The Importance of Ethics (from 1925!)

The relations of teacher to teacher and of pupil and teacher to each other are of the utmost importance. There will be little opposition to the statement that they can be very greatly improved. I speak chiefly of intolerance and irresponsible criticism. These two failings do more harm to the profession of teaching than any other faults I know of, and they are continual detriment to the pupil.

Intolerance, whether in religion, politics, family life, or school and studio relations, is the glaring and universal fault against which humanity has been struggling for centuries. Over-specialization has not improved matters very much, nor has democracy eradicated this abomination.

Hand in hand with intolerance goes irresponsible criticism, the most cowardly and detestable of all faults in the profession of the teacher, which profession should be the noblest of callings.

How many times do we hear teachers proclaim that “So-and-so” knows nothing about teaching the great art of singing! How often are teachers ridiculed or criticised by other teachers or pupils of other teachers, without reason and without justice. Teachers are called voice-butchers, ruiners of voices, ignorant, stupid, unprincipled, money-grabbers, etc., by other teachers or the pupils of other teachers, sometimes by pupils of their own who have failed to understand the advice given them. Most of this so-called criticism is simply wholesale condemnation, based upon nothing except professional jealousy or lack of understanding, and therefore ignorance. It is said (to use a slang phrase) that “every knock is a boost,” but is is a very poor way of “boosting.” It is disgusting, unmanly and unwomanly, lacking in decency and sportsmanship, and wholly detestable. No one has a real right to condemn another teacher unless he has heard that teacher give a lesson. Not even is it entirely safe to judge a teacher by his pupils, although we have a right to judge to anything or anybody of the results produced. But we must be very sure in the case of the teacher of singing that we have heard the real product of the teacher in question, a singer whom the teacher claims as an exponent of his or her ideas and ideals.

Many singers of doubtful of ability claim to be pupils, exponents of certain teachers, without any right to the claim. They may be pupils, but not far enough advanced to demonstrate the standard of the teacher in any way.

Also, teacher are blamed for the poor singing of pupils, when the real cause of the poor performance may be due to causes which are not known to the critic at all, for instance some incipient illness, nervous strain, worry, etc. Singers are human beings after all, but the world often seems to forget that fact.

Also, pupils in their formative period are criticised as if they were the finished product of certain teachers. This is where other pupils err to a cruel degree. It would be wonderful if we could combine with our teaching of the beautiful art of singing the inculcation of the principles of fair play, courtesy, kindliness, and above all, the principle of minding one’s own business.

Witherspoon, Herbert. “Singing.” New York: G Schirmer (1925).

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