Constructive or Destructive?

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Most of us who live in the Western world are the subject of regular assessment. It generally starts from hour one when the midwife or pediatrician checks us over to make sure that everything functions correctly, that we have the requisite number of digits and that any problems can be caught early. During our first one or two years we probably do not notice this occurring as eyes are checked for sight problems and ears for hearing difficulties. Few, if any of us, will remember sitting on a parent's lap whilst bells are rung behind us or lights shone into our eyes. But, as we grow, we do become increasingly aware of the fact that we are being vetted.

School reports are our first real indication that we are being watched and what they contain can, in later life, make or break a child's esteem and feeling of worth. A 'poor' report can result in family tensions and even punishment, a 'good' one in extra treats for the child concerned. We tend to learn, very early on, that much is expected of us.

What if you have a talent for something? I had many hobbies but none compared to music. As my whole family was musical it will come as no surprise that I found myself performing from almost my first day at school. This led to examinations, festivals and, eventually, Master Classes. All these pursuits were judged and remarks and marks given. Thankfully I did rather well and was encouraged by what I heard or read.

Eventually I found myself in the position of being the judge rather than the judged as I took up teaching. Drawing on my own experiences I tried to find something to praise in all my pupils whether they showed an aptitude or not. Who was I to say that this boy was talentless or that girl lazy when they may purely be late developers? Sometimes, of course, gentle nagging was necessary in order to push the pupil to full potential but this did not have to be scathing.

Two examples come to mind. Both occurred at local Music Festivals where young musicians gathered to perform and compete against each other.

The first year the adjudicator was firm but fair and offered encouragement. She would start with a compliment - even if only to say how well-turned out the competitor was - then detail the problems she noticed within the performance and finish, once again, on an 'up' note. All the participants felt that they had been fairly treated and, even if they came bottom of their group, walked away with a sense of achievement.

The following year was completely different. This time the judge could find very few aspects to praise and regularly launched into a tirade of fault listing. Out of around 90 performances heard that day I remember noticing that she only found words of praise - albeit scant - for maybe four or five competitors. Many left the stage in tears and many others gave up their studies shortly afterwards.

Now the second judge may have been giving what she believed to be a professional assessment but was her destructive criticism entirely justified? Had she not, unwittingly, taken something away from those students which, years later, they would come to regret? I have taught many mature students who confessed that they gave up in their student days because they were told that they were rubbish and wasting everyone's time.

I find this distressing. The study of the arts, whether music, dance, art, literature or the theatre, very rarely leads to a career in the field. More often it is undertaken as a form of escapism; a means to fulfil a need to express oneself or through an overwhelming love of the subject. All work and no play makes for a very grey life and, in these days of electronic entertainment, a joy in being creative should be encouraged not stamped down. Of course, if you stand up on stage to be judged, you are opening yourself up for criticism. But are you really asking to be shot down in flames or are you wanting a balanced opinion with helpful hints as to how your work can be improved?

The old adage that 'those that can, do and those that can't, teach' is one which doesn't hold water. More accurate would be 'those that can often can't teach because they can't communicate their knowledge'. The art of teaching is to do just that. Tell or show the pupil how their work can be improved - not possible if the teacher is unable to do it themselves! Start with the basics and construct on them... not deconstruct them. Point out mistakes but demonstrate or explain how they can be corrected.

It is the same with writing. Not everyone wants to create a masterpiece of modern literature but many find it enjoyable to write down their thoughts and experiences. Should they be dismissed because they have a unique style which doesn't fit the concept of that which constitutes 'literature'? They should be encouraged to write if it pleases them and helped along the way with suggestions and corrections. Of course writing is the cornerstone of this website's existance and those who aspire to see their work in the Edited Guide must be prepared for rejection. Those who write purely for joy should still have a place here; in their journal, in fora, in the Underguide or The Post. What they produce may not be to one person's taste but well-liked by others. As with the other arts, they should be taken on their relative merits and not destroyed.

Give enthusiasm a chance. Be constructive not destructive.


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