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The Boy Who Would Not Practice

By Ruth Alden
A lecturer once said that when he found his audience disregarding his efforts, and actually talking to one another for their diversion, he knew that he was utterly failing to hold their interest. But he said: "I am not content merely to know this fact. I have experimented time and again to find how to shape and direct my own efforts so as to rise to a point of entertainment that is beyond an audience's ability to entertain one another."
Is not this exactly the case of the earnest teacher and the child who will not practice? And doesn't the teacher find himself in a position just like that of the lecturer? Now let us study relative methods. The lecturer does not get mad with the men and women of his audience and dismiss them. He goes deeper into himself and strives more to make himself win their attention. We must not condemn the pupil and dismiss him as hopeless. A sane view of the case shows that he is looking for entertainment and for interesting experiences and that we are not delivering them to him. So like the lecturer, we must go deeper into our resources and discover yet further means for making the child who will not practice our enthusiastic team worker.
Can it be done?
Tom Sawyer once succeeded in transforming the rather distasteful duty of whitewashing a fence on a Saturday morning into a highly developed community activity by convincing his companions that few boys were ever entrusted with such an unusual responsibility. If I remember correctly, he sold the privilege of doing the work to the unfortunate ones who had no fence. I have introduced this incident to show that anything can be done, the moment the person who sees values takes the matter in hand.
A very sane and interesting teacher once said: "I have often wondered what would happen if I should regard my lesson giving as a privilege; if, for example, I should tolerate no pupil who did not appreciate the opportunity I give him in permitting him to study with me. I know," she continued, "how that sounds to the teacher who is anxious and hungry to get more pupils in order to eke out expenses. It sounds just like race suicide.
"But I wasn't afraid to try it with a few of mine," she went on, "and I had none too many pupils at the time. I have always felt a worthy dignity in my little knowledge, because I am sincerely trying to increase it. And I do not propose to see it sold or bought unappreciatively. And then again I have the social instinct. I like to be among people, and when I had only three pupils I used to have gatherings, which we called club meetings. In this way we got to know one another. We played and talked about music and made our friendship more intimate.       
"One of that small number was a boy named Paul. I did not quite get hold of him for some time. He held me cheaply, not with any bad intent, but innocently because his exuberant spirit needed more to occupy it and direct it than piano playing.
"So I made up my mind to take the piano away from him. It was easy to arrange that with his mother. Paul used to run to the piano five minutes now and five minutes then, strumming and picking out tunes, for he was distinctly musical. After that he would practice a little if he felt like it.
"Paul liked to come to our little class meetings. He, too, had the social instinct. One day after a particularly bad lesson hour I said to him, 'Paul, either you do not like to practice or you think what we are doing together is of very little importance, so I am   going to ask you not to come to me any more. We shall miss you at the class meetings, particularly next Saturday, when we are going into town to attend a concert and then to do a little shopping.
"While I was saying this I was gently leading Paul toward the door, which I closed on him, not rudely but unmistakably in farewell.
"I don't know now, and I never asked, what he said to his mother about it. But when he next went for his five-minute dash at the piano it was locked (Paul's mother played the game with me as squarely as could be).
"In a few days Paul began to introduce the piano into his casual conversation, and in less than a week he begged for the privilege of playing a little while. I think his mother devised a plan permitting him to use the piano to play what he liked on agreement that he would do an equal amount of practice. Further, she afterwards told me, that when his practice amounted to three hours she agreed with him that he might call on me, it being understood that I would then hear what he had accomplished.
"It happened (by agreement) that I was too busy to see him the first time he called, but subsequently he played for me and played very well, better in fact than if he had gone on in the old helter-skelter way of former days.
"By adopting the attitude that a good opportunity must not be held in disregard, we again proved Tom Sawyer's principle:
"It is not every boy who is privileged either to whitewash a fence on a Saturday morning or to take piano lessons with a teacher who has a pride in being helpful."

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