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Mustard Seeds
The Teaching Moment
Wednesday, July 14, 2010 • Posted July 13, 2010

As a seventh grader, I played the cornet in my junior high school band in Salt Lake City. The band director, Mr. Beckstead, arranged for the band to attend a young people’s concert presented by the Utah Symphony Orchestra which, at that time, was housed in the old historic Mormon Tabernacle downtown.

Our school bus arrived just before the concert was to begin and the only remaining seats were those usually occupied by the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. We were located directly behind and in close proximity to the orchestra’s percussion section where we had an excellent view of the entire 6,000-seat facility.

Maurice Abravanel had been the conductor for many years and in Utah was considered to be an institution in and of himself. Right in the middle of one particular piece I saw a boy, who occupied a front seat in the balcony at the rear of the building, stand and begin to make his way toward an exit. The movement caught the attention of the Maestro. He apparently saw this as an opportunity to teach us about concert etiquette. He lowered his baton and turned to face the obviously unschooled school boy.

He began to instruct us all in the finer points of how we should conduct ourselves at a performance by a major symphony orchestra. He didn’t get far, however, when the boy, with a look of total consternation on his pale face, having been spotlighted by the conductor himself, proceeded to throw up his breakfast all over the balcony.

I couldn’t help but think that, indeed, there had been a teaching moment but that the venerable old conductor, as it relates to children, was the one who had been taught.

I believe, though, that timing in teaching is important. I was once severely chastised by a science teacher for allowing a parent to remove her son from school so she could take him to watch a Space Shuttle land at White Sands Missile Range. “How dare you excuse a student from my science class without consequences?” he angrily demanded.

I responded by asking him which scientific principles the boy would most remember: the ones he would have read about that day from a textbook or the ones he observed and learned first-hand at the Missile Range. I told him that sometimes we just can’t let school get in the way of a child’s education.

I knew a man who had his sons help plant and cultivate a vegetable garden. He gave each young boy direct responsibility for his assigned share of the work. One day a neighbor spoke somewhat critically about the crooked rows and the way the garden’s appearance and quality didn’t quite stack up to the others in the neighborhood.

The man replied with a smile, “Why, Mr. Johnson, “I’m not raising a garden. I’m raising boys!”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge once heard a horticulturist, renowned for his productive acres, his sculptured gardens and his bright children say that he hoped his children would grow up to be God-fearing, prayerful, religious people, but that he would never “prejudice” them in favor of religion by imposing religious principles on them or by taking them to church. “They would,” he said, “grow up and decide for themselves.”

Coleridge answered the man, “Bravo! This is a very progressive idea! In the future, why do you not apply it also to your fields and orchards and gardens? Do not prejudice the soil to seed or weeding or to cultivation, the trees to pruning or thinning, or the gardens to bulbs or planting. Why not see if they will just grow up and decide to be what you hope they will become.”

Children are not raised in a vacuum. If they are not taught their parents’ principles, they will get them from some other source.

Harold B. Lee said that “the greatest work we will ever do, will be within the walls of our own homes.”

Teaching moments are all around us. I hope I haven’t let too many pass me by or have failed to learn from them myself.

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