Sunday, September 29, 2013

Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results

Wall Street Journal   I had a teacher once who called his students "idiots" when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, "Who eez deaf in first violins!?" He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.

Today, he'd be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years' worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.

I was stunned by the outpouring for the gruff old teacher we knew as Mr. K. But I was equally struck by the success of his former students. Some were musicians, but most had distinguished themselves in other fields, like law, academia and medicine. Research tells us that there is a positive correlation between music education and academic achievement. But that alone didn't explain the belated surge of gratitude for a teacher who basically tortured us through adolescence. [...]

I would ask a different question. What did Mr. K do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Comparing Mr. K's methods with the latest findings in fields from music to math to medicine leads to a single, startling conclusion: It's time to revive old-fashioned education. Not just traditional but old-fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here's the thing: It works.  [...]


  1. תמצית מדברי שו"ת חות יאיר ס' קנ"ב, שהביאו החפץ חיים זצקלה"ה בסוף ספרו חפץ חיים הל' רכילות:
    שאלה: נשאלתי אחר דדברי חכמים בנחת נשמעין ונאמר במשנה יהי כבוד חבירך חביב עליך כשלך איך מצינו לפעמים קנטוים וזלזולים בש"ס וכו' וכהנה רבים.
    תשובה: יפה שאלת כי ודאי אע"פ שנקראו תלמידי חכמים שבבבל חובלים במסכת בבא בתרא לא מצד הריקודים והצעקות גדולות ומרות והכאות כף אל כף כאילו נלחמים זה מול זה או מצד הקנטורים וזלזולים חלילה כי לא על סגנון זה נאמר כי ידברו את אויבים בשער שאב ובנו רב ותלמידו נעשו אויבים, רק מצד שהם מתנגדים בסברותיהן ובראיותיהן וכו'..... ומ"ש אמר לי' רבי ללוי ביבמות (ט.) כמדומה אני שאין לו מוח בקדקדו היינו שמותר לרב להוכיח לתלמידיו בדברים קשים כדי לזרזם שיעיינו וישגיחו וישמרו מן הטעות והשגיאה ולוי היה תלמיד לרבי כדאיתא סוף פרק קמא דסנהדרין וכו' ולפענ"ד נראה שמדברי רבי אלו יצא להרמב"ם מ"ש שחייב הרב לכעוס על תלמידיו אם רואה שמתרשלים הובא ביו"ד בסי' רמ"ו סי"א לכן מפני שרבי ידע בלוי שאדם גדול ומופלג הוא ולא הי' ראוי שיטעה אם לא ממיעוט עיון והשגחה לכן דיבר עליו קשות לא מכעס חלילה או מגובה רוחו והרי תניא סוף סוטה משמת רבי בטלה ענוה וכו' ובכי האי גוונא מה שקראו אמוראים לחביריהם תרדא כמו רבה לרב עמרם בב"מ ספ"ק ורחב"א לר' זירא בזבחים (פה:) וכו' ובכה"ג תדורא פרש"י אין לב שאמר רבא לרב עמרם בב"ק (ק"ה:) כולם יש לומר שהיו חביריהם וגדולים מהם ולא קפדי כלל וכו' ובכה"ג מה שהשיב ר' ינאי לר' יוחנן תלמידו מה בין לי ולך במסכת שבת (ק"מ.) אינון כדברי גאוה ורום לבב ומבזה זולתו כי מותר לרב לדבר אל תלמידו לקנטרו על מיעוט הבנתו לסיבת התרשלותו וכו' כן דברי הטרוד חיים יאיר בכרך

  2. Teachers can be demanding without being abusive. I had both demanding teachers and abusive, demanding teachers. I remember the former fondly and with respect. The latter I consider bullies to this day. I dare say the violists would have learned to play as well had the teacher stopped them and asked who missed his note rather than who was deaf.

    1. He probably knew who had missed the note. Putting it the way he did was impersonal. Putting someone on the spot with "who missed his note," now THAT sounds more like bullying. Poking a poorly placed hand or arm with a pencil -- so long as it wasn't a sharp one -- implies that the musician knew what to do but had dropped that particular ball among the many that have to be juggled to play well. Not to mention being asexual.

      Mr. K's smile certainly looks like real nachas (not the dirty pleasure from hearing lashon hara,) and it looks as though he doesn't have a proprietary pride in his students' accomplishment but a collegial one. If what I'm reading into it was there, no surprise that kids would work hard for such a teacher

  3. The article represents a view of education that glorifies data and test scores. Traditional education and back to basics is all about memorizing, technique, giving back the answers the teachers want. Kids are motivated to get good grades and kids are controlled by strict discipline. Kids see absolutely no value in the learning itself or any curiosity or incentive to learn beyond the test. The article mentions the USA scores on international tests. Now if one looks a little deeper – the wealthier American kids do very well and the poorer kids who are being given the traditional top-down education recommended in the article are doing poorly.The article mentions Finland's success. And in the view of the one time head of Finnish education it is not the test scores , but a system that produces kids who want to learn because they find learning relevant and meaningful. Also high scoring counties like Singapore and China are changing their educational policies because test-prep traditional education is killing intrinsic motivation and creativity. Education at its best is driven by kids' questions - seider night – and teachers focus on the ' gesmack ' of learning . The purpose of education says John Dewey is more education. I am interested in seeing learning taking place, the questions of kids, their search for answers not how good a test taker they are
    For education at its best see


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