Modern society should be stricter with children, according to Joanne Lipman ’83.
Lipman, the founding Editor-in-Chief of Condé Nast Portfolio magazine and Portfolio.com and member of the Yale Daily News board of directors, spoke to around 20 students Tuesday in the Davenport Master’s House. In her talk, Lipman discussed her latest book, “Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations,” and critiqued parents, teachers and mentors for being overly “cuddling” and supportive toward children.
Lipman said her book, which was published Oct. 1, is based on her childhood experiences and interactions with Jerry Kupchynsky, a public school music teacher she called “Mr. K.”
“His teaching methods would get him fired in about a second here today,” she said. “He made our lives miserable.”
Unlike teachers in today’s schools, Mr. K used strict guidelines and unforgiving policies to dictate classroom activities, Lipman said. Instead of compliments and encouragements, he forced the students to work harder to achieve more and would never settle for mediocre work.
But Lipman said her novel ultimately presents a favorable view of Mr. K’s teaching methods.
Today, parents and teachers are too fond of giving away compliments, she said, adding that this actually discourages children from taking risks and facing resilience. People who are encouraged to work harder and are only partially rewarded for their efforts will learn to take charge and find greater success, she said.
Lipman said she was inspired to write the novel after attending Mr. K’s memorial service, 40 years after she left his classroom. At the service, she encountered numerous students who had also complained constantly about their former teacher. Bonding over memories of shared adversity, the group decided to form an orchestra in honor of Mr. K.
After the service, Lipman said she reconnected with Melanie Kupchynsky, Mr. K’s daughter. With outside encouragement, the two women decided to write a book based on Mr. K.
“He is a cartoon caricature, a cartoon villain, an evil guy,” Lipman said, referring to the version of Mr. K that appears in the book. “His methods contradict everything we know about teaching today.”
Lipman said she and Melanie Kupchynsky expected the book to cause outrage and braced themselves for verbal attacks.
But to their astonishment, the response was “overwhelmingly positive.” Almost everyone who commented on the book online mentioned a teacher by name who had similarly affected them, she said, adding that it was “special and amazing” to hear how people of all ages could relate to her story.
“[Mr. K] was absolutely certain that we could, not that we couldn’t. He taught us resilience,” Lipman said. “He taught us how to fail and how to pick ourselves back up again. The bottom line, the reason [the novel] related to folks is because of that optimism.”
Lipman said her story captivated people because it drew attention to evolving societal values regarding education and development.
“It tapped into a moment of cultural change,” she said.
Students interviewed said they generally agreed with Lipman’s conclusions that contemporary parents and teachers are overly lenient. If students do not learn from their errors, they will continue making the same mistakes, they said. Halsey Robertson ’17 said she appreciated how Lipman’s and Kupchynsky’s stories came together to make a cohesive work with a strong message.
Lipman made a persuasive argument that society should not be afraid of holding children to higher standards, Isabel Cruz ’17 said.
“Her messages contradicted everything about encouraging students — but I agreed with her,” Joe English ’17 said. “Because in this society, even if you are doing a bad job, you will be told you are doing a good job. But you need that negative reinforcement to succeed and get better.”
Lipman was the first female Deputy Managing Editor of the Wall Street Journal.