Hot dogging

This is based on a post from six years ago.

Chris and I have spent a fair amount of time in music classes that involve group instruction. Inevitably there will be someone who is less interested in learning than in hot dogging, i.e. showing off for the class and especially the instructor. We always laugh about it; the instructor is always so much more accomplished than the students (why take the class otherwise?) that it isn’t very likely anyone will impress him.

The funniest episode was at Augusta in 2004, where Chris signed up for a “Fiddle From Scratch” class, designed to help start students who had absolutely no experience on the instrument. One of the students had had some small amount of training, and set himself up as Mr. Know-It-All for the week. We laughed about it every night. What exactly did he expect the instructor to think? “Wow, you are by far the best Fiddle From Scratch student I’ve ever had! In fact, you’re practically good enough to be in the Beginning Fiddle class!”

It’s not just in music classes where we run into this attitude; any group lecture that features a Q&A will usually bring it out. When we attended the Hedge School in 2005, we skipped the final Q&A session because the “questions” we were hearing from the audience were mostly pontification about the bad old north, more designed to impress the lecturer and the folks putting on the school than to elicit helpful answers.

While I was in graduate school I became good friends with a woman who was perhaps fifteen years older, a housewife who had decided to get a Ph.D. She wasn’t particularly beloved among the other students, but everyone loved having her in a class because she was completely guileless, and as such was able to ask the dumb questions that the rest of us had but would never risk asking for fear of being seen as less than brilliant. She was a great help to me in those classes, and a great lesson as well. Since then I’ve tried to be that person for other people.

There is a very easy way to impress a teacher that isn’t often used: listen to what he says, and do what he tells you. We’ve tried to instill in all our kids a high level of docility, or willingness to be taught. We teach them to instinctively defer not to the authority that comes from office, but the authority that comes from being wise and knowledgeable about a subject. A few times over the past couple of years we’ve had music teachers tell us that they love having us for students, because we listen to what they tell us (especially direct criticism), take it to heart, and then act on their advice.

That’s heartening for us, but it’s also depressing to think that they encounter such an attitude so rarely that they go out of their way to thank us for it.


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