't play instruments, but my parents didn't make us do anything. Bevin says she wishes they had made her take an instrument. And that sentiment, mixed with my own narrow-minded focus on what education should be, means my kids take piano. Maeve's about to start year two. She's good, if a bit of a short-cutter. Sophia's starting her 6th year. And she can play. Leo will start when the time is right--kindergarten or first grade, most likely.
Right now our school is stressing out about test scores--our very high math scores dropped this year, and while some of that is actually an error on the test-maker's part (long boring story), some of it is natural fluctuation in abilities and achievement. And I read that statement from facebook and I wonder about what we, as a society, want from our kids. What we want from society. We are more than our standardized test scores. When I sit down at the mah jongg table, Zelda and Gretchen don't want to know what I made on my SAT. When I go in to teach art for Sophia's and Maeve's classrooms, nobody raises a hand and asks what my GPA from college was. That's not what we are.
The ten year old in question is a girl with high verbal and normal math skills. She has had it easy, for the most part, and has had many advantages along the way. Telling her dad that quitting is the best route, "or else she'll hate you for it later" seems backwards. Struggling and practicing and getting something done right can be satisfying in itself, and allowing her to quit and not experience that is cheating her out of a skill that will be far more useful in her adult life than the violin itself. And something tells me she won't hate him for it. Maybe for a minute, but not 10 years from now when she's taking organic chemistry and has to study for the first time and really work. She'll have had at least a few other experiences of doing something boring, something hard. Trust me. I was that kid.