The MSF and California

In the motorcycle safety community the biggest news in years is the MSF’s decision not to bid to run the California Motorcycle Safety Program.  I like to think of it as a “Brittney Spears” moment for the MSF–that thing that makes everyone stop, look and say, “WTF?”  Yeah, the MSF sorta shaved its head.  Is it the end of the world?  Are MSF Admins going to start running down paparazzi with their BMWs?  I think not.  This isn’t the beginning of the bike-o-pocalypse, the MSF isn’t going to disappear in a puff of glitter and diet pills, nor are they going to start twerking at the MTV Video Awards. 

Motorcycle safety is going to be OK.  Motorcycle safety may be better off in the end.  Remember, the MSF has been run by the same basic administration for over thirty years.  That’s quite an accomplishment but with a long career can come a certain amount of atrophy.  I’m not saying that the MSF hasn’t been active in trying to improve and diversify its courses, I’m saying that at the end of the day with longevity can come a sense of entitlement and self-aggrandizement; as Grandma would say, “They got a little bit too big for their britches”.  I felt this first hand 10 years ago when the MSF had its famous falling out with Oregon and Idaho.  At the core of the issue was the problem of control, who got to call the curriculum shots for individual states; by all evidences diversity wasn’t a core value in Orange County.  I’m cool with that.  I get it.  I am a Professional Technical Educator and I like to control my classroom and lessons.  However, I also understand that good ideas are all around me and that all students are not the same and may require individual attention. 

The MSF has done some wonderful things and without them the state of safety training in America would be atrocious.  No organization has done more to train and equip riders with solid riding strategies than the MSF–but this is the 21st Century and the MSF is still living in the 20th.  Although the MSF works to adapt, adhere to best practices and develop improving teaching techniques for a diverse community of riders they fail to understand the value of collaboration.  From what I have seen and can see the MSF collaborates only within its own walls.  To collaborate is to work jointly with others.  From only my experience and talking anecdotally with others it seems pretty clear that the MSF was pretty darn comfortable to wear a corduroy jacket with leather patches on the elbows and walk around with a pipe.  Rather than being a student the MSF seems to want to the professor.  I know, I know, that the best teachers are the best students.  In my classroom we have “The Rule of 3″.  That means that before you run up to me and ask a question you have to ask 3 other students (and I suggest a lab assistant).  This forces collaboration where students share knowledge, refine their own understanding and have the success of being the expert.  My students have to work together.  Likewise my school district requires me to collaborate with other teachers.  I love that.  I learn plenty of delivery secrets from the core educators.  We talk.  We share ideas, experiences and expertise.  Nobody knows it all. 

As this situation unfolds I’ve had a flashback to Idaho’s switch from the MSF course to a self-authored one.  Then I was stunned by how many instructors were hung up on being an “MSF Instructor”.  The title was more important than the activity.  I would offer any California RCs who are struggling with this change to ask themselves this question:

“Do you want to be an MSF RiderCoach or do you want to be a motorcycle safety professional?”  It’s that simple.  Are you working for a title or for the students?  Answer that simple question and your decision will be very, very simple. 

At the end of the day what happened to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation isn’t the end of the world.  Hopefully it’s the beginning of a new world; a world that looks beyond its own walls for inspiration.  At the highest levels the MSF seemed to be intent on being “The Experts” and that is why they are no longer administrating the California program.  The danger now is that other states are looking for a partner not an expert.  I would suggest that maybe it’s time for a change at the top.