You’ve Got to be Carefully Trained

You’ve Got to be Carefully Trained

I am going through the ritual every parent of toddlers experiences: potty training. I have not thought much of it until this week when I asked my daughter’s nursery school teacher about her progress. “How is her training going?” Her teacher replied, “You mean learning?” “Uh, yeah,” I said. “Potty learning.” But what’s the difference?

A colleague of mine emailed me the following:

Maybe it is just semantics, but I think teachers who approach teaching as training have a different approach than those who think of their students as becoming more educated and encourage their students to think more critically and creatively.

Then I went online to get a dictionary’s take on “to train.” Its definition: to coach in or accustom to a mode of behavior or performance. Interestingly, it listed “teach” as a synonym; so I went to that link and I found the definition of teach to be: to impart knowledge or skill to; to cause to learn by example or experience.

From these definitions, “training” seems to be an action directed towards having a student master a certain action. Whereas “teaching” is creating an environment that enables a student to not only learn certain skills but which also allows a student to learn how to actively explore and master ideas and skills on his or her own.

So what is it that we are trying to do in educating music students? By what process do we try to achieve it? And how does it affect composers in the way they write and present their music to young players?

Dan Becker, a former teacher who is on the faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory, describes it: “In terms of teaching composition, first I wonder if you can actually teach composition. You can ‘train’ a student in certain compositional techniques. But putting a piece together—composing—is very different. It is a creative process…at its best it feels more like ‘coaching’ than teaching.”

So, I’ll go along with not using “training” in reference to educating our students in music. But I am still going to use it with my daughter’s progress out of diapers because I do want to accustom her to a certain mode of behavior, that of using the toilet not the floor.

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