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Perfection and Performance, Inquiry and Opportunity

My Head is crowned with Blazing Stars; whirling galaxies play at my feet.
Beth A Brown (1969-2008), NASA Astrophysicist

As a professional violinist, MacArthur genius and social justice advocate Vijay Gupta remarks, “We’re trained to be bulletproof, to do things the way our teacher told us or the way that helps us win auditions. It’s within a very narrow window of perfection. I wanted to turn that narrative of perfection on its head. Perfection for the sake of what?” He asks, “What would it be like for us to shed the veneer and facade of performance as a product? To think about performance as something far more powerful, which is an invitation to inquiry?” As the founder of Street Symphony, Gupta ponders, “Why is it that the concert hall is the only sacred stage?”

In her book, Heart-Centered Teaching Inspired by Nature, Nancy Rosenow recalls the embarrassment she felt as a child stumbling through a piano performance for her grandparents’ anniversary. She invites readers to reflect on such memories and “give yourself a chance to revise childhood misunderstandings, …inviting that younger version of yourself to speak through writing. You could ask if there are any unresolved hurts and be ready to listen with unconditional love and support.” Nancy then responds to her younger self, “It’s not a bad thing to make mistakes, it’s a part of life. It’s how we learn and grow. The only people who never make mistakes are people who never do anything. From now on, let’s resolve to think of mistakes as opportunities for growth.”

What would happen if we let go of narrow or perfectionist goals for ourselves and our children and instead focused on performance as an invitation to inquiry? Or if four-walled classrooms and prescribed curricula were not the only ‘sacred stages’ for learning? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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