I’m noticing a trend among younger students. When I ask them a question that requires critical thinking, introspection or deduction they first respond…


with silence.


And then I press them a little. Perhaps goad them with, “Go on- just tell me what you think.”


more silence.


Then, “I don’t know.”



It’s more worrisome than infuriating, although it sure does make teaching a drag. I remember WIlliam Pleeth talking about what made Jackie so special to teach. He said it was like a tennis match, where she returned all of the energy he poured into the lessons with equal verve. I am fortunate to have many private students who do just that.

Learning involves risk. While being smart is sexy, the process of getting there tends to involve the less glamorous task of actively seeking out areas of weakness and rummaging around in them, hoping to weave the new stuff into the already extant facts and notions.

The problem with many college students is that this is not the process they’re after. “Getting a degree” is a thing; a single act. It’s seen as an obstacle, and if you get around it, a magic door opens and your strategy-less ass is suddenly successful.

When I ask an open-ended question designed to get some synapses firing and I get the dreaded, “I don’t know.”, I hear a silent consequent:


… “because I don’t know how to think.”


I am doing my best to sympathize with the 19-year-olds that populate my classroom. If a student doesn’t know how to do something, there’s no sense in having a punitive attitude as an instructor. I think most teachers would concur that teaching is a compulsion. Very few of us make much money, and we are always asked to do twice as much as we think is possible in half the time allotted. There is an idealism to the profession if you do it right. If a single student walks away with Mozart’s sense of humor or the burden of Brahms’ magnificent weight, I am overjoyed.

So I am set to the task of teaching them critical thinking via music. This class would either thrill or horrify the enforcers of curricular standards. There is a real chance that several students will not pass my creampuff class. It’s literally MUS 100. Not even 101. I’m trying not to take this demonstration of the failings of education and culture personally, but it’s hard going.

But worthwhile. These kids may have given up on learning, but I have not given up on them.