Bureaucracy Crushes the Joy of Learning to Ride
Updated: Jul 5
The bureaucratization of learning sucks the joy from its clients. A quick lesson follows.
Riding a bicycle is the likely one of the most joyous, and cherished, memories of childhood.
We spend years of childhood enjoyment on a bicycle. Ones' sense of freedom and wonder watching the world whiz by, while slicing through the wind, is unrivaled. Bike riding is a sensory explosion of joyful, and adventurous learning.
The smell of the road, freshly cut grass, flowers, brine canals, parking garages, gas stations, ocean, exhaust fumes, and food vendors, all fill the senses. There are many new places to see, explore, and ponder. The bike rider can experience independence: a first trip for ice cream; a quick spin to buy a comic book; a long journey to a friend's house; a quick jaunt to the local toy store; a ride to a great fishing spot; jumping homemade ramps on the road; and yes - falling-crashing-wound dressing-healing. The life lessons abound.
Got the picture? Feel it? Remember?
Funny thing, never, ever, not once, did we spend a second studying or learning about bicycle riding in school, or bike engineering.
Perhaps we read a story about a kid briefly riding a bike in one of the monotonous English classes we filed into and out of year after year, and answering questions about "what the author was implying." Did we diagram a sentence about riding a bike? Or perhaps on one of the many multiple-choice exams, or workbooks, a question arose that had a bicycle picture or story as part of a math problem, or science quiz - Suzy rides 3 miles at 5 mph to the store - bla, bla, bla.
Never once did we get to ride our bike during class time, or physical education (P.E.). No one ever invited us to bring our bike into a lab to study its function and design, take it a part, or reassemble it. Never did we bring a bike into a science class to use it as an applied learning tool for biological, mechanical, or structural concepts. No math teacher used it for applied math to measure speed, muscle endurance, or discuss engineering concepts related to mathematical language. A great missed opportunity.
Yet, many of us were doing our own learning and experimentation. We used our bike independently to test gravity, force, acceleration, balance, speed, ratio analysis, speed & distance measure, fractions, air pressure, mechanics, tool standards, engineering, estimating, lift, muscle fatigue, respiration, sensory function, anatomy, physiology, and economics. Now, take all of the adjectives, and nouns, just listed and use some creative thinking to consider the application of all those words upon the act of bicycle riding.
Any further explanation of why parceled-up, non-applied "education" delivery, is failing our children when it comes to developing passion for learning should not be necessary.
But, many of the readers here, like the author, are mind-altered drones from the education factories of our youth. We were effectively prepped to become good order takers, and follow the prescribed learning methods from centralized "experts." So, for all of us still-recovering-robot-minded-order-takers, additional enlightenment assistance follows.
If bike riding is taught in the current K-12 schools, here is how it would work.
Under an existing one-size-fits-all central-command top-down education management system children spend three years studying pictures, and reading stories about bicycles from grades 1 – 3. It is just too dangerous to put a kid on a moving vehicle before age 9. They might be injured!
Children perform memorization of bicycle terminology and bicycle parts. Children color bicycle pictures, build bicycle puzzles, and cut & paste bicycle pictures into collages. They even get to watch movies of people riding bicycles. And for the lucky children, perhaps they get a field trip to see grown-ups riding bicycles off-campus of course.
Bicycle riding on campus is forbidden, other than on Federal approved bikes and tracks.
All fourth graders get assigned a state-licensed, committee-designed, politically-approved, government-approved bike issued to them early in the fall. It is a 4-wheel monster that won’t tip over, built by a large multinational corporation (with Fed and state lobbyists) that manufactures the same model for all the schools in most of the states across the country. It has bumpers, flags, brake-lights, turn-signal blinkers, speed governors, and every piece of safety equipment known to mankind.
Federally required safety gear must be worn during the one class session devoted to some bike riding fundamentals. Personally owned bicycles are not allowed on the campus, discouraged at home, and even outlawed in most states for children under the age of 16.
The majority of classroom time spent learning about bicycles includes studying the history of bicycles, the theory of bicycle riding, memorizing each component of a bicycle one piece at a time, writing research papers about famous bike riders, and taking multiple choice exams to prove competency. Only one 45 minute session per week is allocated for actually riding, on a safety course, with street cones, in a grass field, or a gym with a soft floor, under supervision, with voluminous safety rules & procedures, within painted lines, and no wheelies or ramp jumping allowed. Slow down kids! Only speeds up to 3 mph are allowed. Speeders will receive a referral.
Under this central-planning education model, by the 6th grade most children are no longer interested in pursuing bike riding as a career, or for pleasure. Nor do they care to see a bicycle at home. They do not care to own the boring standardized vehicles. They find no joy in bikes at all. They hate learning the theory of bike riding. They despise performing time and distance calculations prior to riding on school courses. They hate their ugly state issued school bikes. They have no passion for their weekly “freedom ride” from the locked storage room to the safety track.
Students also don’t care about the history of the bike, the year it was first invented, the name of the German scientist who invented the spoke, the plant where the first bike tire is manufactured, the importance of the national safety laws regulating bike riding in all 50 states, the Federal Secretary of Bicycle Utilization of the United States who's face adorns posters on walls everywhere, how to signal turns properly when riding on the streets, or how to properly walk their bikes across the roadway, ad nausea.
The kids hate wearing hot, itchy, sweaty, safety gear in the warm months – gloves, helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, safety pants, long-sleeve safety shirts, GPS gear, state issued I.D. badges & licenses, emergency bags (spare tire / water / first aid kit / flares / street cone).
And the kids just despise the national standardized bike riding safety tests they must all pass each year in preparation for becoming a fully licensed rider at age 16. At 16 the kids take the standard national test for full bicycle ownership and a federal riding license. Most don't bother.
Lesson over. Ride on.
“Copyright © 15MAR17 by Steven A. Schwab"
The author's higher education career spans 36 years serving as a college professor, department chair, school dean, chief academic officer, college president, and executive campus director at state Universities, private non-profit, and private for profit (privately held & publicly traded) colleges. He recently acquired public school teaching certification and taught 3rd grade, and middle school, math, science, and social studies. He serves on the Board of Directors for a publicly funded high school, and a medical college in Florida.