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Branford Marsalis’ Take on Students Today

Here’s a great clip from the documentary Before the Music Dies in which saxophonist Branford Marsalis tells us what he really thinks about students today:

Here’s my transcript of the video:

What I’ve learned from my students is that students today are completely full of shit.

That is what I’ve learned from my students. Much like the generation before them, the only thing they are really interested in is you telling them how right they are and how good they are.

That is the same mentality that basically forces Harvard to give out B’s to people that don’t deserve them out of the fear that they’ll go to other school that will give them B’s, and those schools will make the money.

We live in a country that seems to be in this massive state of delusion, where the idea of what you are is more important than you actually being that. And it actually works just as long as everybody’s winking at the same time. If one person stops winking, you just beat the crap out of that person, and they either starting winking or go somewhere else.

My students – all they want to hear how good they are and how talented they are. Most of them aren’t really willing to work to the degree to live up to that.

Don’t dismiss this as just a statement about jazz or even about music. I see the attitude of Marsalis’ students everywhere.

The trailer for Before the Music Dies is really intriguing. I’m going to have to watch it:

[Thanks to Pete Forde’s entry in Rethink for the video.]

7 replies on “Branford Marsalis’ Take on Students Today”

“We live in a country that seems to be in this massive state of delusion, where the idea of what you are is more important than you actually being that. And it actually works just as long as everybody’s winking at the same time.”

That sounds like a summary of what caused the current economic whateverwecallitthisweek.

In my experience, what he says is true — and extremely well-said, my god. But it stems from a profound sense of insecurity rather than a huge ego. Genuinely huge egos just don’t care.

But lots of research has shown that the more you praise a kid directly, e.g. “You’re great” or “You’re so smart, you can do anything”, the fewer risks they are willing to take. Their performance goes down, too, even on an identical challenge, compared to the scores they received before the praise.

I imagine by the time they’re old enough to be this guy’s students, they have heard so much of this kind of baseless self-esteem “improving” crap that they’re riddled with insecurity like swiss cheese with holes. Poor bastards. Not selfish, opportunistic bastards.

If you’re interested in the topic, I highly recommend Alfie Kohn’s book “Punished by Rewards.”

[…] Joey linked to an interview that Branford Marsalis gave, in which he submits that “all [students] want to hear how good they are and how talented they are. Most of them aren’t really willing to work to the degree to live up to that.”   Without disrespect to Marsalis (or Accordion Guy), I’d want to note that I’ve had opportunities to teach such students — but that I’ve also had opportunities to teach eager, hard-working, diligent students. I sympathize with Marsalis’s frustration at trying to suggest to complacent students that they had a lot further to go, that they do not in fact already have a handle on everything they need to know. That’s a perilous claim; it’s not formally different from saying, “I disregard everything you have learned so far, and will now instruct you on how to be more like me.” Critics justly denounce the effrontery of simply writing off students’ previous experience; we know of too many pedagogical narcissists, who operate on the premise that “if you didn’t learn it from me, it doesn’t count.”   And yet — Branford Marsalis can demonstrate a track record of significant accomplishment to back up his harsh assessment of his students’ attitude. Whatever one may think about his bluntness, he has put in the hard work and shown the capacity for excellence that back up his words. And it’s certainly possible — as it always has been — that some proportion of students approaches their education as though they were in a position to dictate the terms of what must be taught, what may be expected.   No easy answers. Parts of the difficulty lie in an educational culture that, like the financial culture that has so dramatically collapsed around us, has in instances tended to confuse hypothetical (aspirational, sentimental) benchmarks for actual accomplishments. If I read Marsalis charitably, he may be indicting an educational culture that awards As for effort, for niceness, on the principle that “everybody has won, and all must have prizes.” That much, I dare say, constitutes a genuine problem that teachers should take quite seriously — at the same time that they’re […]

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