Joanne Lipman
Sept. 27, 2013 7:17 p.m. ET
I had a teacher once who called his students “idiots” when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, “Who eez deaf in first violins!?” He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.

Today, he’d be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years’ worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.

Mr. K began teaching at East Brunswick High School when it opened in 1958. Kupchynsky Family

I was stunned by the outpouring for the gruff old teacher we knew as Mr. K. But I was equally struck by the success of his former students. Some were musicians, but most had distinguished themselves in other fields, like law, academia and medicine. Research tells us that there is a positive correlation between music education and academic achievement. But that alone didn’t explain the belated surge of gratitude for a teacher who basically tortured us through adolescence.”

This has little to do wtih baking, although somewhere in there is a mention of a generally accepted conclusion that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master anything. Based on that, I still have a ways to go with making good bread, and actually that’s how it feels – I still feel that am at the level of intermediate, not even advanced intermediate, and quite possibly only advanced beginner.
The point, though, is that I recommend reading the whole article for I think it nails aspects of what has been increasingly wrong with contemporary ‘developed’ societies. It’s not conspiracy theory, it’s not political or financial, but by simply focusing on one topic – academic or learning outcomes, and how they are positively affected by ‘tough’ disciplinary approaches – yields some clear data.
I mean, we all know this anyway even though there is such an effort nowadays to soften everything up. Maybe this is feminism run rampant by mistake, who knows. But if you go to a hospital, for example (leaving aside flaws in the medical-financial model which governs it), you expect discipline in work ethic, hierarchy, communication, procedures, cleanliness, paperwork and so forth. Same in the military. Same in a business, large or small, fire department, library, bus, train, restaurant. We all know this and experience it daily. It’s not news.
It shouldn’t be news.
But when it comes to media, entertainment, news, social analysis & commentary, there is this seemingly concerted push (what US conservative ideologues call ‘liberal media’ or ‘liberal bias’) to break down old norms and impose some sort of mushy, feel-good, always-equal I don’t know what it is. But seemingly anything firm, deliberate, definitive, understandable, culturally homogenous, is pretty much always wrong, and what we need is more diversity, inclusiveness, lack of definition or even cohesion. I am over-simplifying, but still, I think most of us know what I mean.
This tendency, which again seems pushed somehow in the face of daily contrary evidence in terms of what we know works and how we work with each other, is harmful.
It needs to stop.
Meanwhile, back to my 5000th hour!
This week I am trying an experiment to push my skills: because there is a big rival market at Centre 200 in downtown Sydney this Saturday, we’ll have less people. So I thought: maybe I should work a little less hard, not only by making fewer loaves, but fewer different doughs. So am going to combine 4 breads into one dough, then later on add various particular ingredients. So the focaccia, walnut, dark sandwich, and miche will all share the same dough (equal parts fresh ground and white Red Fife with about 20% fresh-ground multigrain starter), and then I will still also have fresh-ground Rye, spelt, sprouted multigrain and mainly white Brioche. So not only is that 8 loaves instead of usual 10-11, but also 4 of them share the same dough. Oh, I’m also going to add fresh organic apples to the walnut and dark sandwich.
Will be interesting to see how it all turns out. I find that pushing myself this way and then charging less if such experiments don’t come out well, is better than getting a recipe perfectly fine-tuned (which have done with many of them at this point) and then making them again and again ad infinitum. I do this with most, but every bake there has to be some loaf (or two) which is experimental, which pushes my skills, and which provides a bit of feedback: if I know what I’m doing I’ll get good results, but if I don’t, the bread will give some ‘tough love’ feedback which I also share with my customers.
Maybe it’s not exactly ‘grit’, but also it’s not playing it safe either in a way which, ultimately, stunts growth and learning.
And I believe that no matter how old we are, learning is quite possibly the single most important thing we should be doing every day, whether in the work place or the bedroom.

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