"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
June 13, 2012
Intelligence Versus Wisdom
by Emily S. Jorgensen

I was privileged to take a year of piano pedagogy training from Dr. Paul Pollei of the BYU School of Music. He retired soon after, to devote more time to his pet project, the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition in Salt Lake City.

His calling in his ward was Primary pianist, and had been for years. He would often say that if his bishop ever tried to release him, he would leave the Church. It always cracked me up to think that this man, a giant in the international piano world, spent his Sunday mornings playing Primary songs. That is part of the beauty of the Kingdom of God.

One of my first classes with him stands out as an "aha!" moment in my life. He announced that he would now take the role of a 7-year-old piano student at his first piano lesson. (In reality, I am pretty sure he was pushing 70 at the time.) He asked, "Who will be my teacher?"

Of course, we all looked around at each other with that deer-in-headlights stare that says, "Not me! Please, please someone else volunteer!"

A brave soul stepped forward. Dr. Pollei prodded the "teacher" to teach him something. The "teacher" started by saying a few words about the treble clef, and Dr. Pollei looked at him with utter confusion. He said, "What are you talking about? I don't know what you are saying."

That was the moment we all realized we were in big trouble.

How on earth were we going to take a child with no knowledge whatsoever about the subject most dear to our hearts and experiences and guide him on the road to musical understanding?

I have never forgotten that day in classroom E-400 of the music building at BYU. I realized in that moment that children do not think like little adults. I realized that they lack the context I have -- my life's experience. They would not see things the way I did. If I was to have a prayer of ever reaching a child I must be willing to look at the world through his eyes.

At first, this may take some serious effort. It can be difficult for us adults to remember what it was like to not know.

The folly we must not fall into, however, is to think that just because they do not know, they are not as smart or intelligent as we are. I believe quite the opposite is true. Our youth are often reminded they are members of the "chosen generation" referred to by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:9. They are special sprits reserved for the last days.

Indeed, I suspect the children we interact with today have at least as much, if not more, intelligence than do we adults. Their capacity to learn far outweighs ours -- their brains are more malleable in their youth; they absorb vast amounts of information very quickly.

Take language acquisition, for example. Learning to speak a language is much more arduous as an adult than it is for a young child. When we interact with a toddler, it seems their language skills are quite inferior to ours, but in fact, they are absorbing new words at an astonishing rate.

Though only able to speak about 20 words at age 18 months, by age 6 they have a vocabulary of 10,000 words and a mastery of all common grammatical constructions. This includes near perfect pronunciation and dialect.

Think of the things an adult could accomplish if he could absorb information that quickly!

So what do we adults have that children do not?

We have wisdom.

They have all the intelligence and promise and capacity in the world, but what they lack is the experience we have. They lack the long vision, the understanding of the far-reaching consequences of their actions. They lack experience with hard-won joy and heart-wrenching tragedy.

Unfortunately, just like the oil in the lamps of the five prepared virgins, wisdom cannot be given. A teacher or parent cannot just figuratively open up the head of a child and dump in some wisdom, knowledge, and experience.

A child must get their wisdom the same way we adults got ours -- through experience.

That day in E-400 when we piano teachers of tomorrow failed to show Dr. Pollei we had any idea what to do with a 7-year-old sitting at our piano, he walked us through an ideal first lesson.

I volunteered to be the pseudo-child, and he had me play all the black notes on the piano and tell him what pattern I saw (alternating groups of 2 and 3 black notes). He had me play from the bottom of the piano to the top -- then asked me where the notes were highest, and where they were lowest.

He gave me labels for the things I was seeing and experiencing so I could know how to talk to him about them. In short, he led me through an experience.

This is the role of the parent, teacher, or caregiver. It is not enough to repeat rules or mantras or gospel principles. We must help them gain experiences that teach them these things, and be on hand to help them make sense of what they are experiencing, so they too may have wisdom.

As Dr. Pollei repeated throughout that year, "Telling never was teaching." Only experience breeds wisdom.

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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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