11 August 2014


My daughter, who has her learner's permit, and I, took advantage of light traffic due to closures on I-25 over the weekend to practice getting on and off the highway, over and over again.  As I'm still writing this on Monday, it clearly went well.

The secret was immediately plunging into the task before she had time to be scared and panic.

The task of driving on a highway isn't that hard.  The percentage of people who learn to manage this task rivals the number of people who manage to finish middle school or read a newspaper headline, or who ever have sex sometime in their life, or who learn to operate a telephone.  It exceeds the percentage of people who become functionally literate, who manage to do their own taxes, who can tie a Windsor knot, who manage to finish a tour of military service without a dishonorable discharge, who know who their U.S. Senator is, who manage their own checking account, who try drinking alcohol without becoming drunks, who make it through life without being convicted of a felony, or who ever manage to run a ten minute mile.

But, it can be intimidating.  You recall this when you witness someone doing it for the first time.   Hurling up an exit ramp at sixty miles an hour; watching over their shoulder to see if there is a gap in a line of people people who have no duty to yield to them as they move at similar speed; then, changing lanes into traffic, with a penalty for failure of death or serious injury for everyone in more than one vehicle.

There were people still living while my father was alive who had never faced such a challenge and had never had an ancestor do so either.  My great-grand father bought his first car in the days before driver's licenses and never learned to stop it before leaving the dealership.  He ended his trip by planting the car in a fence post and there is sat for years, or so the story goes.

As a math, science and economics tutor over the years, from my wife before we were dating, to my children's peers, I've seen something similar.  The number one problem of students struggling with STEM subjects and people who struggle in daily life with technical tasks from making their computers behave to hanging pictures is that they fail to remain calm and sanguine as they try to puzzle out the answer.  Many people are so inured to the idea that piling on more emotion will solve their problems that they find it very hard to center and focus in a non-emotional way on solving their task.

Almost anyone can learn to do it, but it doesn't come naturally to lots of people.

It is rewarding.  Driving is one of the last things that my children absolutely must learn to survive in the world on their own.  There are lots of other tasks that they can afford to fail, but this is not one of them.  The assurance of seeing them master these tests means you've gotten them over that critical threshold.

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