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Originally Posted by kevinb
Originally Posted by bennevis
I think it's a sin for any music teacher not to teach a kid the fundamentals that will enable the kid to go as far as he might want - or just to be able to play pop songs by ear, or accompany hymns in church by sight-reading from the hymn book. Because no-one can tell whether that kid might suddenly develop a real love for music, and aspire to go as far as his talent will allow. I know - I was once such a kid, and I'm forever grateful to my first teacher for inspiring me to develop that love.

Still, "I think it's a sin..." is a value judgment on your part. I don't doubt that it's a value judgment that most musicians would share, but still... I would say it's sin (or at least a misdemeanour) for anybody in any kind of business to take money for one thing and deliver something else. The complication with kids' piano lessons is that there is rarely any overt agreement on what is to be delivered, and the teacher will either deliver what he or she thinks is best (which is the approach you are advocating, I guess) or second-guess what the customer wants.


It's especially morally reprehensible for a piano teacher to forgo the fundamentals when teaching a young child. If a person can't teach a child properly, the teacher shouldn't be teaching at all. Unless the teacher is upfront about it (which I doubt many are)- it's deception and dishonesty in addition to bad teaching. The parents are paying for piano lessons (and due to information asymmetry they don't realize they are being bamboozled) and the teacher is delivering piano magic. I think worse than taking away the parent's money- the parent/child have lost time practicing the piano magic and for the child who develops a love for piano it has got to be absolutely heartbreaking. Unfortunately in our very past paced society- it's easy to tempt parents (who don't know anything about music) with quick results (or piano magic).

When the motivated student moves on- it's got to be a frustrating experience for everyone (new teacher/student/parent).

Last edited by pianoMom2006; 01/18/18 11:42 AM.

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Originally Posted by pianoMom2006
It's especially morally reprehensible for a piano teacher to forgo the fundamentals when teaching a young child. If a person can't teach a child properly, the teacher shouldn't be teaching at all.


Two problems:

1. Your argument presumes that you have infallible judgment of what "properly" amounts to, and that everybody else will agree with you

2. It's morally reprehensible to drive a child into prostitution or get him hooked on crack cocaine. Teaching piano in a way you disapprove of doesn't even begin to justify this kind of hyperbole. If that's how you describe what you see as inadequate piano teaching, what words will have left to describe the truly abominable things that are routinely inflicted on children?

There seems to be no sense of proportion in this discussion. We're talking about piano lessons, for Heaven's sake, not dumping radioactive waste in the ocean.

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Originally Posted by kevinb
Originally Posted by pianoMom2006
It's especially morally reprehensible for a piano teacher to forgo the fundamentals when teaching a young child. If a person can't teach a child properly, the teacher shouldn't be teaching at all.


Two problems:

1. Your argument presumes that you have infallible judgment of what "properly" amounts to, and that everybody else will agree with you.

I see no sign of assumed infallibility. If in doubt about the statement, I'd go to asking something like "What do you mean by fundamentals and foregoing fundamentals", and then you would know whether you agree with pM's statement, and to what extent. "Properly" is defined by the preceding statement about "foregoing fundamentals", so the two are tied together.
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2. It's morally reprehensible to drive a child into prostitution or get him hooked on crack cocaine. Teaching piano in a way you disapprove of doesn't even begin to justify this kind of hyperbole.

People use words as they best know how, and an expression will have degrees of meaning to each reader. Were pianoMom2006 have stated that improper teaching amounts to driving a child to prostitution or to becoming a drug addict, then that would be outrageous. But you have now given that new meaning to her statement, which puts that writer into an uncomfortable situation, I'm thinking. (?)

Would "ethically reprehensible" be more acceptable? As in personal professional ethics. If as a professional you do a job and your client relies on you, and does not have personal expertise to be able to assess the quality of your work, should you accept doing the work if you're not capable of doing it properly, or should you allow yourself to do less than your best because this is a lesser client and who cares anyway? The problem with the word "ethics", however, is in how it is sometimes used in professions. For example, "squealing on colleagues" and thus "not standing a united front" often goes under "professional ethics" when you read the fine print of some documents on "ethics" within professional organizations. When sorting that one out, I realized that what I saw as "ethics" was actually "morality" and so I ended up at the time with the word "moral".

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There seems to be no sense of proportion in this discussion.

When you insert things like prostitution, drug addiction, and radioactive waste - yes, that is out of proportion. May I suggest not doing so? wink
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We're talking about piano lessons, for Heaven's sake...

I'd say that we're talking about teaching. I remember that you are or were a teacher, so you may share how I feel about it. To me, teaching is a sacred trust. That is, the student is entrusting himself to the teacher's guidance. The parent entrusts her child to the teacher's guidance. They expect guidance. There is a certain respect accorded to teachers and the teaching profession, to the point that many are still shocked and reluctant to have any doubts. At the same time, the position of beginning students is a position of vulnerability. You have to trust that you're being guided, because you don't know enough yet. I do find it ethically reprehensible, if you prefer that term, to engage in that activity if you don't actually know how to provide that guidance, can create future difficulty because of that lack of knowledge, or if you don't care to provide proper guidance because that student isn't really worth it in your mind. Those are the types of scenarios I'd be concerned about.at a late age, and as a teacher and the sense of responsibility this holds for me.

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Originally Posted by keystring


Actually, these are ways in which one can silence others, which is not a thing we want to do.



Thank you very much Keystring! Responses like Kevin B's do make me question why I post here at all. I really don't feel like getting into a debate over semantics or worse having people read into posts things that aren't there. It's too exhausting, uncomfortable, and not something that I want to spend me time doing. I think it's a shame too because the topic of bad piano teaching is an important one for piano parents/teachers/student alike. There aren't many activities where a child will have exactly one teacher for many years, will be expected to practice quite a bit between lessons, and will require quite a financial investment from the parents, and one where the parents may have difficulty judging quality.


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I think the actually problem we're getting into is communication, where people from different situations may be reading what is written within unexpected contexts. Even words themselves, by themselves, are tricky slippery things. smile

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Originally Posted by kevinb
Originally Posted by Gary D.

Where I take issue with you, and with AZNPiano, is that I don't believe other teachers are necessarily the villains here.

Do me a favor. Take issue only with me. AZN by no means agree on all things. wink

The real culprit is the social climate that makes the acquisition of what are seen as middle-class skills so mandatory for so many families. Learning to play the piano is just another check-box that parents think they have to tick, like (around my way) learning to speak French and ride a horse. Both speaking French and horse-riding are skills that, done properly, take a long time to master; but you can check that box with a year or two of training that focuses on box-ticking, rather than long-term skill development.

OK. But then why are you here?

This is a teachers forum. We teach piano. We talk about what goes wrong.

Other adult students have talked about it from the other end, spending multiple years going around in circles because they are getting "bad advice".

I am specifically talking about teachers with no playing skills and not preparation for teaching who declare themselves teachers and then start collecting money.

I have to deal with the consequences.

AZN has to deal with the consequences.

Other teachers here have to deal with the consequences.

And other students, as well as parents of students, have paid a lot of money for very poor instruction.

I think it's a problem, for musicians, but also for serious students.
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I appreciate that it's an unhappy situation, but I respectfully suggest that you are blaming the wrong people. I know it's a cop-out to say "society's to blame" but, in this case, I think it's true.

I'm talking specifically about students who make good progress with me who come to me with just about zero knowledge and skills.

That's a pretty big connection to get from that and "society is to blame".



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Originally Posted by Peter K. Mose
If I were dealing with a constant stream of young kids poorly taught, playing really badly above their grade level, and yet somehow thinking they are skilled junior pianists - which sounds like Gary and AZN's constant transfer student experience - I would surely sing a less kindhearted tune.

Repeating: I am not AZN, so don't assume we are twins. wink

Most of the TWs I get have not had a huge amount of time with teachers they are not getting anywhere with, so the "turn-around" time is relative to the amount of time they have spent not getting anywhere.

One example:

I started a guy around 12, about 3 months ago. He had a month or so of "lessons" somewhere, and came to me knowing nothing. He knew he knew nothing, or he knows it now. But one month is a drop in the ocean, and a complete turn-around was possible.

Another girl I've talked about is around 8 now, started at age 6 with a horrible teacher (horrible for reasons far beyond teaching style.) Two years absolutely getting nowhere, but things are fine now. So it's going to work.

Last summer I started working with an immensely talented 18 year-old who had gigantic holes, weak reader, but great ear, could read SOME, excellent memory, very musical. I only had him for 4 months, because he got accepted into a music school. I think I helped him a lot. It was positively wonderful working with him.

I was a TW. I've said that again and again. The best teacher I ever worked told me that HE was a TW.

Even Edward Kilenyi, a world-famous virtuoso before WWII, said that he was a mess when he started with Dohnanyi. Weak fingers, mushy fingerwork. The technique he developed was partially from finding answers to those problems.

Maybe calling him a TW is over-the-top, but it's not completely wrong either.

How many future world-famous musicians are lucky enough to start out with one of the potentially best teachers in the world?

Very seldom, I'd say.

My comments about bad teachers are about just that - poor teachers.

Nothing more.

I am only saying that the longer you spin your wheels working with someone who does not know what he/she is doing, the more time you lose, and I think that should be both reasonable and self-explanatory!

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Originally Posted by outo
Children (and adults) do sports for many different reasons: To be good and competitive, to get different experiences or simply to have some fun. It's not always about building a "good foundation" or advanced skills. Why should music be any different?


Outo,

I agree there are different reasons people take up sports or musical instruments, and it's good for a teacher to know why a student or parent wants lessons; what their goals are; and the like.

However, your statement, "It's not always about building a 'good foundation'...", well, for serious teachers, it is about building a good foundation, whether the students or parents recognize the need for that or not.

Building strong foundations are not just for those who want to be good and competitive. Take the example of one who just wants to have fun: how fun is it to do poorly at the thing they just want to be fun? To struggle through something that's more difficult than it needs to be because the foundations weren't well-laid?

From my perspective as a teacher, and others have said this, it's a stewardship issue. We have a duty to teach well the students who have been entrusted to our care, whatever their goals are, because they might spend many years taking piano lessons, and the parents will spend what could be a great sum of their financial resources on those lessons.

And teaching well means establishing a firm foundation on which students can gain experience at the piano. Otherwise, the monetary and time investment by parents and students is utterly wasted, as is the time for any subsequent teachers, devoted to establishing a firm foundation, who have to fix what is wrong in the poorly-taught transfer student's technique or whatever else. (And it's usually a lot of things that are wrong.)

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Originally Posted by kevinb
Originally Posted by keystring
Also, students shouldn't get cheated. If you're going to get lessons, you should get a decent grounding in at least foundations that you can always use, even for humble reasons like wanting to be able to learn to play your favourite music if you feel like.


I'd like to propose an analogy. As always, it won't be a perfect fit, because they never are. But...

I have to attend a business meeting in, say, Moscow in four weeks. I speak no Russian, and would like at least to be able to ask a taxi driver to take me to the airport, and order a vodka. Now, I could approach the learned professor of Russian, who will start by teaching me foundational things that will one day allow me to read Dostoyevsky in the original. Or I could sign up for the four-week "Russian for tourists" class at the local college.

When I get to Russia, I might be so entranced by Russian culture and literature that I want to learn the language properly. I approach the learned professor, who berates me for wasting time learning how to say "Which way to the station, please," tells me that my grammar is so awful that I will have to spend a year unlearning everything, and complains that I can't write the Cyrillic alphabet worth a damn. I am a Russian transfer wreck.


So is my first teacher a bad teacher? Surely not -- he gave me exactly what I thought I wanted at that time. Probably most of his customers were happy enough that they could read the name of their hotel. Rather, I had a teacher who was doing his or her job conscientiously, but just didn't meet my needs, as they turned out to be.

Where I think this analogy fails to apply to piano teaching is that music teachers don't advertise their services in such a direct way as "Russian for tourists." There is no equivalent "Piano for kids who want to play Für Elise to impress their non-musical parents' dinner guests." "Piano for people who want superficial quick results" probably won't win hearts or minds, but neither will "Piano for people who want to put a first tentative step on the long, long slope to competence."

Be that as it may, I've seen my share of truly bad teachers; I think that a teacher who practices diligently, with honest good intentions, deserves some respect, because many don't even seem to manage that much.
The paragraph I've bolded illustrates the point people have been trying to make: These students are not spending four weeks with a teacher before seeking out a new teacher. They're spending several years. Years to learn how to say which way to the station, and badly at that.


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Originally Posted by Stubbie

The paragraph I've bolded illustrates the point people have been trying to make: These students are not spending four weeks with a teacher before seeking out a new teacher. They're spending several years. Years to learn how to say which way to the station, and badly at that.

That was the point I was trying to make.

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I missed the "Russian analogy" until someone quoted it.
Originally Posted by kevinb
I'd like to propose an analogy. As always, it won't be a perfect fit, because they never are. But...

I have to attend a business meeting in, say, Moscow in four weeks. I speak no Russian, and would like at least to be able to ask a taxi driver to take me to the airport, and order a vodka. Now, I could approach the learned professor of Russian, who will start by teaching me foundational things that will one day allow me to read Dostoyevsky in the original. Or I could sign up for the four-week "Russian for tourists" class at the local college.

When I get to Russia, I might be so entranced by Russian culture and literature that I want to learn the language properly. I approach the learned professor, who berates me for wasting time learning how to say "Which way to the station, please," tells me that my grammar is so awful that I will have to spend a year unlearning everything, and complains that I can't write the Cyrillic alphabet worth a damn. I am a Russian transfer wreck.

Now this is fun, because you have just stepped smack dab into my field. laugh

To start, your two "teaching resources" do not represent the choices that have to do with foundations. The professor is an academic, teaches like an academician, and his equivalent in music is an equally poor choice for a beginner needing foundational things. If you are trying to compare foundations to I'm not sure what, you've not found an equivalency to the teacher who gives foundations. In your actual scenario, I suggest that you forego both the professor and the class in the college. Get yourself a phrase book, learn to point, and there are some cool apps you can take with you in a pinch. wink

Btw, it took me about three days to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. It's not that hard, and the fact that it's so phonetic as opposed to say French is a godsend.

I actually had a scenario some years ago. The gentleman was expanding the product he was establishing, and wanted to to expand into a new country. He came to me, wanting to learn the new language, be able to speak without an accent as much as possible, and be able to express himself spontaneously at least for simple things. His idea was to be able to present himself to executives in their language, before continuing in English (most people in European countries have learned English). Guess what we started with? FOUNDATIONS!! I did not allow him to teach himself through any book until he had a chance to get a handle on pronunciation, so that he would not build wrong associations (i.e. wait until next week). We went at the most fundamental aspects of grammar. We went at elements of language such as rhythm and cadence (which to a large part is what makes you sound foreign). He got the tools, and from there he was able to get everything else he needed.

I don't think that you have an idea yet what is meant by foundation. It is not some high fallutin' professorish thing. The teacher doing proper teaching is not necessarily aiming to create the next famous performer. That teacher will have a firm and comprehensive grasp of his area of expertise (music), including knowing how to actually teach it. As I did in languages and the language when I taught my student, who had some specific goals. If you want to go to Russia, for heavens sake, don't go to the local college. Find someone who can teach you one-on-one, and who can give you what you need.

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Actually, if you are going to attend a business meeting in Russia with only four weeks' notice, hire a professional interpreter. wink

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My daughter (7 yo) is going through an intensive rehab on both instruments. Honestly, it’s frustrating and upsetting at times but I choose to believe that all of her past teachers had the best of intention and we wouldn’t have reached out to her current teachers if it weren’t for everything that happened in the last 4 years. It’s been a learning process.

The worst teachers are the ones that make students quit. Transfer wrecks are still taking lessons and that is something.

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Originally Posted by Andamento
Originally Posted by outo
Children (and adults) do sports for many different reasons: To be good and competitive, to get different experiences or simply to have some fun. It's not always about building a "good foundation" or advanced skills. Why should music be any different?


Outo,

I agree there are different reasons people take up sports or musical instruments, and it's good for a teacher to know why a student or parent wants lessons; what their goals are; and the like.

However, your statement, "It's not always about building a 'good foundation'...", well, for serious teachers, it is about building a good foundation, whether the students or parents recognize the need for that or not.

Building strong foundations are not just for those who want to be good and competitive. Take the example of one who just wants to have fun: how fun is it to do poorly at the thing they just want to be fun? To struggle through something that's more difficult than it needs to be because the foundations weren't well-laid?

From my perspective as a teacher, and others have said this, it's a stewardship issue. We have a duty to teach well the students who have been entrusted to our care, whatever their goals are, because they might spend many years taking piano lessons, and the parents will spend what could be a great sum of their financial resources on those lessons.

And teaching well means establishing a firm foundation on which students can gain experience at the piano. Otherwise, the monetary and time investment by parents and students is utterly wasted, as is the time for any subsequent teachers, devoted to establishing a firm foundation, who have to fix what is wrong in the poorly-taught transfer student's technique or whatever else. (And it's usually a lot of things that are wrong.)


Just two things to think about:
To build good foundation the student also must work quite a bit (practice). If one cannot/does not want to invest all the time, aren't the efforts of a "serious" teacher a bit of a waste?
It also isn't always that much of a financial investment to take piano lessons where I come from. So there are different circumstances.

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[quote=keystring]
Now this is fun, because you have just stepped smack dab into my field. laugh
[/keystring]

LANGUAGE. Holy crap. Of course!


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Originally Posted by littlebirdblue
Transfer wrecks are still taking lessons and that is something.


(General caveat: student poster)

Agree. Man... I dunno what to think about my music past (which is very long) but I am still with the thing. Even when I was a teenager, I would say that "I am going do this thing because it is hard". I do it now because it is entwined with me.

I root for the underdog, but I imagine a vanishingly small percentage of us pan out to a moderate degree. I suspect this is at the core of the disconnect between the students who butt in here and the teachers who post here.

The teaches here aren't making things up. I can see why my teaches might have given up on me and I am happy they soldiered through with me. It's kind of a leap of faith.


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I do not understand at all what is going on in this discussion.

There are good teachers, average teachers, and very bad teachers.

Some very poor teachers are nice human beings, but they just are not very good at teaching.

Some teachers with top reputations are cruel, dictatorial, and I don't believe they are good teachers. But they have reputations.

No one is a good teacher for everyone. No one clicks with everyone.

But aren't there a few general things we could agree on?

I've talked about students who come to me knowing nothing, and one of the teachers who taught nothing also charges a large fee and is known to be mean. Don't the rest of you know any teachers who are mean, and who are very ineffective teachers?

I also know many teachers who are charging quite a bit of money to teach beginners, and many of them hardly know anything about playing and have zero background in pedagogy. When I get young students from these teachers, I have to tell the students and parents that I have to basically restart them, and I do this probably as much as 50 times per year. At any given moment several of my best students are people of all ages, but most children, whose parents bring them to me after having wasted a good bit of time and money.

I never turn away anyone. I don't expect any student to become a future concert pianist, or a professional musician. I'm simply trying to make sure that anyone who comes to me, willing to do some amount of work, get's the most possible out of that work. To me this seems pretty basic, and pretty reasonable.

You can't play anything unless you can either read music, play by ear, or copy something by rote, played over and over and over and over again for you.

I don't know why other people don't understand that the rote way of teaching inevitably leads to a low plateau. I don't understand why other people don't understand that EVEN if learning this way seems fun in the beginning, it is a dead-end.

Now, if you want to pay a teacher to somehow teach you to play a couple things - even though I don't think this is a good way of working - I suppose it is possible that eventually you will learn to play something, or maybe a couple things.

But how many people who have even a little bit of an idea of how music really works would recommend that as a wise path?

I'm not talking about preparing for a solo recital. I'm talking about basics:

1. How to read notes.
2. How to name the keys.
3. How basic rhythm works.
4. How not to hurt yourself.
5. Some kind of basic fingerings
6. How to pick out a basic tune, by ear, for people who simply don't want to read.

When I talk about transfer wrecks, I'm talking about people who actually want to play, who are willing to put in what I think is a reasonable amount of time, people who haven't been taught any of these basics.

No, people who don't have the knowledge to teach any of these basic things are not necessarily horrible people They may, in fact, be very nice people.

But when they charge money, why would any of you who HAVE some knowledge of music suggest that this is not bad thing for people who are paying them, who think they are learning things, and are missing everything that is important.

This is not about learning Beethoven. It's about learning to do something with music. It could be classical, blues, gospel, any kind of pop. It could be very traditional reading, or lead sheets.

I'm just saying that I expect anyone who calls themselves a teacher to be teaching SOMETHING, and I've gotten a lot of students who not only have not learned much of anything, they also feel bad about it, thinking that THEY are failures because they failed to learn anything, when nothing was being taught.

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Originally Posted by keystring
To me, teaching is a sacred trust.


That, in a nutshell, is the root of our disagreement smile To me, teaching is a job. Five years of teaching in universities, followed by five years in corporate training, rid me of any lingering sense that I might be engaged in anything other than a job of work. I hope I was a competent teacher, not least because many of the current generation of hospital consultants were once my students, but I did what I did for money. I stopped doing it when I realized that I could make better money, with less stress, elsewhere.

I'm certainly not saying that my view is better than yours, but this difference in outlook will inevitably make for irreconcilable differences in our interpretation of the specifics.

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Originally Posted by kevinb
1. Your argument presumes that you have infallible judgment of what "properly" amounts to, and that everybody else will agree with you

Of course we can't all agree 100% on what is "proper" in education. Heck, even two different school districts will teach the same subject in different ways. However, there are some common ground to be covered. For example, will you be okay with an English class that does not teach nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions? Will you send your kids to an elementary school where kids still cannot read English fluently by fifth grade? Or can't memorize their multiplication tables by fourth grade?

In music, there are some BASIC things that everyone will agree should be taught. Not everyone will agree that Fur Elise should be taught to kids with 5 months of piano lessons. But everyone with common sense will agree that students need to learn notes and count properly and produce beautiful tone with solid finger technique.

Originally Posted by kevinb
2. It's morally reprehensible to drive a child into prostitution or get him hooked on crack cocaine. Teaching piano in a way you disapprove of doesn't even begin to justify this kind of hyperbole. If that's how you describe what you see as inadequate piano teaching, what words will have left to describe the truly abominable things that are routinely inflicted on children?

There seems to be no sense of proportion in this discussion. We're talking about piano lessons, for Heaven's sake, not dumping radioactive waste in the ocean.

I don't follow your logic. Who's making hyperboles here?


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I should point out for the record that I don't dispute in any way the existence of the phenomenon described by Gary D, AZNPiano, and others. I don't doubt that many music teachers are leaving their students inadequately prepared for future study.

My gripe is with the contemptuous language that is being used to describe the students and their former teachers, and the willingness to ascribe blame -- and in some cases moral censure -- to people whose circumstances and goals we do not know. When I was a teacher, I got students in my classes all the time who were hopelessly unprepared, for a whole heap of reasons. It's part of the job; I just dealt with it as best I could.

Maybe this is a problem mostly of language. I would never describe a person as a "wreck", even for dramatic effect. The worst criticism I usually make of a living human being is "ill-advised", and even that makes me uncomfortable. I can't imagine how awful a person would have to be, to merit the label "morally reprehensible", although I guess some people seem happy enough to use that term. My kids use the f-word as a response to, for example, accidentally dropping a pencil, which makes me cringe. I'm certainly not against robust language, but the situation needs to merit it.

I stand by what I said, even though I'm in the minority, as usual. I do not mean to cause anybody offence, and apologise if I have.

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