Quality of Students

I was talking today with a Teacher.  Of a core subject.  You know, the kind of subject you never wanted to take but had to.  To the point:  this Teacher believes that they are working with–well, to use a metaphor–are building a house with rotten wood.  By this I mean this teacher feels an adversarial relationship with the students.  They are sub-par.  They are not as high quality as we were at the same age.  In the motorcycle metaphor they are the squids, flip flop, non-gear or helmet wearing, heavy-browed dunces we like to laugh at.

That’s cool.  I get it.  We often make ourselves taller by making others shorter.  I may be doing that at this very second.   Probably am.

The reason this eats at me is that in terms of education her students are at immediate disadvantage.  By assuming that a portion of her students (large or small) is dull or slow or–insert less offensive teen complaint here–the class begins with predisposition to be ready to give up on some students.  Why?  Because what can you do with rotten resources?  Not everyone can make the grade!

Bullshit.  Pure bullshit.  (And I know bullshit pretty good).

The problem is where you believe the problem is.  If the problem is kids need to be able to spit out the quadratic equation?  Yup.  Some can’t.  So…throw them on the scrap heap?  This particular teacher was pretty clear that “you can’t save them all.”


Motorcycle training can be the best example of TEACHING you’ll ever see.  Why?  Because it’s truly student based.  It’s nurturing.  It’s about how what individual students learn, not passing rates.   To me, this “teacher’ isn’t.  They are an educator perhaps, a clinician who running the the bloody triage of American education has adopted fully the American business ideal of “cost of business”.   In other words, you have to throw some raw materials away because you can’t make them what you want them to be.   It’s war.  Some of them are going to die.

Again, bull.  (Tryin’ to clean up my language.)

What I love about teaching motorcyclists is that the Teachers teach.  This is a bit of the dreamworld on earth.  The goal isn’t passing the test, the goal is that the rising tide lifts all boats.  I taught a beginner’s class with a couple of raw rookies as well as experienced riders.

They all learned and improved.

Imagine if you looked at your motorcycle class and, seeing a few backward baseball caps, a doo-rag and tattoos, you said, “Some of these dopes aren’t going to pass. Oh, well.”  Who, in the name of all that’s holy, would want to teach like that?  Here is the simple beauty of teaching riders:

They all learn.  Every. Single. Damn. One.

The philosophy of the folks in motorcycling is that everybody learns.  You may not make standard but that’s OK.  The true test is inside you.  Did you learn?  Did you improve?  Are you better for being in the class?  I’ve never seen anyone–AT ALL–every say, “I didn’t learn anything”.  What a blessing to work in that environment, a place where you don’t throw out the sub-par you work to bring it up to par.

I teach High School, and yes, some of teachers give up on kids; often before they even meet them.  Children are viewed as raw material and often discarded.  I sorry for that.  It just is.

I pray that never reaches into the Rider Education world.


Thoughts on the Fall

I got to teach a late season class the other day. The wind blew a constant 15-20mph all day. My face got remarkably wind burned. The “feels like” temperature was 41 degrees, which doesn’t sound that bad but definitely is the sort of thing that can impair your physical skills and mental acuity. Remember, hypothermia is when your core temperature falls which can lead to the “umbles” like mumble, stumble, bumble, fumble…tumble…Don’t underestimate Mom Nature and her ability to wick away warmth.

However this isn’t a warning about the dangers of the cold, this is about the first line of George Orwell’s “1984” which goes:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

Somewhere back in the cloudy recesses of my brain I remember my eight grade english teacher pointing out the disparity of the words ‘bright’ and ‘cold’ being used together to create a powerful descriptive phrase. Teach had it right, George had nailed it. I know this because as I was riding home from that chilly class at noon it was, indeed a bright, cold day. And I liked it. A lot. I was dressed appropriately, I wasn’t trying to set a land speed recode, and the fall sun was low enough to cast a wonderful side light I hadn’t seen in a year.

Riding can be a wonderfully visceral thing that can assault and caress all of our senses at once. We smell diesel, fresh cut grass, sometimes orange blossoms or that truckload of manure half a mile ahead. Wind bats us around, knocks down gas mileage or can give a gentle push. The atmosphere rushing over us will cool and refresh us as well chill us to the bone. Water. I like riding in the rain, it’s pleasant and immersive in its totality of sensual overload, perhaps that why I enjoy it so. Smell, sight, taste, feel–it’s all there. Toss in the heightened awareness you have due to the enhanced potential for trouble…and you’re downright alive! If I could bottle that feeling I would give a big swig to everyone who asks, “Why do you ride that thing?”

The point of balance between summer and winter and winter and summer is officially called the Equinox, occurring around the third week of March and September; respectively this is the beginning of Fall and Spring and when the amount of daylight and night are equal. At the equinox you get as much dark as light. For me the flavor of a ride is found not in being monochromatic but in it’s well-rounded-ness, its ability to touch all the bases. The best rides aren’t the ones that were blindingly hot or violently cold. The best rides aren’t all about being all turns or enjoying a lack of traffic. The best rides have the best mix of light and dark, they are equal parts challenge and ease, light and dark.

It’s one of the reasons I enjoy the fall. From struggling to get a bike running to waiting for it warm up riding in the fall is a time of transition that can present all type of challenge and pleasure. I love the gamble you often make selecting gear–what is too much? How much is not enough. The lick your finger and stick it in the air, hope you guess right on the weather calculation is a great time too. Clear visor or smoked? Will the sun be low enough to need glare protection or will it simply be gone?

From surface conditions to route/time/visibility selections fall is a wonderful time to ride, an immersive baptism you get before you have to put up your favorite vice for a month or two. Fall shouldn’t be a season of dread it should be a celebration of separation as you use all your skills one last time before hibernation.

Be Safe.


This whole ugly business in New York with a gang of riders chasing down an SUV and the ensuing violence done on both sides doesn’t really surprise me. To my memory this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened, I seem to remember incidents like this occurring before. I also spend a moderate amount of time on the web in motorcycle forums and therein you’ll find some pretty tough talk. The subject occasionally turns to retribution against automobiles for real or imagined trespasses. Comments about kicking doors and breaking off mirrors as well as bravado filled rants about armored gloves and punch-proof helmets often pop up.

It’s an “Us v. Them” world where there is no innocence and every car that drifts around in its own lane is making calculated moves to enrage or hurt us. An inattentive driver who gets surprised and brakes hard and late is brake checking us, a failure to signal or check a blind spot is attempted murder and there are no innocent mistakes.

In our hard Mad Max view of world we create a place where lethal force could be wielded against us or by us at any danger filled, hate fueled, combative second. Damn cagers. And minivans. And Priuses. And Camrys. And soccer moms. And girls putting on makeup. And fat guys eating greasy burgers. And suits, stockbrokers, and salesmen. And middle aged women….and men. And old farts. And pretty much anybody who pisses us off.

Think about how often do you hear or read the advice, “Ride like they’re all trying to get you”.

What does that mean? It means that every other user on the road isn’t just a danger, they’re an enemy that is actively seeking to hurt you.. Not to say I don’t believe in defensive driving; you need to be alert, active and processing your environment. However once you turn the other users around you into active assailants then you open a very curious door: the right of self-defense. Here’s a hard question, if you’re being actively bullied and threatened when do you stop, stand up and fight? Seems a simple answer in a bar or restaurant. Could be a simple misunderstanding quickly remedied with with an “sorry, didn’t see you” or “my bad”. On the road there is no such opportunity for sorting blame or assigning motive. In fact, if we pre-assign blame with “they’re out to get us” we also predetermine our reaction.

We are looking for a fight. The problem is often the fight isn’t looking for us. I remember a incident I had way back in the early 80s. I was riding a GS550e that was piped, jetted and made a beautiful noise. I was on an expressway that had the occasional stoplight and I was sitting there daydreaming and the light went green. I did a normal, no hurry, no drama launch. After a moment I heard this terrible, sucking, raspy rattle and I looked to my right and right next to me was this POS Datsun with a teenager pilot. He was white knuckling the wheel and had his shoulders and head pressed back into the seat. Clearly he had it to the floor.

“Oh!” I said to myself, “We’re racing…” I held back a moment because I was curious if the thing was going to blow up. Then I turned some ponies loose. I had no idea I was racing. Just like loads and loads of us, lost in a moment of everyday life, don’t check our blind-spot or forget to signal or remember we need to be in that other lane right now and bail before we look…

If we view the world as a hostile place where we wage war in traffic then it’s easy to drift into a kill or be killed mentality. We dehumanize other users and suddenly “cagers” are not people anymore but things. Things that are contemptuous, evil, worthy of disposal or destruction. Yeah, we put our heads in a place where once in a mob that guy is no longer a father, brother, husband or son…just a thing that needs to be taught a lesson. Is that the motoring world you want to be part of?

Be safe.