My Beautiful Wickedness


The work is the work.
February 23, 2009, 1:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m about to give an exam. I’m about to send a kid on stage. The preparation is the preparation. The performance, however, is a different thing.

Some well-prepared students who never miss a homework assignment, who ask questions in class, who prepare notebooks filled with materials to clarify — their work evident, their earnestness appreciated and rewarded in other ways by other measures — will bomb the test. And they will come to me with Kleenex in hand and their tear-stained notebooks and ask me to raise their exam grade based on effort. And I will say no.

My kid practices hard. She puts in easily twenty hours a week, maybe twelve hours of that unsupervised by a coach, at the age of ten. She wants the challenge. She practices the footwork, the facial expressions, each pose and moment pulled apart and put back together like an editor tightening up a leaky first draft. She will hit the stage and despite all that work, all that careful bodily labor, she might fall out of a pirouette and there goes the score she’s worked for. She will cry if that happens and my heart will break for her. But that’s the way it goes. The next day, she’ll go back to the studio and figure out what can be learned. There will be another day. There’s always another chance to perform.

I know — as all teachers know — that the work is the work. There’s intrinsic value to working hard at something. It offers pleasures and profits separate from the reward that is given for excellent performance. The student who prepares well builds knowledge, habits of discipline, reliability, mental toughness that will outlast the satisfaction of a high mark on an isolated exam. The dancer who builds the muscle and the technique will, over time, add the intangibles of performance and master nerves to perform on command. But that right there, the performing on command, is a skill worth having too. And that’s a separate thing from prep.

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