"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Movies and Whether to Obsess

Being as we have young children about the house, we don't get out much. Heck, we don't even get to do all that much at home. But having joined the Netflix cult, we watched Mad Hot Ballroom last night, a movie about kids in NYC public schools preparing for and competing in the city's ballroom dance competition. To tell the truth, I was a bit disappointed in the documentary. It really dragged - too many shots of NYC streets and kids sort of playing, too little about the kids and how dance was fitting into their broader lives. You saw glimpses of their homes, their families, their neighborhoods, but that's it, just glimpses. One of the instructors disappeared from practices for about 45 minutes of the movie without any explanation. Some nice moments, but just got the feeling that the whole thing was a missed opportunity for the filmmakers.

It got me to thinking, though, about how we structure our kids' education. There is a part of me that thinks the most important thing is to try and help your kid become "well-rounded," exposed the variety of art, sports, literature, etc. that the world has to offer. Who doesn't want to be well-rounded, after all? But there's another part of me that thinks the thing to do is to help the child find the thing that really engages him and let him embrace that almost obsessively. The problem with being well-rounded is that, unless you're a polymath, you end up being mediocre at lots of things, and I think the obsession model (if I can put it that way) has the virtue of really engaging children in the pursuit of "excellence." Once you learn what excellence really feels like and have a desire to be excellent, whatever else you want to do flows thereon. Or so I muse...what say ye?

6 comments:

Tlaloc said...

"The problem with being well-rounded is that, unless you're a polymath, you end up being mediocre at lots of things, and I think the obsession model (if I can put it that way) has the virtue of really engaging children in the pursuit of "excellence.""

Unfortunately that excellence is generally devoid of any context and hence essentially useless. I knew plent of students who were much much better than me at physics because it was all they did. But that knowledge was so isolated and inapplicable to anything else that they were functional idiots. They had absolutely no idea how anything else around them worked or even how their own field related to something as similar as chemistry much less biology.

Ask them about social issues and they got a sort of glassy stare. Ask them about history and you'd get the same thing.

Ultimately the explosion of human knowledge means we do in fact need specialists, but ultimately these people need to be carefully kept away from any decision making or pronouncements that do not directly bear on their narrow field of study. They are the ultimate idiot ssvants.

Hunter Baker said...

Seems to me that the well-rounded part is sort of how you discover your excellence. I had to be exposed to a lot of different things before I found the ones that really piqued my interest.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Bravo Tlaloc!

I agree in principle, however I think that is only applicable at the extrema.

It reminds of a brilliant, and I do mean brilliant, scientist in my department who likes to write letters to the daily fishwrap.

Whenever he speaks about anything other than science he looks like a baffoon.

Kathy Hutchins said...

What Hunter said. I would also add the completely unoriginal observation that the one essential thing is to introduce your children to books as you would introduce them to your dearest friends and family, and do everything you can to demonstrate that reading Is a pleasure, not a chore. If they love to read, they will round themselves out just fine.

The other thing to remember is that you don't have to get it all done before you're 18, or 25, or 40. I just sat for the intial and Grade One Trinity exams on harp. I was the only student over 16 in the waiting room.

Thank you for asking. I passed with distinction.

S. T. Karnick said...

Congratulations, Kathy! Please send me a midi file or mp3 of one of your performances. Thanks.

Kathy Hutchins said...

Don't you want to wait for the DVD of the Renaissance Faire group I'm starting with Rachel (cello) and Anne (bodhran)?? We're aiming for a sort of fusion of Wolgemut and The Pyrates Royale. Provisional name -- Baldrick's Trousers.