Wednesday, June 29

Mythical "Teachable Moment"

Part 5 of a continuing "Myth" series

Cycling Instructors Discuss a REAL Teachable Moment, not the Mythical Kind
When I was learning about cycling instruction, Preston Tyree on the left often regaled us with what he euphemistically referred to as a "Teachable Moment." Most often, it referred to a situation in which one or more of us grasshoppers bungled things up in one way or another, at which time we were instructed on what we did right, and what we might have done to avoid intense self-embarrassment in future. It is a truly effective way to teach and to learn. This post, however, is about a situation cyclists often erroneously believe is also a teachable moment. The MYTHICAL TEACHABLE MOMENT.

A real teachable moment represents a momentary agreement between a person desiring to acquire wisdom and a person willing and able to offer it. For some reason, cyclists, whether they have been trained to teach cycling or not, often feel compelled to offer wisdom to motorists and others not liking the way they cycle, or not liking what the other road user is doing. Among bike league instructors and cycling advocates, for example, discussions occasionally ensue over what to tell an officer that objects to a cyclist who is riding safely and legally. Today, a situation was recounted to league instructors, of a person on a bike lecturing two cyclists about the dangers of riding two abreast while claiming to BE an instructor. These perpetuate the notion of the mythical teachable moment. Instructors wind up becoming a genteel version of the Critical Mass corker who gives any nearby motorist a one-fingered salute. I fall into the same trap when I occasionally forget myself and yell at a salmon "you're going the wrong way!" Heck, this isn't limited to cyclists - that Doctor in California almost killed two cyclists "Trying to teach them." All of these are almost certain to be failed attempts to teach, whether a serious attempt to teach is being made or not. Yup, mythical teachable moments.

You see, in all of these situations, a key element is missing, which keeps teaching from taking place, and which sometimes leads to major incidents. That key missing element is a person desiring to acquire wisdom. If you are ever pulled over by the police, do not attempt to educate the officer about the law. He didn't pull you over to be instructed. If a motorist cuts you off, don't try to yell or gesture other than a minimal amount to make yourself feel better and regain your composure. If you see someone riding on a sidewalk, don't cut them off and try to explain how dangerous it is to travel down a sidewalk far faster than walking speed and without the ability to sidestep. None of these people have the slightest interest in acquiring wisdom. ESPECIALLY NOT THE POLICEMAN who is in a situation where his life might be at risk from a crazy person (you, the cyclist).

Simply let the myth go. If you can't teach the offender, at least react in the manner that will minimize your post-event stress levels. You'll feel better for it. For a genuine teachable moment, you need at least an inkling that a student might be present. Just as iron pyrite might be better know as "fool's gold," roadside lectures to strangers might be know as "fool's teaching."


Chandra said...

You can't awaken someone who ain't asleep!

Peace :)

Oldfool said...

What Chandra said. Yes.

John Romeo Alpha said...

Except for someone asking me a direct question on a subject I feel I know something about in a manner which indicates actual curiosity and not blind road rage hostility, it's hard to imagine a roadside lecture scenario that would ever be a "teachable moment". Your advice to minimize stress is excellent, and may have the side effect of lowering the OTHER's stress, thus actually making the world (a little bit) better (for a moment).

Now, challenging faulty preconceptions through my actions on the road and anywhere else, I'm all over that. I call that my "reachable foment".

Anonymous said...

This is the best way I've ever seen this sentiment expressed. I fight my urge to teach all the time. I really want the honking motorists and salmoning cyclists to learn something, but I have to remind myself that yelling at them won't teach them anything. Thanks to this post, I now have something I can say to myself - "they aren't students!"

(However, I'm not moving over when someone honks at me if I'm riding safely and legally)

(Also, I'm glad I've never had the opportunity to try to teach a police officer about how the law pertains to cycling)

(that is all)

Big Oak said...

Very well said. I couldn't agree more. I just hope I can remember this the next time I get mad at a motorist.

acline said...

By your criterion, many a college classroom is in want of teachable moments :-)

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