Raising high achieving kids- what has influenced you?

December 6, 2007 at 03:01 AM · For those of you who have children who play violin really well (Al and FMF in particular), what books on teaching, or learning or educational philosophy would you recommend? What are the major influences that shaped your approach to the education (both musical and non-musical) of your child?

Replies (100)

December 6, 2007 at 03:47 PM · howard, since al justice the elder kid has yet to voice his opinion and fmf is probably too busy betatesting his websites, i will step in with some random brain farts...:)

our family does't really have a set philosophy/policy on education...just do the best you can, i guess:). it remains to be a constant, evolving, humbling learning experience for everyone involved, reading here and there, coming to v.com whenever possible for pruning, still struggling to appreciate what violin playing is about and why players spend so much time fighting instead of playing:).

a recent comment to my kid's playing on youtube pretty much captures the challenge and the concern facing all parents who help their kids excel. it goes.. "This may look innocent enough, but while she is brillaint, think how her parents must of pushed her to be at this stage so early? I'm sure there were a lot of tears and sweat inolved. Why not allow her to discover something she loves by herself?

My parents made me play violin at this age, I still hate them for it today ;p"

fundamentally, we agree with the chinese saying...dumber birds need to learn to fly earlier:) we think our kids are of average make-up and if we strive to be of above average, we probably cannot resort to average means. with school, golf, violin, etc, things that require tremendous amount of concentration and hard work, the short cut is to start early, to build stamina, habits and emotional stability. (studies have shown that if you are exposed to dirt and pet animals early in life, the chance of developing allergies is less in adulthood:) it is possible that without guidance one out of a million eventually wins the nobel prize or plays a strad, but that is more fiction than reality imo. we are not lucky enough this lifetime in that department. have to earn it:)

of influence to us:

1. yoyoma's father taught yoyo to play a tough piece of music one measure a day for a year when he was 3 or 4. a great life lesson---everything is difficult initially but nothing is difficult if you are realistic and have patience and a plan. it is really not the kid, but the parents...

2. perlman's saying of "i played every note". i brainwash my kid with that line all day long:) the tendency is to play some of the notes with full conviction and care when we feel like it and others with whatever.

3. perlman's saying of learning to play with a heavier bow arm even to the point of making scratchy sounds. imo, it is smarter to push that limit and then hold back, than the other way around.

4. here is one that has a special place in my heart: lang lang's father once had a confrontation with lang lang before a high pressured competition/recital. his father's suggestion: either you try to play to your potential or you should consider killing yourself. 'nuff said or speechless :):):)

for my kid to learn to play violin is not that difficult once a routine is established, along with a pinch of sweat and the echos of "hey, yo, sista, play every note please". but to draw life lessons out of the violin lessons is something that may be more meaningful and challenging. play well and know why.

December 6, 2007 at 04:37 PM · Howard,

I'm not sure books have been as helpful to me as parental intuition and dedication. Among the books I have on my shelf relating to violin education are Teaching Genius, Nurtured by Love by Shinichi Suzuki and Teaching From the Balance Point by Edward Kreitman. I also have This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin, a very entertaining book. Non-music related books that I have found helpful in child education are the Core curriculum guides and The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. The most important of these is Nurtured by Love as it sets out to show the importance of learning to do something well as a means to develop nobility of character. This philosophical outlook I found very inspiring.

The most helpful advice I ever received on raising musical children has come from Joanne Bath, Suzuki Educator and professor at Eastern Carolina University. For eight years our family attended the Southeastern Suzuki Festival at ECU in Greenville, NC. I attended every parent talk that Joanne Bath gave over those eight years. Joanne has had a very strong effect on my philosophy and approach. I can remember some of her advice almost word for word. One talk she gave was on the importance of praise and I can remember her saying that no child was ever spoiled by a complement. She has an optimism and an enthusiasm that is simply contagious.

I will probably have much more to say on this subject as I continue to think about your question over the next few hours or so. I would refer you to the threads on different teaching styles and on motivating the 10 yr old violinist from the last week or so where this same topic was touched upon.

I would say that the art of educating anyone, especially one's own child, is in observation. You must perceive their present skills and the ideas they are playing with and anticipate their next step so that you can provide the necessary materials and assistance. Where violin education is concerned, the first task is to help the child see himself or herself as a musician. The parent must actively look for the child's ability and affinity for music and show the child where their talent lies. How the child identifies him or herself is far more important than any physical aptitude they may have early on because because it affects persistence which is a key element in success. It is important that the parent be convinced that their child has musical ability as well. In truth, we are all musical beings. This is part of being human.

December 6, 2007 at 06:09 PM · The books mentioned above are good. This is a philosophy question about parenting really. It holds for violin, but many other pursuits as well, as who knows what a 4, 5, or six year old will untimately choose to do with their life. While my children are not recording artists, I am told they are really good by many musicians I respect. Nothing succeeds like success. If a child plays out of tune, get a teacher that helps them fix it. If their note reading is not so great, get a teacher to help. Don't wait. Then they can have all the tools. Now is always the best time to try, not later, not tommorrow.

I think reading books from a young age about people who have overcome adversity help children overcome short term troubles. I often tell stories about my grandfather who was a shepherd in Eastern Europe and how he had such a struggle for the most basic things. There is a big push for "letting kids be kids" in America. I think this is code for indulging children. Don't indulge a child who becomes discouraged and wants to quit. They should only quit to do something more noble and better for themselves or others. Until then, they can practice unless they are curing cancer or doing something really very profound and important. If a child achieves at a young age, I believe they can then taste success and become quite self motivated. It must ultimately become their dream not yours. You can not live through your children. At some point kids need to trust their parents are the leaders and know what they are doing. There is always a reason for what you ask them to do. In my opinion, children should follow parents and a great teacher's example and work to help the family as a whole. My son is proud to be a credit to his family. Keep an eye out for distractions that pull time away. TV and electronic games are OK, but can take up excessive time. They should be reserved for the car ride (sound off for some good listening)

December 6, 2007 at 09:55 PM · Howard,

I looked back at your question again. I don't know if you are a parent of a violinist looking for sources of ideas and inspiration or if your question was mostly out of curiosity something like, "What is it that makes some parents pursue music for their children with such single-minded devotion?" Your question even sort of gets at the old nature vs nurture question.

I can say that some time in my youth I realized I was too old to become the next Peggy Flemming since I didn't start as a young child. I think the idea that certain skills need to be nurtured from a young age stuck with me. I also recall seeing on 60 minutes a show about the Suzuki violin method. So, when my three-year-old asked to play the violin (after seeing Itzhak Perlman on Mr. Rogers) I did think, "Oh, I guess the violin is one of those things that is best started at a young age." I went to the Yellow Pages to find a Suzuki teacher.

The other factor playing into my decision to undertake this challenge with my son, was that I found the age 18 months to 3 years old to be a time of tremendous intellectual growth and energy. Anything seemed possible. I remember telling the teacher "I think he can do this. He's a very smart boy and he gave me a very smart answer when I asked him why he wanted to play the violin." His answer to my question was "Because I like the way the violin sounds by itself and with other violins."

I had a wonderful teaching assistant in one of the biology classes I taught who began violin at an early age and was attending college on a music scholarship. He aspired to become a doctor and is in fact a doctor now. He came over to our home and played Lalo for my 3-yr -old in his black rock T-shirt and plaid flannel. I had never heard anything so awesome as a violin at close range. I was so impressed by his generous sharing of his talent with us. Every year, for four years he came and played a concert in our home and I would feed him lasagna. He was humble, encouraging and enthusiastic. I would say that my teaching assistant definitely inspired me. At the outset I certainly did not think the aim was to create a violinist. The aim was to help my son learn something he wanted to learn and in the process hopefully encourage him to be the generous, bright spirit I saw in my teaching assistant.

I would say that the results I saw in my son also inspired me. He was a little boy in elasticized pants, but he was completely in charge of the process from the start and it was clear that it was his mission and I was the assistant. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a little artist unfold.

I was also inspired by the joy I saw in him and later his younger brother as they began to make music with others. First it was fiddle jam sessions and later it was chamber music. Since he was nine he has played in a quartet with friends. His little brother is now the second violin, replacing the original second violinist when she graduated high school. I get to watch them negotiate, and together find a group sound and best yet my home is filled with music!

My oldest son, who is now 15, recently wrote on his publicity forms for the New York String Orchestra Seminar that he is inspired by Itzhak Perlman, Heifitz and his teacher, Joe Genualdi. I would have to say that I too have been inspired by the great recordings but most of all by the wonderful teachers who have dedicated themselves to my sons' growth as musicians and young men. I am eternally grateful for the love my sons' teachers have brought to their work with my sons.

December 6, 2007 at 10:17 PM · "dumber birds need to learn to fly earlier:"

My comment has already been taken ;)... That's experience talking there.

I'll be playin this darn thing in my walker in a few decades--I just hope I can remember to tighten the bowhair.

December 7, 2007 at 06:01 AM · Hi Jennifer,

I am a violinst/teacher and father of a 14 month old daughter. But I would be asking this question anyway, even if I weren't a father! Being a father just makes it more relevant to me.

I'm enjoying reading all the answers so far!

December 7, 2007 at 01:53 PM · What books on teaching, or learning or educational philosophy would you recommend? What are the major influences that shaped your approach to the education (both musical and non-musical) of your child?

I read a lot about Suzuki and Montessori education when my older children were young, and I was impressed that the two systems in some ways worked in opposition to one another, creating some frustration, especially for my oldest daughter when she was about age six. (She is now a senior at Swarthmore.)

But for me, the most startling influences were writers like Alfie Kohn. With regard to violin, autobiographies and biographies of illustrious performers were also eye-opening. Yehudi Menuhin's autobiography is fascinating for what one reads between the lines.

One of the most startling and life-changing things I read were a series of essays, written in class I was teaching by a student of mine at the time about her experiences with homeschooling (this was the mid-90's.) The books she gave me when I asked for more information fell into the hands of my then-ten-year old, who as a result became a radicalized unschooler and autodidact. Homeschooling is more common now, but in the mid-90's it still seemed like a radical idea. It took some convincing and a leap of faith for me and her father to allow her to take what then seemed like a huge risk. But she left her private, Quaker school after grade six and was primarily responsible for her own education (we, her parents, became facilitators) until age 17 when she went to Swarthmore. During her years of unschooling she actually took a number of university classes, published a lot, and acquired an impressive editorial job, accomplishments she would never have been able to make if she'd remained in traditional school.

Experiences with my oldest daughter's education taught us to be alert, never complacent, and to think creatively. Since then, all four of our daughters (now ages 13 through 21) have spent some of their time outside of traditional school. Whenever something isn't working we try to change it for something that works better. I have found tremendous support in specific, no-nonsense parent listservs, particularly one devoted to the transition of homeschooled kids to university. The exchange of information has been invaluable.

December 7, 2007 at 01:51 PM · Howard,

I apologize for my long replies! My sons are now 13 and 15. Watching them grow as musicians has been the most amazing adventure of my life.

I hope you do undertake the musical journey with your own child and that it brings you as much joy as it has our family.


December 7, 2007 at 02:46 PM · E. Smith,

What a coincidence! My sons both attended a private Quaker school until seventh grade. I have home-schooled them for eighth grade. I also home-schooled one year when we were on sabbatical. The flexible schedule has allowed my 8th grader to devote a lot of time to music theory and composition as well as to his violin. He is currently finishing a string quartet. He plans to attend the North Carolina School of the Arts, a high school boarding school/college/conservatory next year.

December 7, 2007 at 04:09 PM · That's great, Jennifer! We've met a number of talented kids from NCSA and they have all loved it.

My oldest daughter wasn't a serious musician (although she did study a lot of music.) She was more of an academic/writer. Our daughter #3, a violinist, who is now 15 is pretty serious about music. She was homeschooled by choice for a few years (grades 3-5), then went to a private school part-time (I worked out an arrangement with them) through grade 8.

She really wanted to go to a public high school in our city, so she spent grade 9 in a "gifted" magnet school. I was pretty leery about the idea, but she wanted to do this very badly and my feeling was that if I prevented her from tying, she would always look to my decision as preventing her from pursuing her own goals.

As it turned out, the stress at that school was incredible. The school would not cut her any slack for practice, performances, or travel, and we even received a truancy citation from the city (despite her high GPA) because she missed so many days for travel to performances and competitions. She also got sick a lot, probably from all the stress.

This year she decided to try a charter cyber school (which is turning out to be a lot of work, although asynchronous work, so it is manageable with her lessons/practice/travel.) My oldest was a do-it-yourselfer, but #3 really likes being in some kind of academic program. What she'd LOVE would be to attend the Professional Children's School in New York (or something like that), but we live too far away. We thought briefly about boarding school, but dismissed the idea for a number of reasons.

I always try to follow the lead of the child, even though I admit that doing so has occasionally lead us down blind alleys. But, in general, my strategy is to try to help them learn how to make informed choices. That might not be the fastest road to success in classical music, but my hope is that it will help them be stronger, more mature adults in the long run.

December 7, 2007 at 04:29 PM · howard, in the spirit of the holidays, can you, for couple weeks, replace your thinking- man- frozen- in- cyberspace portrait with a pic of your 14- month cutie pie or violinmini? :)

December 7, 2007 at 04:28 PM · I just had one more thought about materials a parent might consider looking into for inspiration regarding early education. The Reggio Emilio schools which originated in Italy following WWII were an effort to bring beauty into the lives of children affected by the tragedies of war. In this way this approach is similar to that of Suzuki's. It is different, however, in that its focus is visual arts and language development. The method involves setting up a visually and spatially interesting environment that is changed on a regular basis, careful teaching of media, lots of exploration and documenting the conversations children have regarding their works and play. My sons' kindergarden teacher was a Reggio Emilio teacher and it was fascinating to me to see.

December 7, 2007 at 07:08 PM · Books around "high achieving kids" should never be overestimated in their effectiveness. Such forum threads can be of greater help as a manifold of personal types and situations will influence the contributions. There is no such thing like a silver bullet helping kids to enjoy their full potential.

I was lucky to have altogether three children and one much younger sister I was looking after in the past. In addition I'been teaching in a high school, a convent and a technical university. Let me summarize a few of my experiences around the "high achieving" phenomenon. From the fairly large sample of young persons whose development I had the pleasure to support (including myself ;-) I have to conclude good news and bad news.

The best news is: There is no such thing like "high achieving kids"; only around 14% of all kids are "low achievers" (by illness, genetics, you name it). The remaining 86% have all the individual attributes needed for "high achieving".

The worst news is: How you treat, help, support and challenge your child during the first 4-5 years of its life decides, whether the 86% will later be able to exploit their potential to the full extent and this with pleasure. And there is no way to make up for negligence during these first years later on, repeat: no way.

So how can we, should we help during these critical first years? Here is a non-exhaustive list of my personal recommendations (for brevity I shall not give too much reasoning here):

1. Make sure the child grows in a quiet environment from the first day on (which means e.g. no barking dogs, adoring relatives, pocket radios, TV sets, thoughtless young kids and other noise producing equipment around).

2. Make sure the kid has got a room (with doors!) for its own.

3. From the first days and weeks on, make sure the child spends enough time alone in the room (behind closed doors) at least once a day and NOT for sleeping purposes, just to dream and play by itself. Stop looking every 5 minutes whether baby is still ok. When the child sees you and smiles at you, it does NOT mean, you didn't disturb its flow of fantasy.

4. As a rule (their are obvious exceptions) NEVER enter a child's room when it's crying. As long as it considers your presence as a kind of reward, you should reward the child for doing, dreaming, fantasizing (you name it) on its own; you enter the room when it was on its own long enough and is still happy. If you reward your child for "calling" you too often, you will become its main entertainer (its real pacifier or deactivator) in no time. Reactivating such a "trained" passive kid is close to impossible.

5. The child's function or role is NOT to entertain you, its your (parents') function to make sure it knows how to entertain itself.

6. Forget all kinds of fictitious "justice". There is no such thing like real justice. Or when your 8 years old "high achiever" needs a 30k$ instrument do you want to explain its "engineering" brother or sister why he/she does not get 30k$ worth of lego bricks? Fights for justice are a waste of energy and potential. There is no justice in performing a Bach solo sonata or sitting in a third orchestra chair or even a leader's position. There is no such thing like justice in music. An easy way not to teach nonsense justice to children is NOT to treat them as equal when bringing back little presents (of equal size...) from business trips from the very beginning. If there are other kids around wait until the first gets a flu and then ask the other ones who volunteers to run around barefoot in the snow until "justice" is done and this kid get its flu, too, finally. Believe me, they will get the point quickly and will not even start to compete on formalities. The most effective way of disturbing, yes, destroying the naturally given power of concentration is by diverting attention away from the "thing" (song, drum, dice, building bricks, doll, dreaming, talking, food even) towards: "Am I getting enough (toys, candy, attention, money, you name it)?" and then crying for justice instead of getting closer and deeper with the "thing".

It means certainly stretching the theme here, but striving for justice is one of the most secure ways to waste your time. Only drugs might be more efficient in their destructive effect. And a child demanding justice will not demand knowledge, capabilities, wisdom, morale as rule; it will tend to become superficial, cheaply to satisfy and barely interested in essence or substance, it will loose its curiosity.


December 7, 2007 at 11:06 PM · If you want a high-achieving kid, be understanding and provide a supportive environment. He'll get a good SAT score. If you want to raise a Beethoven, consider becoming an alcoholic and beating the hell out of the kid now and then...

December 8, 2007 at 12:37 AM · FMF,

Ha! I knew you'd have a very interesting take on this question, and lots of experience to back it up. I see you put my "high achieving" in quotations... I agree it's not the best of terms- perhaps "hard working and ambitious" kids would be better. I also wasn't asking in order to find "the secret" of raising uber-children, though that would be nice! I was really just curious what you and al and others who have really thought deeply about this might have to say and recommend on the subject of child rearing. Speaking of which, more later because my daughter and wife are calling me....


December 8, 2007 at 12:44 AM · Jennifer,

No need to apologize for telling me interesting stuff. So, write on!

December 8, 2007 at 01:32 AM · Thank you, Howard!

E. Smith, thank you also for your encouraging comments regarding NCSA. My older son is currently a sophomore there. Our choice to send him to a boarding school was an especially difficult one, however we had already been commuting to NCSA for his lessons for a couple of years. The choices get harder as they get older and more seems to be at stake. He is very happy there and he seems to be developing well as a violinist even without my supervision, and, hopefully, he is learning some important lessons in independence. I could use lots of advice from parents like you whose children are older than mine. I definitely know what has worked for our family up to this point, but from here on I'm a bit stumped.

Mr. Fischer,

I find your suggestions about the importance of quiet, solitary time to the development of imagination and the ability to be self-entertaining interesting. Is this something you set out purposely to do in advance or something that you feel, looking back might have been important in your daughter's development? Also what prompted you to begin music, specifically the violin, with your daughter?

December 8, 2007 at 05:34 AM · Jennifer,

yes, some quiet, solitary time was set out purposely. Also for me and my sister.

I should have mentioned before that my recommendations are not tailored towards raising violinists at all. Every single child around me (including myself) was able to read (and comprehend at its corresponding level) around its fourth and to write around its fifth birthday. Exception being my son who could read timetables and relate them to the clock before his third. All these kids finished all or some schools earlier than in the plans, e.g. I entered university two years earlier and finished it (with two diplomas) one year earlier than the average student. My son finished technical university earlier and is a gold level ballroom dancer and pretty good pianist.

The first couple of years are all about not to disturb and damage the naturally given power of concentration and fantasy. And also about noticing versus watching and viewing children. I did not meet a single child in my whole life who did not want to read and write at the age of four. Or who did not want some parent to sit with them and read (yes, reading to them while following the words visibly with your fingertips for a few hours at most is all they need!)

If there is music around like someone playing, going to home concerts, also watching it on TV, your child will show and tell you when it wants to play an instrument. And if you have managed not to get too much on its nerves it might even ask you for advice on instrument selection.


"working" is a highly artificial term which parents tend to force on kids. They just do things, discover them, play. "Hard working" has a taste of suffering. But suffering around doing things is subjective and driven by expectation level. For a normal child it can be enough to hear just once from a beloved person: "I want my first million at 40 and then have drinks on Hawaii.", or similiar and it will start suffering pretty soon when improving its violin handling.

Child education is (forgive my the pun) "hard work", because it's all about wording. Why in the world would you even start using "work" or "practice"? What should really happen instead is "improving", "widening", "discovering new ways and sounds" or "making it easier to play".

Don't get me wrong here, I do not believe in 100% controlled, laboratory type environments for raising children. But spontaneity only will definitely lead to showing your kid just how you are all the time instead of supporting it in finding out how it can and wants to be. Pure spontaneity can be very helpful in copying yourself onto the child. Before you start doing this ask yourself, please, whether you are the ideal original first. ;-)


December 8, 2007 at 03:03 PM · FMF, thank you for sharing very candid insights with us. it is refreshing to read postings that have not gone through political correctness filter.

looking back at the prominent violin players in history, we often see prodigies being made in an environment where there is a dominant or influential parental/teacher figure, initiating the process or leading the way. some kids continue to grow, some don't. some eventually become themselves, some don't. i wonder if you can shed some light on this issue and share with us your opinions. thanks

December 8, 2007 at 03:51 PM · Political correctness: is this newspeak for "bending the truth"?

I can't tell you a lot about creating prodigies as I do not believe in this prodigy concept at all (remember the 86 or so percent?).

A child will almost for certain excel in many areas if you offer lots of options long enough instead of focusing on some rather narrow carrier path. The child has to feel all the time that it can change its path practically whenever it feels like it. Just some reasons for changing should be questioned heavily. Most youngsters change their minds frequently hoping to get more results with less effort. In a society where the ultimate paradies means lots of leasure time, it's difficult to keep a child focused on curiosity and depth of discovery.

One should teach a child as early as only possible that being accepted, even admired by others is of no value as such at all. Help the child finding out, what are the characteristics of people who deserve your child's attention, whose recognition is important. Encourage your child to stay away from low class, animal type classmates; mingling with them is just a waste of time.

Animal type children are the ones driven (I wouldn't call it "educated") by their parents towards physical competitiveness: run faster than the others, hit harder, outpace horses and dogs even. In summary: save your brains for whatever (graveyard worms?) and go for more or less brainless body development because you will get public recognition much faster since everybody can realize who is the faster runner. But only a few are able to realize who are faster thinkers, more creative performers or real problem solving inventors.

This approach is by no means anti-social. Your child needs to understand that low class, animal types will need its support, capabilities and ressources later on, latest when their bodies are not competitive anymore. Feeling responsible for such types means helping them, helping their parents, but not by creating illusions about their genuine value to society.

Sports, clearly, are important for health and endurance, maybe even some subjective beauty and marketibility reasons. But I advise against using sports for boosting self-confidence; if you outpace another person you are not a better human being. You are just a faster runner than some. And a poor fellow compared with a cheetah or a swift. What sets you really apart is your brain and soul power. This needs development and challenge. Through this you will be able to give your child strength and stability for the whole life.


December 8, 2007 at 04:43 PM · i agree that a healthy body is necessary to support the brain and soul power and that competition at extremes, be it physical/sport/music/dog show, is not necessarily healthy. in classical music, it has served as a shortcut to get noticed. the system is not perfect and it is up to the participants to recognize that and navigate accordingly.

my kids participate in sports since very young. looking back, i think the experiences have been more positive than negative, mingling with animals or not. of things that are of benefit, the one that stands out is the ability to handle loss in a competitive environment. i am very sure my kids will not end up as prof musicians, but i am sure they will enter fields where the pursuit of excellence will be the motto. i think music and sports have continued to provide them with good life lessons on different levels. we would like to raise kids that can relate to people from all walk of life, to understand or even accept others' differences, not necessarily agreeing with them.

here is a link to a description of physical education:


December 8, 2007 at 06:23 PM · Get out a nice long whippy stick... Russian style. They'll fall into line.

December 8, 2007 at 06:57 PM · There are about ten or so qualities that define success in life, and they are a balancing act more complex than violin to implement. The ten are attitudes, directions, and self-disciplines not-unlike violinmasterclasses layered virtuous moments.

self esteem

self control

self direction

self dimension

self discipline

self awareness


Obviously seeing things this way comes down on the nurture side of the house. But taken together, they help set limits, while keeping one's life moving forward positively.

Benjamin Franklin saw personal development not as nurturing things that one can do, but disciplining one's self towards things 'not to do'. Of course he failed, in the battles, but more obviously won the war--without even realizing it.

Being resilient in the face of the realities of life, is a matter of building on the positive values and qualities, and meaning it. To M. Franklin: "Don't worry Ben, those French ladies do look good".

High achievement boils down to being able to say: 'God, I screwed up', but, I can and do, and most

importantly will, expect much better from myself--not only in words, but consistent persistent

action. Thus it's about having the tools and abilities, to craft a life.

December 8, 2007 at 10:36 PM · FMF, If I may, I would guess your kids were born with a trait that requires quiet surroundings when growing up. According to some studies about 20% newborns produce higher level of cortisol and easily overstimulated. Quiet environment benefits those kids greatly. However, for most kids I believe consistent supply of moderate stimulation is far more beneficial.

I also noticed your remark about pointing words as you read to kids helping them learn to read. When I used to read to my daughter, both my daughter and I were too engaged in stories, it really never occurred to me to point words to teach her to read. We were too busy following stories and looking at illustrations. A parent pointing words to their 2-3 year olds to teach seems quite driven in my way of thinking. But I have to admit my "prodogy" is high achieving mostly in finding giggles.


December 9, 2007 at 05:00 AM · Ihnsouk,

clearly there is not even the slightest chance to avoid the "supply of stimulation" for most children today. The problem I was trying to address is to keep it on a moderate level at all.

About reading: It's the child who typically wants to know how to read around its fourth birthday. Provided it has seen some reading people around. And I would definitely refuse to call it driving, even when asking a child: "How about you, wouldn't you like to be able to read, too?" in case the child does not come up with this idea on its own.

How many parents have you seen telling children who explicitely wanted to know how to do things: "You will learn that later, in school." or "You are still too little for that."? Are we really so naive to believe our school system gives the right timing for the education of our children? When it's driven by budget constraints, teacher lobbies and - most important these days in most Western countries - parent lobbies, who just love the idea of public institutions "babysitting", giving parents more "freedom" for very selfish reasons?

Reading can be seen as a kind of equivalent to guns. Have some other kids (or adults) running around with guns and your child will want to operate one, too, pretty early.

Same holds true for taking drugs of any kind in front of little children; they'll consider it 100% natural, a kind of food. You should not not just only hide the pills but also not show children pill eating habits unless the child is able to realize the person is sick even without the signal of taking drugs. How many adults do we all know, who try to reap the attention benefits of being sick by eating pills visibly? Do we own enough stock in pharmaceuticals to spend our precious time bringing the next drug consuming generation up to speed?

BTW I had and have no idea how my son managed to read figures at the age of three. I had certainly no part in this.


December 9, 2007 at 05:14 AM · Interesting question, from which I infer a perspective totally different from my own.

I don't even think of books or pedagogy for raising my children. I think of my own childhood, what I know and don't know, what their interests and aspirations are, what their strengths and weaknesses are and of course what I think they aught to do ; I cannot avoid shaping their direction. I've never read a "parenting" book; I don't see the point. Instead, I stay on top of my own interests, and try not to waste all my time on vcommie.

Oh and I must add: my children teach me how to parent, and they also teach me new things. Parenting is symbiosis. It is too dynamic to be pedantic.

December 9, 2007 at 05:12 AM · I guess my goal in parenthood is to raise my children into well-rounded, well-adjusted adults.

My children go to public school. They play sports. They read in their rooms before they go to sleep every night. They don't watch T.V. on weekdays; they do their homework. They DO watch T.V. on Saturday mornings. They play their musical instruments reasonably well for their age. They go on play dates. They can be precocious, they can be "childish." They are children. They make A LOT of noise! I love them, and I spend time with them. So does Robert.

I have no idea how they will "turn out," whatever that means. But my hope is that they each find their passion, that they be a positive member of their community, that they find contentment in their work, their relationships and their hobbies. I have faith that they will.

When it comes to being "gifted and talented" (and at least one of mine is officially identified as such, the other isn't old enough) it seems that such a child needs balance, nurture, time, room to grow into it all. Such a child is already driven, don't drive the child over the edge.

My two cents, and I present it with humility. Being a parent is humbling! As the saying goes, "I was the best parent in the world, until I had children!"

December 9, 2007 at 07:38 AM · Laurie,

Based on this thread, you're the only parent I'd want to have.

Let kids be kids. Many of the most successful people in life were not micromanaged. There's nothing sadder than average, healthy, normal kids, being turned into neurotic shut ins by parents with delusions of grandeur.

December 9, 2007 at 07:43 AM · Pieter, the world is changing vastly. I really--really, want to agree, but I also want my kids to in the future to have darn near survival technique for survival--I remember "The Good Ole Days" -and- families.

December 9, 2007 at 01:52 PM · I really like the idea of quiet time to oneself, and I had a lot of that as a kid. I have no memory of learning to read; my parents tell me that I learned to read aloud when I was 2 and taught myself to read silently soon thereafter, and kept myself occupied by reading long before starting school.

But I will also say that my personal experience in the academic and especially work worlds is that quiet reflection is not particularly valued there, nor is the work environment set up to allow for it. Emphasis is on productivity, ability to "get things done," "multitasking," presentation, communications and social skills. Despite my early reading abilities, high IQ, and Ivy League degrees, I have struggled with all of the above since graduating from school.

So with my kids I've felt that a few things were more important than learning to read when they are 2. They are doing more athletics than I ever did, for example, but with an emphasis on competing with themselves and going at their own pace. I agree with FMF that sports are primarily for health and discipline reasons and for learning about teamwork. I don't really value "elite" sports. And since my kids have my athletic genes, I don't think they're in any danger of ever having to consider any kind of career in sports anyway.

The other thing that I wish I had developed more of, sooner, when I was growing up and hence am trying to impart to my kids, is a sense of how big and how diverse the world is. I often had tunnel vision in which school was my whole world. The lessons of "you win some, you lose some" took too long to sink in because I thought there were only a few opportunities in life, and if you missed those you were out of luck. It was very hard for me to bounce back from setbacks when I thought the stakes were so high. I was embarrassingly old before it occurred to me that there were, literally, billions of people for whom the math test I was stressing about, or the kid who'd been mean to me in school, just didn't matter.

My alumni magazine, the Princeton Alumni weekly, had an interesting article about college admissions this week. One admission officer is quoted as saying that "we've made admission to college into the most important thing in a person's life." If he's talking about some US affluent suburbs, he's right. And this is just crazy.

Since my husband is German and we enjoy travel, we're exposing our kids to other cultures and other experiences different from the standard US model as much as we can. We don't reject the standard US model--they also go to public school, and they watch TV. But I think there's something important about being able to swim in this stream but also know that this isn't all there is.

Finally, I think that it's very helpful to expose kids to mixed-age environments as much as possible, whether it's in school or church or a music group or whatever. Too much of the class/peer mentality leads, in my opinion, to an overthinking of what's "normal" and to an unhealthy type of competition. There seems to be a trend in the US that I really don't like, of segregating people by age more and more. I'm fighting this trend with what I do with my kids. I want them to know babies, teens, young adults, middle-aged adults and senior citizens, not just kids similar to themselves.

Thanks, E. Smith, for all those homeschooling references. My daughter is happy right now in public school, but I've been wondering if I'm going to be needing those in a few years!

December 10, 2007 at 12:50 AM · I agree with the posts about telling children they should learn things "later". Intonation for example. Why are so many children allowed to progress while playing really out of tune. This seems cruel. There is a mysterious balance between what we consider "talent" and the "effort...to get talent". Ask anyone who is good at anything and odds are good they have spent an exceptional amount of time on acquiring their skills. Good intonation comes from working on intonation. Being predisposed to a particular talent does not preclude others from learning as much. It may just take longer.

Children can be very philosophical and unfortunately it is often adults with low expectations that hold them back. I believe children must be taught to concentrate as a discreet skill. Then they can sustain interest longer on any number of subjects and achieve more, and gain great satisfaction from their accomplishments. It is interesting how children don't really recognize limitations until they are told they exist. So too in music probably. Therefore they need to be surrounded by fine ideas, people, and experiences. If their experiences are course, then the result will be a course individual in many cases. If a child likes music and can become conscious of themself as a creative person, then it would follow they could achieve through their own choice. Not to be confused with genius however. Too many people think achievement is tied to genius. I think it is tied to sustained effort. Many "geniuses" I believe just found their passion younger than most people. My friend who many consider a genius (not in music), told me that "there is one genius born every hundred years...it is just a ton of work for the rest of us."

December 10, 2007 at 01:27 PM · FMF, Pointing to words while reading to kids is a totally different mindset from answering questions following kids' lead. The one is driven and the other nurturing, not that being driven excludes nurturing.

I don't really understand what they mean when people say reading at a certain age. Wouldn't they first have to define what reading is? Is it reading a word or a sentence? What kind of words, What kind of sentence? Is it a mechanical reading or a comprehensive reading? Do we say a kid is reading if they read one or two letter words or not until they read a sentence or a paragraph and understand what it mean? It seems that depending on the definition of reading, the reading age could differ quite a bit for the same child.


December 10, 2007 at 02:07 PM · This is getting too abstract for my taste. Why would it be "driving" when following words visibly? The only way not "driving" would then be to blindfold the child while reading to it to be sure it will not be able to figure the connection between written and spoken language too early?

And who cares whether reading at its first stage is more mechanical (whatever that might mean) and later on more comprehensive? As you might see from this thread comprehending is subjective to great extent. Should there be comprehension test before a child can be introduced to reading? Frankly, I am getting lost here.

In case you want to define a reading standard then write down "Chocolate is on the kitchen table for you!", give the text to the child and if it takes off to the kitchen it can read.


December 10, 2007 at 02:09 PM · Karen,

I like what you have to say about the weight of your values in the decisions you have made in raising your children to be citizens of the world. I think that we all make decisions of this sort in raising children. In addition there is an interplay between the specific natures of the child and the path the parent chooses.

I have always valued simplicity and felt I wanted to minimize the influence of popular culture on my children. I am an ecologist and I wanted my children to know nature. For this reason we live out in the country a bit and my children spent a lot of time in the woods making forts, finding salamanders and snakes etc...I wanted them to value creative and intellectual pursuits. I wanted them to be industrious rather than passive, so we have minimized TV and do not own any computer games. I have brought them into the field with me as well as the lab. We have good microscopes at home, pets and an aquarium. When they were younger I kept lots of tape and construction materials and they spent lots of time making large sculptures and machines out of these materials. I also wanted them to know beauty, to be ethical and philosophical and I read to them anything I found compelling or beautiful long before they were able to read.

I have a friend who is an artist and filmmaker. She simply bathes her children in popular culture. She values the ability to produce works with popular appeal. Her son is witty, energetic, creative and clever. Mine are industrious, widely read, and play the violin well. Who is to say who is right?

December 10, 2007 at 03:08 PM · If you can't see beauty in sport, how can you appreciate beauty in music?

If you consider hockey to be callous and barbaric, but adore ballet, are you a hypocrite?

If a child likes running fast, shouldn't she be encouraged?

If a child enjoys competition is that a bad thing?

If a child hates competition is that a good thing?

Think carefully about these questions.

December 10, 2007 at 04:38 PM · Bilbo, you probably didn't direct those questions at me, but I feel like answering anyway. I have thought about questions such as you posed, but I don't think the answers taught me very much.

I did say that I don't value "elite" sports and I talked about "an unhealthy type of competition," but I was careful not to dismiss globally either sports or competition as not valuable, and that's unfortunately the type of thinking that those questions you posted seemed to be getting at.

I was uncoordinated and klutzy as a kid, and because I started early and skipped a grade, was 2 years ahead of my peers in school. I was kind of a late bloomer anyway, a lot smaller than my classmates, and that made gym class basically a recurring nightmare. I missed out on a lot of valuable sports lessons because of that, and I want my kids to have a different experience. My daughter does sports (soccer and karate); we both enjoy these activities and they enhance our lives.

What prompted my comment about my not valuing "elite" sports is largely what I see in the US media, and, to some extent, around me as a parent. Kids are specializing so early and practicing particular sports so much and so hard that they are burning out early and injuring themselves. Parents with young kids in travel leagues are driving long distances (1 hr and greater each way) to games on weekends--essentially giving over their family time to attending youth sporting events. And with the sports pages bringing us a new adult scandal every day, whether it's steroid use or NCAA recruiting violations or blood doping or animal abuse or appalling graduation rates for minority athletes, I just don't see the evidence that competing in sports *at that elite level* (as opposed to at a level where there aren't high-stakes money, power, prestige, or college scholarships involved) makes anyone a better person or contributes anything particularly positive to society.

In that vein, I don't think it's particularly helpful to approach music (or child-rearing) like an elite sport. Better more like an amateur sport--one in which the athlete does it for the love of the game and in which winning is of secondary importance.

December 10, 2007 at 05:43 PM · karen, you went to elite schools and have a career in an elite field and play not one but 2 elite instruments, violin and viola, how dare you say that you do not like elite sports? lol, just kidding.

really, what is your definition of elite sports?

i can imagine you will not find dog fighting appealing, but i would like to try to turn you on to watermellon seed spitting contests:)

December 10, 2007 at 05:48 PM · People who do it just for the love of the game are never any good.

December 10, 2007 at 05:50 PM · so pieter, do you play violin for the love of it? :)

December 10, 2007 at 06:16 PM · ". The child has to feel all the time that it can change its path practically whenever it feels like it."

I would welcome some feedback on a question, whether from Frank-Micheal or others.

My son started violin a little over a year ago. His intonation is excellent as is his memory. He learns quickly. For some reason he's now decided he'd like to quit violin. It takes some effort to practice daily (and no, I don't make him practice for hours, usually it's over in 15 minutes or so unless he wants to play something over again).

I think he finds it a little uncomfortable to hold the violin (he's slim and both of us find the metal bits on the chin rest create a 'mark' and it hurts after a while). Another part of the reason may be that some older kids saw him coming home with the violin and laughed at him (he's now 9).

So do I let him give up? Or gently encourage him to keep trying and praise him when he plays well?

I'm asking because I'm tired of battling at times.

I'm continuing for now because I think it would be a shame to just throw away a gift because of laziness or someone else's foolishness.

What do people think?

December 10, 2007 at 06:34 PM · The point is I don't think "elite" sports are any different from music. If you've ever gone to some of these summer festivals or pre-college at a conservatory and met the families of some of these young music boxes you'll see that what they do is easily as time consuming, involved, and costly as a family with a kid in sports.

To be good at anything these days requires a whole lot of things to conspire together. That's the nature of it. Frankly, I don't know of anyone who is really good at Sports or violin who didn't make a lot of sacrifices and who has not suffered some anguish over it. There's a few people from my childhood who are pro-athletes in well televised sports, and I also know people who are now starting to experience an international music career. If you aren't really playing to win, you just won't be any good. That's reality.

December 10, 2007 at 06:35 PM · Bernadette,

there might be more to the problem than some "chin marks" and other kids teasing. Email me your phone number and we can discuss the matter. (My phone calls to North America, Europe, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are free.)

A minor issue: these marks shouldn't even show up; your son's violin teacher (is it you?) has to know how achieve the proper posture.


December 10, 2007 at 07:01 PM · Bernadette,

You are 100% correct. It would be a shame to quit. Quit only for the right reasons. While your son is normal to want to quit, ask him if he wants to be like these boys. They tease...that is what they do. Him quitting violin will not change them. Quitting will not please these boys. Don't let him give his power away to these bullies! They will tease about something else if that is their nature. A great opportunity exists however, for him to learn about delayed gratification. Go to the violin maker and get a custom set up if need be. It may take a while, but don't quit because of something that you can fix. Violin gets difficult, and the logical thing is to quit. He must be taught that violin is a vehicle to his personal growth and development. Quit only when he has found something else that is a true passion. Some children have a passion for sports, music, chess, math, or writing. What if every time things are difficult, we quit? There is no easy way in violin or anything else. Now is a good time to have this discussion. My son wanted to quit and take trombone of all things. I told him he could take trombone, and if he applied himself to the trombone, he could quit violin. Well a few weeks later, he was all jazzed up about his new violin piece and forgot about trombone. He never took a trombone lesson. He realized the trade off he would have to make. Starting all over. The nature of childhood is a bit a foolishness. Parents have the job as teacher and care giver. Consider using the violin as a metaphor for life and teaching him why developing a work ethic is important. Most of our children will not be professional musicians, but who cares? Maybe the journey is valuable by itself. There is much to be learned here and children will be better people for applying themselves. After overcoming the challenge of a particular piece, who knows, he may like it again.

December 10, 2007 at 06:56 PM · Karen:

Not pointed at you; just thought-provocation.

I agree about the injury problem but developing a specialty isn't so bad. If you really love something, you want to do that a lot. There's just plenty of meathead parents. Always have been and always will be. It was just as bad when I was a kid. I remember them very clearly (the meathead parents of other people).

December 10, 2007 at 07:06 PM · j kingston, that is a great answer, but i take exception to this line "The nature of childhood is a bit a foolishness.". i think adults as compared to kids are relatively much more "foolish". kids are being kids reacting to social pressure which is totally understandable because they do not know better yet.

pieter, i appreciate the sentiment of that post. indeed that is the reality when you talk about the "game" at the very high level that you were referring to that many others either do not understand or do not want to acknowledge. what we have here is that on one hand, we idolize great music by great musicians and on the other hand, we preach that just do it for the love for it, as if that is all it takes, without realizing/acknowledging the other side of the coin: what happens when the going gets tough and that "love" is being challenged.

December 10, 2007 at 07:36 PM · Hah! ONLY people who do it for the love of the game are any good! But not if they don't work at it.

December 10, 2007 at 08:16 PM · Laurie, sorry, but you're wrong. You think great violin players don't consider the business and do a lot of stuff they wouldn't normally want to do so they can play what they want? Being a great musician is absolutely no different to being good as a lawyer or a politician. There has to be ego in there, and there has to be tenacity, because it's a business like any other, one that has fewer and fewer places.

Please, don't be naive. I'm sure that every great violinist absolutely loves music, but there's a lot of things they have to put up with that have nothing to do with it. There's also wanting to be the very best, which is why they reach that level. I do know a number of violinists at very high levels who actually can't stand it anymore and just do it as a job.

December 10, 2007 at 08:09 PM · Ironically, to the extent it isn't or is, teasing peers, are one of the realities to be overcome to be a high achiever. And how it is handled is important as well, though I'm not saying that's the case with yours Bernadette.

Developing positive self esteem, is not a reactionary thing--it is a recipe of several things. Embrace it, feel it--refocus, re-inspire, re-direct, and move on.

December 10, 2007 at 08:29 PM · Pieter, when did anyone deny the existence of business and non-musical crap in a violinist's career? The issue at hand is the fundamental question "why do you play the violin?" If you aren't playing basically and fundamentally for the love of music, then something's wrong.

December 10, 2007 at 10:44 PM · Allow me to blunt it out then; Talking about reading at a certain age in my opinion reveals more of the speaker than reading at an early age or not. Reading is broad knowledge that takes some time to accomplish. Much like learning a piece of music. The fact that some people choose to pinpoint the certain time that reading is acquired shows the person is quite intent on achieving a goal, a hallmark of a competitive trait. Nothing wrong with being competitive except when the same person speaks against competitiveness in the same paragraph.

I personally do not view competition bad. As children grow, I understand that it comes when they measure themselves against others, developing stronger sense of self, or individuation. Schools incorporate this developmental pattern in their way of grading, making greater differentiations each advancing year. That'll be hard to replicate it in a homeschooling environment.


December 10, 2007 at 10:57 PM · Pieter,

One does not suffer through all the rest if one does not love it. The love of the music, the love of the sport, the love of the research, the love of whatever it is you do; that's what gives you the will to drive through all the other b.s.!


December 10, 2007 at 11:11 PM · double Amen.

December 10, 2007 at 11:35 PM · Yea Laurie, I agree and I used to think totally like that until this summer when I actually spent a lot of time and became good friends with people who actually have a chance at a career.

This is a topic I've been thinking a lot about because someone I am friends with brought up this point that musicians (and even moreso their parents) think that being a pro musician is this high calling and is somehow special over everything else. I just thinkt that sometimes we get carried away with this whole thing, and to me, the best players I know have a ton of realism in their approach and not nearly as much idealism as I see here.

What I'm trying to say is that a lot of people who are very capable violinists could quite likely be highly successful and competitive at other things. If you have a really talented kid, I think it's important that they might be hell bent on the violin because it's incredibly difficult and highly competitive, not just because, or even at all because of this great love of music. It's wanting to be incredible at SOMETHING that drives more people than you think, not always this grand philosophical ethos that some like to suggest. With this helicopter parent society, there's quite a few talented kids who end up doing a career just because they're good at it, not necessarily because they really love it.

As for me, I love music and that's why I'm in it. I know for a fact I'd be far better off career wise in other places but this is what I love to do.

December 10, 2007 at 11:50 PM · Albert,

Ultimately I don't really know what it is. It could even be a bit of manipulation - trying to assert himself or get his own way in something - and knowing violin is something I care about . I don't know how to get to the bottom of it and get him to tell me. Perhaps he doesn't know how to verbalize it himself. It could be as simple as wanting an easy life - friends, computer games - none of his peers plays violin. Two of his friends play piano, and he expressed a desire to start that as well. We had hoped he would be able to start from September with the teacher who was teaching us music theory, but he suddenly left to go to England and hasn't been back since. Because of that good relationship we wanted to wait and see if he would be back soon (we were led to believe he would be). Our violin teacher has had to take over his piano students as well as having her own. So no theory lessons - no time (and I know he liked that chap and misses him for one) but I couldn't ask our violin teacher to start teaching my son piano since the lady is seriously over stretched as it is. She plays with a chamber group five days a week then teaches, she has no life practically as is.

I do wonder too how it would be if piano suddenly started getting more difficult. Whether he would then want to start something else. We'll wait a little longer and then explore other possibilities.

December 10, 2007 at 07:35 PM · I sense a flame war coming on, and I don't have time for one today (or ever, really), so I will try to compose my thoughts specifically in response to Al, Pieter, and Bilbo, with the point that I think we will probably end up just having to agree to disagree.

Al, I don't have a thorough definition of "elite" sports, but I took a stab at it in the earlier post: sports where there are high-stakes money, power, prestige, or college scholarships involved.

I take issue with the claim that people who don't "play to win" aren't "any good." There is a huge range, and sometimes a degree of overlap, between major recording stars, working pros, serious amateurs, students, and beginners. People throw around a lot of harsh words on this site about major recording stars, and I agree that in their case, taking criticism is part of the job, but this is not a thread about major recording stars, this is a thread about child-rearing. People can call Vanessa Mae's music "garbage," and say that Andre Rieu "isn't any good" all they want, but I still maintain that "people who don't play to win aren't any good" is not an appropriate idea to foist on children. Especially not by their parents.

When I'm saying that I don't think music should be approached like an Olympic sport, it's more of a utopian ideal of mine than anything I see reflected in the real world. I'm sure that plenty of people do approach music (and child-rearing) like an Olympic sport. Since this is a thread about approaches to childrearing, and opinions, what I'm doing is questioning whether that particular approach is good for music or for children. Sports as a field has gone a bit further along this hyper-specialized route than music, and the direction it's headed in doesn't look very good to me. Pretty soon only steroid-addled, genetically modified super-athletes who started their sport in the womb will be considered "any good." And the rest of us will be stuck in the stands munching on hotdogs (if we haven't stopped paying attention and gone for a run).

I don't completely disagree with Bilbo that finding a specialty can be valuable. But I think it's only valuable for some people, and it also depends on the level of specialization and on the individual. Some people are specialists, some are generalists. I think there is, or should be, room for all kinds. This is where the individuality of the child comes in.

I was a competitive swimmer in high school. This was back in the dark ages when there was a swimming "season" and it was okay to not swim during some part of the year, especially when there were 4 feet of snow on the ground. When I look back on my high school swim team (which wasn't "any good"), it's not the win-loss record I remember or care about. I remember the people I got to know, I remember the times I did my personal best. I remember the time I swam harder than I ever had before, had the whole team cheering for what ended up a 3rd-place finish, and had to be pulled out of the pool by one of my teammates because my arms were so weak and tired. I want my kids to be able to have experiences like that. But nowadays if they go to a school with a team that's "any good," full of recruited scholarship athletes, they're unlikely to even get a chance to play.

I liked swimming--still do, for that matter--I liked going fast, I liked swimming faster than other people and winning ribbons, on the rare occasions that happened. But I liked playing the violin too. And I liked science, and skiing, and a bunch of other things. And there was a time and a season for each of those pursuits. It wasn't all swimming all the time. Maybe one is more likely to appreciate that kind of relationship with time and season more as one grows older, but I don't think it's necessarily lost on all children, either.

December 11, 2007 at 12:52 AM · Ms. Allendoerfer,

You've done multiple degrees at Princeton. You realize that there's a lot of prestige, power and money that is involved there too, right? I'm sure you're also quite aware of the fact that thousands of kids were absolutely crushed when they received the little envelope in the mail, and you, were absolutely giddy with excitement when you got the big one. You have benefited as much from high level competition as anyone in sports or music.

All the things you listed in elite sports exist in elite violin playing. I don't necessarily disagree with you, but I don't think I'd ever prevent my kids from thinking competitively. Granted, I am with you that if you can have fun while you work on something difficult and competitive, you'll be all the better. I loved to play sports as a kid and was on a lot of different teams. I played to win but I also knew that it was for fun. The kids I know of playing pro tennis and making money in the NHL certainly didn't do it just for fun. In fact, their parents had to force them along the way.

If you ever want them to go to Princeton like you did, (and now is harder than ever to get in), then they'll definately have to think competitively.

December 11, 2007 at 02:26 AM · I think that all children need a loving and nurturing environment. They look for direction from their parents. It is essential that a parent is around for them, especially when they are young to expose them to literature, music, and art. Kids are curious, anxious to please, and very resourceful. They should have opportunities to hear music and go to museums and should be given opportunities to express themselves. Television, Movies, computer games, and the more decadent trappings of modern culture are like poison to a young child. It is amazing the artistic and creative things kids can do with simple materials when forced to turn to their imagination to entertain themselves.

I also think it is important to consider that all children are like sponges but develop at a different pace and have different talents and aptitudes. Both my daughters studied violin but one was more focused and compliant when it came to practice and is now studying at a music conservatory. The other gained much from her violin studies but eventually turned away from violin to pursue visual arts. Both seem to be thriving in their respective endeavors.

The athletic and sports thing was never pushed upon them but one of my kids loves to play tennis. I always thought of sports as a fun outlet, but except as a way to exercise was always ambivalent about it's value beyond that. I'm not sure why it is important to be able to hit a baseball or be able to put a golf ball in a hole. These kind of activities take a unique, specialized, and almost useless talent that seems to appeal to mans more basic and primeval instincts. I don't understand why our culture puts so much emphasis on sports. Even though I sometimes enjoy watching football on TV I would much rather see a violin recital. Unfortunately football games out number violin recitals 20000 to 1.

December 11, 2007 at 02:12 AM · michael, if one of your daughters had decided to hit tennis balls as a profession, or become a movie director, TV programmer or a computer game designer, because of all things she enjoys that the most, do you have a problem with that?

December 11, 2007 at 02:02 AM · Pieter,

I think you're off a bit on this- I've known at least a few really wonderful violinists who haven't given up everything to play and have a career. I remember my teacher Charlie Castleman telling me once that the entire time he was concertizing as a kid, he never practiced more than two hours a day. Oh, and he also got into Harvard, and got 1590 on his SAT's (ten points shy of a perfect score). How does someone like that fit into your theory?

My point in starting this thread was NOT to get a bunch of "how to make your child a genius" books, but a deeper look at what kinds of influences people like FMF had and brought to bear on the task of helping their children be the best they could be in their chosen fields. Behind this, of course, is the assumption that all else being equal, it's better to be able to do stuff well, than not well. If that's "driving" your child, then so be it.

December 11, 2007 at 02:13 AM · Well I didn't say that a child should pursue something for his/her PARENT's love of it. ;)

They have to be allowed enough flexibility to find their passion but be taught enough discipline along the way to know that mastering something takes more than a passing interest. This is a very difficult line for any parent to walk. For example, it's very hard to know the difference between a child totally resisting the violin and just being ambivalent about practicing.

But yes, I've certainly run into professional violinists and teachers who seemed to have arrived at their profession mostly by strong inertia, then arrive at adulthood, rather puzzled over what their lives are supposed to be and ill-equipped to choose a direction, having never done so in childhood or young adulthood. But I suppose this can be true in any profession! (ie. the child pushed to be a doctor, who really just wants to be a furniture maker..)

December 11, 2007 at 02:44 AM · I think that a child should'nt be pushed into anything. Children should be exposed to a multitude of things. Their interests should be supported by their parents. If the one that took tennis lessons had the gumption and talent to pursue it as a career I would have fully supported her. No doubt however that an involved parent has some influence on his children.

December 11, 2007 at 02:48 AM · A question for FMF that might be more interesting and instructive is simply what does he attribute Julia's success to.

December 11, 2007 at 02:55 AM · I would guess that Julia has an amazing natural talent and focus, and that her father gave her the opportunity and support to succeed from an early age. It would be interesting to me if Mr. Fischer concurs with this.

December 11, 2007 at 04:59 AM · Howard,

I must say that sometimes I wonder whether or not you even read what I post.

When, at any point in time did I say that someone couldn't do 2 things at once? Mr. Castleman is actually pretty common. I know quite a few people going to top universities who are good at other things. A lot of good violinists do well in school. (As an aside, I think it's kind of sad he told you his SAT score. Who does that?)

What I said was that some talented violinists would be good at a lot of things - piano, golf, fly fishing, studying etc... so it doesn't really matter what it is, it's almost interchangeable. The mere fact that they chose to play violin doesn't represent this profound, deep love for music. A lot of them don't have anything besides violin CDs. That's not a love of music.

December 11, 2007 at 04:50 AM · I think Ihnsouk is visualizing a different process than FMF (and I) actually experienced, since he may not have been through it. Rather than a high-stakes, stage-parent "reading lesson", my mom just traced along collegially as she read to me, as if a courtesy.

Children soak in stories like sponges, so this makes reading the most natural thing in the world, like learning to walk. You learn the story, and here are the words. Far more natural than the agonizing process most kids go through, in my opinion - like Suzuki vs. starting in middle school.

But you might have to deal with an appalled principal the first day of school. :-)

December 11, 2007 at 03:00 AM · So far in this thread we have talked or written a lot about what a family can do to nurture music in their home and in general encourage creativity and intellectual growth. There have also been lots of comments about the parent who promotes (or even pushes) a more intense or competitive approach to the violin. I'm quite sure "pushing" is not healthy and is probably not effective in the long run. Like others who have written in, I also know of cases where kids have gone on to conservatory and some even go on to graduate school in music only to realize they were doing it to please their families. I also know of many others who were flexible and confident enough to try something different (medical school, law school, engineering...) after discovering their ability was insufficient for them to have the career in music they had dreamed of.

The problem is for the parent to know how far to go in supporting their child in music. How intense should one let it get? How much should the family sacrifice? When might it be appropriate to move the family simply for the child to have better opportunities (for example Juilliard pre-college or early admission to Curtis)? Do you put your child at some serious disadvantage if you choose not to do these things?

I would guess that most parents do not set out to create a violinist, but sometimes it becomes evident that they have a child with a special aptitude or that their child is self-driven to specialize in music. There are wonderful generalists out there with many interests and talents and I am guessing it is probably a worry for parents as these generalists work out careers. It has been quite evident for several years that my oldest child is a specialist and I can tell you I have had many, many sleepless nights as a result. I have periods where I feel things are in place and that my child is in the right place and in the right hands, but the needs are continually changing as he grows in ability and independence, and to complicate matters the stakes get higher. At the moment I feel a bit stumped. It seems like an awesome responsibility and I do not wish to make a mistake. I am not a musician and I often find myself saying "Oh, this is what happens next!" First when he played his first full solo recital, then each time he won a competition and soloed with and orchestra, etc...

I often hear "Aren't you proud?" This is not exactly the emotion I have regarding my son's ability. I would say "awed" and perhaps "terrified", but not necessarily "proud" since I don't feel it has been my achievement, although I can in great detail tell you what I have done in an effort to support him thus far. It is as if something truly unexpected dropped out of the sky into my lap.

I only relate this because there may be parents out there who will recognize their own situation in this story and may find it to be a comfort.

December 11, 2007 at 10:24 AM · I don't know how much of high achievement in children can be attributed to parenting and how much goes to the child's inherent desire to achieve, but something back there sure made me an achiever (exactly how high of an achiever is up for debate).

My parents both did a lot of things themselves, and their enthusiasm naturally rubbed off on me and my two brothers.

My mother stayed at home with us, and although we were public schooled, I can't think of much that the public school did to inspire high achievement. But it was my mother who taught me to bake, and gave us homemade playdough, and took us to the library weekly. She read to us at night and sent us off to sleep with her own piano playing into our dreams. And in the day, she sent us outside to play. She didn't force me into music lessons, but at the age of four, I asked for them myself and kept myself busy with practicing without being told.

My father took me arrowhead hunting and fishing, and told me all about the different species of flora and fauna along the way. He liked to put on classical music on Saturdays when we cleaned house, and watched nature programs in the evening. For vacation, we went to Colorado every summer to go hiking, and everywhere we went, he made sure to read us all the informative signs and buy a book or two about the folklore and history of the area. In the evenings, he'd make up adventure stories to tell, complete with cliffhangers.

My older brother and I weren't very socially adjusted. I preferred to play by myself, and my brother was my best friend and worst enemy all wrapped in one. He was a bookworm, and I played with horses. Life with him was difficult because he had Asperger's syndrome and no one knew what that was back then, or how to work with it. He scored a perfect on the math section of his SAT without even trying, flunked out of college, worked at McDonalds for a while, and later returned to earn a masters degree in library science. (He'll be somewhere in the stacks of the OU library, if anyone reading this happens to stop by for a rare copy of some little-known author.)

My younger brother made lots of friends easily, and was the most well-adjusted of us. His natural musical ability could have landed him a job as a symphony percussionist, but he chose to be responsible instead and got a degree as a chemical engineer.

My parents preached good moral and work ethics, but were never pushy about our goals. We set our own goals and pursued them however we wanted to. But what I think they did best in all of our lives was to live inquisitively and creatively themselves. For that reason, it became a lifestyle for all of their children.

Finally, they chose to support us wholeheartedly. They let us practice to our hearts' desire. They complimented my drawings. They went to see all my brothers' marching band performances. They drove me to all the piano and violin competitions and bought me hot fudge sundaes afterward. They led me to believe I could do anything I set my mind to do, which was exactly what I needed to believe.

December 11, 2007 at 10:42 AM · That was cool Emily. My family sounds a lot like yours. I went to school with a girl who had a similar problem as your brother. Turned out to be manic depression, or something like that.. She'd be all high and into life one day, and bottomed out the next.

December 11, 2007 at 10:16 AM · Pieter, I only did 1 degree at Princeton, an A.B. in Biology. This was 20 years ago (Brooke Shields was one of my classmates, to give you some idea of the time frame--and no, I didn't know her personally). And, you're absolutely right, it's much harder to get in now. I doubt I could get in if I applied today with the same application that was successful back then.

But I also think that in the US today, college admissions has gotten completely out of hand. As a society, we've taken all the worst aspects of the elite sports model, and applied them to academics. But the good news is that there are more good schools now than ever. It matters less today whether you get into an Ivy or equivalent, because you can get just as good or better education somewhere else. I don't have strong feelings either way about my kids going to Princeton. I think they will be better off in the long run if they go to a college that is a good fit for their talents and interests. It's harder to find such a school than it is to read the latest "Top 10 Colleges" list in US News and World Report, but ultimately it's more rewarding.

I'm not really sure how it is with music; people on this site seem to be pretty fixated on Juilliard, which is similar to what I remember the situation being 20-30 years ago, but I'd guess that something similar is going on in music, too: that there has been a broadening of quality beyond the traditional "top" schools and students would be better off concerning themselves with fit to talents and interests than with top 10 lists.

December 11, 2007 at 11:24 AM · Fixated? Interesting. The theme of elite sports paradigms is interesting too. But, then again, everything both considered and not, are corporate aren't they.

December 11, 2007 at 12:02 PM · I remember Princeton back then had a reputation for letting anybody in with the right visibility and ability to pony up. Lots of celebrities' kids went there.

There might be more good schools these days, I don't know. But I think honestly, practically speaking, an Ivy League degree still beats any other by a good margin. In most of the country they're hired to turn into department heads in 9 mos. and so on. That's the game. So there's the formula for instant high achiever if you want.

December 11, 2007 at 11:42 AM · I've always been a great fan of Yale. I simply don't know.

December 11, 2007 at 12:17 PM · I'm getting the information behind my comments about college primarily from articles that have been published recently in news magazines about college admissions. For example, Time magazine took this topic on last year in an article that I thought was best thing I've seen on college admissions in a long time, maybe ever. Newsweek published a similar breath of fresh air the same week.

"The parents may be the last ones to come around--but talk to high school teachers and guidance counselors and especially to the students themselves, and you can glimpse a new spirit, almost a liberation, when it comes to thinking about college. "Sometimes I see it with

families with their second or third child, and they've learned their lesson with the first," observes Jim Conroy, a college counselor at

New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill. Their message: while you may not be able to get into Harvard, it also does not matter anymore. Just

ask the kids who have chosen to follow a different road."


December 11, 2007 at 01:38 PM · That kind of article is intended to be entertainment. Honestly, what do you think of somebody who turned down Harvard to go to "Davidson College"? He doesn't have a good reason for that. If he didn't want to go to college at all that's fine too, but since he's going...

December 11, 2007 at 04:02 PM · karen, i see you continue to fuel the flame war that you started:):):). and i love it.

i am thankful that no one here thinks like i do, or there is no point coming here to expand my skull (to create a bigger empty space).

i am a little puzzled that you are this pessimistic about the higher level education in the US. the "elite" institutions have always served the need for the "elite". isn't that the beauty of it that those who aspire to learn from the best minds of the world have places to go (and those prefer to wonder in the woods and learn independently it is also ok to do? )

sure you can be bill gates and skip harvard to make a difference, but how many have benefitted from top notch education? sure you can shoot up to the top of the solo circuit without going through great music schools and teachers, but most people need help and structure to mature.

because there is limited space at the top, there comes competition, like it or not. crazy? what in the world these days are not?

as parents i think we have more resources to share with our kids, more opportunities to teach them. in chaotic times like this, life will be more full and interesting.

i would like to see my kids growing up having independent, original thinking and that they don't buckle under pressure. have a little more common sense, less facial make-up and perhaps a little more knowledge in geography:


PS. howard, thanks for updating to that lovely photo. look how determined her gaze is when looking at that harvard diploma! haha

December 11, 2007 at 03:01 PM · Do I see a similarity between Heifetz and parents of high achieving kids? Did I hear Heifetz claimed that he never practiced? Of course, we didn't do anything other than loving our kids. Don't believe the silly rumor that the devotion of parents of musical kids is unmatched by any other group of parents, outshining soccer moms by a hundred folds. Can you imagine a soccer mom going on line to talk about how she takes her kids to soccer practice for the love of it, etc?


December 11, 2007 at 02:46 PM · Karen wrote: Pieter, I only did 1 degree at Princeton, an A.B. in Biology. This was 20 years ago (Brooke Shields was one of my classmates, to give you some idea of the time frame--and no, I didn't know her personally). And, you're absolutely right, it's much harder to get in now. I doubt I could get in if I applied today with the same application that was successful back then.

My sister was in that class at Princeton! She was in an aerobics class in the dorms with BS and said that she looked pretty ordinary without make-up. Although very tall.

According to studies, taller people seem to meet with more success than shorties. And I have run into more than a few parents who considered HGH injections for their diminutive sons. (So they could do better in sports, and presumably in life?)

No one sets out to make a violinist? I know some parents who appear to have done exactly that. The competitiveness of the parents is a primary factor in the early achievements of kid musicians. Don't believe that? Come spend some time in the hallways of a few pre-college music programs. Of course, these parents do a lot of spin. "Oh, I never push her; she practices only 1 hour a day." I know the mom of an internationally famous violinist now in her 20's who says her daughter went to regular school and practiced 1 hour/day. One of my kids happened to have the same middle school teacher, who told us that this prodigy was in fact missing most of the year, while on tour and recording.

To respond to another post, Mr. Castleman is a serious long-distance bicyclist at this point in his life (I recently learned). This is all to say that a certain competitive drive seems to be an important factor in what we perceive as success (because we don't know about all the successful, in their own terms, people who aren't eminent or famous.)

What really blows me away is when kids manage to become accomplished and even successful in music without the kind of privilege, devotion, and aggressive parenting that others receive.

One of my daughters studied with a violist (who was tragically killed in a car accident almost 3 years ago.) He came from a working-class family with no musical background and never saw a viola before age 14 when he joined a public school orchestra. By 18, he was at Peabody studying with a top teacher. By 35 he was a sought-after orchestral player and chamber musician. Maybe not internationally famous, but an incredible success story from my way of looking at it. But imagine if a kid of that talent had a parent like some of the parents mentioned above.

December 11, 2007 at 02:51 PM · Bill, True I didn't go through the experience of following fingers while listening to stories read to me. But I read that in a parenting book as something to do to help kids learn to read. I didn't see the point of it when my daughter was young. I figure she will learn to read soon enough. Besides, she was always engrossed in relating the story with illustrations on the page. A moving a finger along the text would have been an annoyance. To this day, she looks at the cover of a book. She can tell most of the time what the book will be like by the illustration on the cover.


December 11, 2007 at 03:04 PM · That kind of article is intended to be entertainment. Honestly, what do you think of somebody who turned down Harvard to go to "Davidson College"? He doesn't have a good reason for that. If he didn't want to go to college at all that's fine too, but since he's going...

Jim, you don't have teenaged kids so you probably aren't reading books like "Colleges That Change Lives" (lucky you), but Davidson is an elite school that has been getting a lot of positive press lately, and I don't have a lot of trouble believing a kid would turn down Harvard for a small, liberal arts college that suits him/her.

December 11, 2007 at 06:12 PM · E., if Davidson is elite, then the two schools are six of one and half-dozen of the other. My point was about an elite school vs. something else, given a choice. My logic is still good. Or good as it ever was.

December 11, 2007 at 06:15 PM · Ms. Allendoerfer,

I wasn't trying to diminish your degree, I just meant that today it's even more difficult. I have a hard time thinking that 20 years ago, for a normal middle class woman (like I'm assuming you are) that it would be easy to get into Princeton.

I just wanted to illustrate a point about competitiveness.

Uhh Jim I know of quite a few people with multiple ivy and equivalent options (UChicago, Stanford, Duke etc...) who turned those down to go to Middlebury or Amherst.

December 11, 2007 at 07:15 PM · Great Posts All (Emily I love your post),

When we talk about college, my mother, a widow with 4 children didn't have much money to send us to college. She encouraged all of our artistic and academic pursuits, although she was not an artist and never went to college. When picking a major in college, I asked her what to do. It seems I wanted to pick a major that would make me "happy". She was great. She then told me, "First, decide if you like what money can buy. Will you be "happy" even if you end up very poor. Then, understand money won't always make you happy, but happy won't always make you money." I was stunned. Still today, this is the single best advice anyone has ever given me. Luckily, despite my giganitic 20 something ego, I took her seriously and LISTENED. In that moment, my selfindulgence became obvious to me and I realized happiness and money are not mutually exclusive things to work toward. This seemingly simple insight helped me see myself as the self indulgent "hair shirt" I was at the time.

College is a really big business, and a very profitable one. It is important to see that aspect of it. You pay the tuition, and you get access to "connections". Although a class at another college, or conservatory, may be equal academically, or artistically, the opportunity to connect to power or opportunity may be lacking. Many "great" ivy league schools do not recognize international bacheloriate degrees. The only reason I can come up with is that they are quite the monopoly and want to dictate terms for quality education. While many of these schools are great, there is a subtext of power and control. When I told someone that President B was a C student at Princeton, he replied. "You don't get Cs at Princeton, you buy them." While I don't know if that is true, I had to laugh at what being average in the elite schools would be like.

Thanks again for a wonderful thread:)

December 12, 2007 at 12:59 AM · Pieter, I know people who turned down Ivy League schools and didn't go to any school. My point was prestige hasn't equalized out as I think someone was suggesting. I should have typed elite instead of Ivy League.

December 12, 2007 at 12:07 PM · Pieter, You can call me Karen. It's weird being called Ms. Allendoerfer, that's something only kids in my daughter's Brownie troop call me (I was a co-leader last year). I don't think you were diminishing my degree, you were stating the truth: "Princeton rejects 4 out of 5 valedictorians who apply" is a statistic that people like to throw around these days, it's in that Time article I posted. Maybe I'd have a better chance now, actually, since I wasn't a valedictorian . . .

One aspect of having gone there that has been paradoxically valuable to me is that it takes the mystique out of it. You see that the rich and powerful and brilliant struggle with the same kinds of things that the rest of us do. Gloria Vanderbilt's son, Carter Cooper, was also a classmate of mine. He took his own life several years after we graduated. Brooke Shields had a child right around the same time my son was born, and she battled serious post-partum depression (she writes about it candidly in her book, Down Came the Rain).

And if you really want to learn about high-achieving kids, you should probably find some way to talk to Michael and Elizabeth Pierce, of Fallbrook, CA. Two of their homeschooled children, Niles and Lillian, were valedictorians at Princeton (1993 and 2002) who went on to Rhodes scholarships--the first brother/sister pair to be PU valedictorians and the first brother/sister pair to be Rhodes scholars. To further increase the relevance to this thread, Lillian is also a violinist who was concertmaster of the PU Orchestra during her time there. The Princeton Alumni Weekly wrote a cover story on Lillian before her graduation, called The Pursuit of Perfection I have nothing but admiration for Lillian's achievements. She's now doing well pursuing research in higher mathematics.

But here's a quote from the article, which I found disturbing:

During her first year at Princeton, says Pierce, “I stopped sleeping. I got so tired that I couldn’t eat any more. I was too exhausted to have the motivation to eat. I lived in the infirmary for quite a while. At the same time I was having trouble being with a roommate. I realized that I needed privacy if I was going to be able to work as hard as I wanted to.

“There was one semester sophomore year where I was staying up all night three nights a week. I really felt ill all the time. I had that much work and I had it every week. I spent the first three years here feeling horrible, to the point where I couldn’t walk anymore. It was pretty awful actually. And my hand hurt from writing because sometimes I had to write 40 pages of math out in one night. It was painful even to keep using the pencil.


Her mother is quoted as saying, "Lilly Bee felt as though at many times that she was about to disintegrate from exhaustion. We wouldn’t recommend her experience to anyone . . ."

I'd had my moments of exhaustion, discouragement, even despair in my own Princeton career. But I think I had always unconsciously attributed them to my just not being good enough: lack of talent, lack of intelligence, lack of drive, lack of something. But here was a girl with much more talent and drive than I ever had, someone who was clearly good enough, and she was suffering even more than I had.

I had an even harder time reading that article through the lens of parenthood. Here was a family who had done everything completely "right," in spades, achieved the absolute pinnacle of academic success for their kids, and what was at the end of the "rainbow" was exhaustion, sleeplessness, disconnection from family and friends, and life in the infirmary.

There was a predictable firestorm of letters from alumni after the article, many of them touching on the same issues that this thread has touched on. Some people dismissed Lillian's feeling so horrible that she lost the motivation to eat and could barely walk anymore as the necessary "sacrifices" for high achievement. But I couldn't really do that when I thought about myself or my own kids.

December 12, 2007 at 01:22 PM · Highly motivated students at far less prestigious schools work even harder than that, but they don't have the "in" to the $150k jobs that the Princetonian has.

December 12, 2007 at 01:28 PM · Is that true? That is really too bad. I would have liked the US to maintain the egalitarian quality.

I think it is a symptom of the ultimate competitiveness denying the work that they put in to achieve a goal. Do we, Asians, have a greater love of violin playing to overrepresent or are we better honed at competing?


December 12, 2007 at 02:14 PM · Bilbo, Karen. Yep. It's the same load at state university engineering schools. Up all night, catnap a couple hours after classes, and sleep at night only two or three days a week. And they produce engineers, just not ones with the "ins" that Bilbo refers to. Hell, everybody at NASA back in the day was from University of Alabama. At least everybody at Huntsville. It's like this - a surgeon from Alabama isn't less qualified to operate.

Ihnsouk, it's egalitarian in the sense that it's available to anyone, theoretically, if they choose it.

December 12, 2007 at 02:15 PM · Jim, that's what dictators say; everyone has as much freedom as they wish, theoretically, that is.


December 12, 2007 at 02:19 PM · "Theoretically" meant it's harder for some than others, financially and otherwise. Couldn't be any other way, except maybe under a virtual dictatorship.

December 12, 2007 at 02:37 PM · i know for a fact (my version), through personal experiences and through associates in law, medicine, wall street, etc that having an ivy league degree makes it easier to get in the door and increase the chance for promotion when climbing the corporate ladder. a friend of mine is a partner with the blackstone group. he will not even interview applicants unless they are ivy league graduates. since his preference is not mandated by law or ethics, he gets away with it. i tease him about it, that he being narrow minded, his reply is that the track record of his firm speaks for itself.

as a parallel, there is a reason why applicants fight to get into top music schools. if you can really play and your resume states that delay was your mentor, it helps. this is simply the reality of life. of course there are exceptions to the rule, but that is what they are: exceptions to the rule. lance armstrong is the exception to the rule because you are not supposed to have the mental and physical strength to come back from near death.

i believe if you want something (love may be too syrupy), you stop complaining and work hard for it. when it snows hard outside, having a hot chocolate inside a warm home is happiness. IF you have to break your back, shuffling the driveway so that your family can have an easier, safer time getting out the next day, that experience itself is my kind of happiness. i teach my kids to learn to appreciate this latter type. either learn now with guidance, or learn later in the school of hard knocks.

college experience to some is a shocker. and for valid reasons. it is a place to learn about living independently and acting as one's own parent and guardian. those highlighted princeton experiences are not unique. you are not supposed to be comfortable. your mission is to learn to deal with discomfort and channel difficulties into something positive. that is why you don't wish your surgeon one day walks out on you while you are under just because he happens to have an unhappy thought.

it is probably safe to say since the karl marx's experiments have failed miserably (perhaps with the exception of David Oistrakh), the inequality of power and money and prestige will persist. we can lament about it, like we complain about wintry weather, but at the end of the day, we must ask ourselves: what have we done about it, besides complaining about the rather obvious, besides making generalization based on singular incidents?

this is a music-oriented site (imo THE best out there.) therefore, when/if the majority of the posters think that life will be at a loss if children do not become artists or artistic, i understand. however, plenty out there are contributing greatly to their families, communities, and to the society that the artistic types live in. come down from the high horse and enjoy.

December 12, 2007 at 03:38 PM · Jim, "financially and otherwise", I agree it is not as forbidding as having to give up your life. But it is quite forbidding for an average family. It's not just tuition they need. To have an edge for admission, parental knowhow's will be important in a close case, choosing the right extracurricula or positioning your kids for better exposure. Has it always been that well-paying jobs went to graduates of elite instituions?

Al, Something is done all the time how to keep a society equal if it reflects common good. One example would be the estate law. US has kept the estate taxes high not to create a super astrocratic class. Heirs still have more means than an average citizen but not as much as they could have if under the kind of tax system most European countries adapt. I am not a social scientist but equality served the coutry well so far bringing overall prosperity.


December 12, 2007 at 03:15 PM · Power and money, unaccumulated, is powerless, directionless poverty.

It takes the accumulation of wealth, and the concentration of power, to accomplish great things for "the group" whether that group be a corporation, a city, a family, or a country--or--orchestra.

December 12, 2007 at 03:25 PM · "But it is quite forbidding for an average family."

And your point is?

Average isn't what we are talking about.

"Has it always been that well-paying jobs went to graduates of elite institions?"

I would hope so. Otherwise, they wouldn't be elite any longer!

But what you are missing is that it isn't "engraved in stone." Some of the greatest successes didn't go to Princeton, while some of the worst failures did. But at the end of the day, on average, er, above average, the Ivy and the Western Ivy (and a few in between!) produce the workhorse leaders of the country, as it should be.

December 12, 2007 at 05:01 PM · Ihnsouk, I guess. You don't go to college, or go to community college, or got to state college, go to Ivy League college. It's social stratification. That's always been. You're perfectly free to move upward if you have a talent for moving upward, and that happens just a whole lot. In fact the thread title here is about how to raise a kid who does that, probably. (That's why I said the formula is put him in a good school, twenty-five posts ago). Historically people born in log cabins have a knack for this :D

But don't forget Gates and Jobs were both dropouts (but both had advantages in their backgrounds). I guess Edison is another classic case, but he wasn't really a scientist, he seems to have been just a super-energetic guy. There was a war between him and Tesla over the kind of electricity that would be used for public utilities. Edison made sure the first electric chairs ran on AC, to imply how "dangerous" AC was (he was invested in DC) But it's easy to show why AC is a better practical choice, and Tesla won out. Buckminster Fuller was another. And I know a farmer who made a fortune by figuring out the strange thing that happened when he kicked a certain piece of machinery:)

"Pre-Script" to Ihnsouk:

You might be right. I can't show any data. It's just the impression I've gotten over the years. But it's a well-founded impression I think.

There's a funny short story by Vonnegut that's set in the time after all people are made equal. The pretty people have to wear ugly masks, the strong people have to have weights chained to them. There's the Office of the "Handicapper General", a big bruiser of a woman who totes a shotgun.

December 12, 2007 at 04:04 PM · Jim and Bilbo--I agree. I posted the article from the Princeton Alumni Weekly because it's one I know about and have access to as an alumna, and because it was about a violinist, not because I think those kinds of experiences are unique or that students at other schools don't work just as hard or harder (or get as good or better of an education). That's been one of my points all along.

I've been approaching this thread from the point of view of a parent, not as an opportunity to formulate generalities about Marxism, dictatorships, competition, or anything else of that broad nature. But that said, I do think that the experiences described in the PAW article and elsewhere go beyond "discomfort." I work now at an institute affiliated with MIT, and I interact with MIT students as part of my job (yes, I know, MIT is another "elite" institution--I'm not posting any of this to brag, but rather to give myself some credibility that I've experienced what I'm posting about, and to point out that my comments don't stem from jealousy and sour grapes about "not getting in"). MIT has been grappling with undergraduate student stress and suicide, for example, the highly publicized case of Elizabeth Shin. The PAW article was mild compared to some of these other cases.

Journalistic sensationalism aside, I think Al's question of what to do about it at the end of the day is what's difficult here, but also more interesting. My response as a parent is probably going to be very different than my response as a disinterested party reading a newspaper and commenting on a website. As a disinterested website commentator, I'll point out that MIT's suicide rate isn't abnormally high relative to other schools and Elizabeth Shin's death may have been an accident. I don't know the individuals involved, and wasn't here when the tragedy happened.

But as a parent, I don't think I need to, or even should, play that role of the disinterested, dismissive, advice-dispenser with my kids. As a mother, I am haunted by the description of Elizabeth Shin's father's last words to his daughter, "always be happy." There is no shortage of opportunities to learn that higher education is big business, that life requires hard work and sacrifice, that people who don't play to win aren't any good, that life isn't fair, that you aren't supposed to be comfortable, that going to the "right" college can help you climb the corporate ladder, and so on. These types of lessons are neither rare nor precious; they're available on bumper stickers, on the internet, in cheesy self-help books, from teachers, and every spring at commencement speeches across the country. Or, they are available just by walking out the door and talking to the people waiting at the bus stop. I don't think parents need to go out and create yet more opportunities for learning what is already beyond trite, and drag those into the fabric of their home and family lives.

Instead, I think it's more important for parents, acting as parents, to raise children who are actually able to listen to, evaluate, and learn from these other sources. There's something to be said for home being a "safe" place, a place apart, a place where children (young or grown) can go to fill their well when it runs dry, to ask dumb and naive and immature questions, to process and make sense of life, and make up their own minds. J. Kingston, I don't think this is at all the same as indulging children. Indulging children would be to make home life into a fantasy fairy tale, lie to them about the nature of the outside world, and give pat, canned answers to their questions.

December 12, 2007 at 05:20 PM · Jim, I am done with schooling a long time ago. I read an article some time ago that compared the income level between graduates of a state college and an Ivy league 10 or 20 years after graduation. They didn't see the correlation. If the study was flawed and an Ivy league brings more money, the playing field should be further levelled for the good of the society. I thought having a strong public school or a state college system was to provide a better equality, namely one may not get prestige from going through a state college but can be as successful as an Ivy league graduate.


December 12, 2007 at 05:25 PM · karen, i agree with many points raised in your post (and disagree with a few just to keep you on your toes:), particularly the challenges faced by the parents when raising OUR OWN child or children. since our 2 kids have night- and- day different personalities and strength/weakness, i can imagine it will be an interesting journey for each family to find a tailored approach for their own kid/kids. from a philosophical point of view, it is what i think life is about. we need to learn till the moment we drop. there is a simple answer and your child will prove it wrong. but, our love for them, conquers all.

i agree that in this imperfect world, in colleges with imperfect mental health systems, there will be incidents or even seemingly a trend where desparate calls for help, in conspicuous ways or not, fall on deaf ears or are not taken seriously and timely (not saying i agree necessarily with the shin family since the article essentially aired their side). the image of the kid setting fire on herself blows any sense and logic out of the mind. we can be perfectly right but she is dead.

still, i think a distinction should be made, in a vigorous training program, be it princeton or julliard, between challenges faced by the kids with normal mentation versus kids who need professional help. there is a difference between an investment banker not sleeping for 3 days trying to put together a deal in the telecommunication industry that will make posting on v.com a little easier and a person who cannot sleep 3 days in a roll because he is in the manic phase of his bipolar.

in many disciplines, there is indeed an emphasis to try to push over that limit and see how they respond. think of those kids in westpoint, medical interns, or being tested as a pilot as one of our posters can attest.

training to be a performing artist takes more than love for the violin. imo, it is probably the toughest thing to do well in this universe. you are totally on your own and it is live. look into the lives of the great virtuosos and you will find that some, at certain stage of their lives, have decided to shy way from stage performance because they felt too much pressure to handle. the profession and the demand by the audience for perfection is not going to change. it is up the individuals to step up to the plate.

December 12, 2007 at 06:14 PM · "our family does't really have a set philosophy/policy on education...just do the best you can, i guess:). it remains to be a constant, evolving, humbling learning experience for everyone involved, reading here and there, coming to v.com whenever possible for pruning, still struggling to appreciate what violin playing is about and why players spend so much time fighting instead of playing:)."

Al Ku, what you said was beautiful! My mom is not a instrumentalist, but I come from a long line of singers. So, naturally when I was four I started singing; my mom didn't think to put an instrument in my hands. Not mention she was a single parent, struggling and no doubt could not afford one. Most of my younger years were spent acheiving academic success and helping raise my little brother while my mom worked three jobs...

When I started the violin at 14, the fun began. My mom became the parent to a melodramatic musician. I've had my ups and downs. The biggest fight was getting over the fact that I did not start at the same age as my comrades in orchestra. So, my mom would often have to wipe my tears when I felt like the hands of time were squeezing me just a little bit harder than everyone else. I remember going to a music camp. I was second oldest. And the first oldest was playing some pretty hard stuff, but I did not let that effect me. Until one of the teachers, said if I plan on making violin into a career, I should just work in like a sound studio or something because as far as he/she knew, there was never a late starter who did anything worth mentioning. I was in Boston! My mom was in California! When I called her crying, what a fright I gave her. "I want to come home. I am never ever going to lay my hands on this violin again!" Of course, my mother made me laugh as she always does, "Well, we'll just have to get you a new violin, won't we?" She told me to do the best I can do. And that hit home for me. I learned Kreisler Praeludium and Allegro in a week and performed it at a masterclass, not the best performance, but hey whatever. And I received an award! My face bloomed with happiness by the end of the camp, even though I gave the grumpy old teacher who said that stuff glares here and "humphs" there.

Now, my goals have changed so much. Then, I wanted to be a world class soloist. My mother stuck with me. Now, I still wish to perform, greatly, all over the world, but more in the form of therapy. Summer 2009, I am going to an orphanage in Africa to volunteer and play violin. My mother is still sticking with me. No matter what I wish to accomplish, she is always there seeing that I do the best I can do with her encouragment and love!

December 12, 2007 at 06:50 PM · many people play better than you do, no matter how hard you try. however, there is something you have that many others do not.

you believe, jasmine. and that is what truly matters. it is awesome.

December 12, 2007 at 06:09 PM · Pieter,

First of all, you stole that " sometimes I wonder if you even bother to read my posts" line from Emil, so be ashamed.

Second, it seemed to me that you were making a point about having to be singe-minded and competitive to make it in music, and I don't think that's necessarily the case. Some people are just better at, or have a disposition better suited for these things than others, for whatever reason. For those people, I don't think that it takes the single-mindedness and competitiveness that it would require from me or you. As an example, I gave Charlie Castleman, but there are many others I've known over the years for whom violin was mildly strenous work, but not the incredible struggle that it is for many of the rest of us.

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