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One father's take on ballet and violin lessons: 'Pretty well pointless'

Dancers perform the Land of Snow scene from
Dancers perform the Land of Snow scene from "The Nutcracker" during a dress rehearsal at Anaheim Ballet in Anaheim, Calif., Dec. 8, 2012.
Anibal Ortiz/KPCC

Pointless might not be the first adjective that comes to mind when you think of what value music and dance lessons hold for our kids, but that's how columnist Mark Oppenheimer describes his second grader's artistic pursuits.

In an article this week in the "New Republic," Oppenheimer argues that the utility of music and dance lessons is overblown and activities like learning ballet or how to play a classical instrument are mere "accidents of history" in today's world.

The classes are not a bad thing. Studying music or dance over a long time teaches perseverance and can build self-confidence. But then again, studying anything over a long time teaches perseverance and can build self-confidence. There is no special virtue in knowing how to play the violin, unless you have a special gift for the violin. Otherwise, you’re learning the same valuable lessons that you’d get from karate class, or from badminton. Or from endless hours of foosball.

I am not saying that children should stop learning stuff outside of school (although some days, when I see how overscheduled some children are, that’s precisely what I want to say). We just need to sign them up for classes that make more sense, given that it’s 2013, not 1860, and that I don’t need a violin-playing daughter to cement my class status. 

Oppenheimer is a Connecticut-based writer and religion columnist for "The New York Times." In his 2,000-word piece he goes on to say that he thinks a trend might be brewing in New York to steer kids away from classical pursuits. He cites the popularity of School of Rock, which teaches kids how to be mini-rockers with instruments like keyboards, drums and guitar. The franchise has several locations in Southern California.

Oppenheimer says he's happy his young daughter is learning ballet and violin for now - "lots of great activities have no point" - but he sounds like he'd be just as happy if she decides to quit.

What instruments do your kids play? What value do you think ballet and classical instruments hold for children today?

Let us know in the comment section below.

And if you're interested in the response to Oppenheimer's piece, you can read more about it on the "New Republic" website. In a post today, Oppenheimer described reaction to the post as "difficult." He defends his points and also offers an apology to classical music and ballet teachers.