By Bryan Zevotek
Educator and author of Recalculating
I didn't book my flight intending to run over a German tourist with a mountain bike. But there I was, lying on the road next to him, hoping he couldn't speak English. He could.
How did I get here?
In 2016 my wife and I traveled to Ireland for a week's vacation. We had planned out the big things but left room for spontaneous, sure-to-be-epic "experiences." Only a few days before the trip, I had seen a funny saying online that read, "You can't do EPIC shit with BASIC people." So I had officially been the first to do some epic shit.
This entire day was unplanned and amazing. We were being spontaneous based on the recommendations of locals. Somehow that led to my head being inches from a stone wall on a small island in the Atlantic. Somehow it also led to my 6' 4" German counterpart lying right in the middle of the road.
When I saw the group of four walking side by side on the road like Doc Holiday and the Earp brothers heading to the OK Corral. I decided to try to avoid them by going toward the side of the road where I thought they should be. That's when, for no reason, this guy's "Spidey Senses" must've started tingling. He didn't just glance over his shoulder, nope, ini one quick movement he turned around and stepped directly into my path. CRASH!!!
Queue the screaming
I heard my wife's screams from behind me, mostly because she was sensible and I was having fun with speed. As she pulled up with her brakes squealing, we determined everyone was alright. I noticed with awe the distance his glasses traveled compared to his body. I thought briefly about the law of conservation of momentum. Then, said my apologies, and we parted ways. I pedaled on with a sore shoulder and one hell of a story.
We were on the island of Inis Oer where a local pub owner had told us we could escape the crowds and explore safely. Ha! The main activity on this small rock-strewn island was renting a bike to tour the island. That day we had already biked all over the small island. We explored a shipwreck, a lighthouse, a small beach, and a tide pool where we watched seals feed while bottlenosed dolphins swam by. Our last stretch of the bike tour was to end at a pub for the best fish and chips you can imagine.
Choosing adventure over safety, mostly.
We chose to rent the bikes so that we would be free to go anywhere on the island, and we saw it all. Others chose to stay walk, which meant staying close to the populated part of the island. This meant missing out on most of what we enjoyed. These people chose basic safety in place of epic adventure. All but one German tourist stayed safe that day.
Banned for good.
How would you feel if I told you after that day, and my poor cycling skills, that bicycles have been outlawed on Inis Oer? Only the licensed residents had permission to use them, and only on the street where they lived. What if even their children were not allowed to ride? And definitely not allowed to explore the shipwreck, lighthouse, or tide pools. What if, because of one bald American tourist on a Cannondale, tourists and residents alike became restricted? No longer free to find joy and exploration. You'd laugh or be appalled, hopefully, both.
Haven't we done this?
This is what we've done in education. In many schools, we've limited the free and joyful experience of self-exploration. Our set curriculum, traditional pedagogy, and technology policies have conspired to place safety and control above the love of learning. Each of these has its reasons and arguments. Each argument has its validity, but at what cost?
For far too long, education has trended toward empowering adults as gatekeepers of knowledge rather than tour guides of exploration. You can gather your group of quiet and well-behaved students. Then, tell them of the crash of "The Plassey" in stormy weather. But I felt the pitted steel of the beached vessel with my own hand. I climbed through the hole in its hull to explore the flaky rusted steel lower deck.
Warning! Bald American Tourist Ahead
As educators, we can give kids tools to explore, a map, and guidelines. We can tell them when the last ferry leaves and where to get lunch. We can warn them of bald American tourists on bikes but we must let them explore. The alternative is to stand in front of them with slideshows of someone else's adventures.
We can build walls of protection for them. But I would rather boost them over those stone walls to see the seals feeding at the edge of a tide pool. Does that carry more risk? Of course, but that's why I am there. Will they fall off of their bike or pedal through someone's yard? Maybe, again, that's why I am there. We can become the mentoring coach they need or the antagonizing warden they rebel against. We get to choose.
Safe lessons and sad lessons learned.
Sadly many of our students have learned that they need to stay safe. They avoid the bike and choose to walk to a few shops, a lookout, and maybe the beach. They'll get the highlights and avoid the risk. The sad reality is this, we are the ones who've taught them to learn like this.
As my friend, who unwillingly won the "glasses for distance contest" can attest, avoiding the bike shop is no guarantee of safety. It's only a guarantee of limitation.
The next ferry arrives soon
When the next group gets off the ferry they will wait for us to give them an itinerary and stay close to the boat. Or, will they be handed a map, a helmet, and an opportunity to show us what they really can do?
In this age of technology, we must be willing to weigh the benefits and risks. We must be willing to train and trust. We must be willing to leverage our age and experience in relationships with kids. We need to provide guidance and conversation rather than rules and consequences alone. We need to curate "tools with talks" all in the name of ownership, exploration, creation, and sharing.
What if I give them a bike and they run over a tourist? Make sure they're ok, use it as a lesson, and continue the day. This is about their ability to navigate their own experiences for the rest of their life. This is about growth, relationships, character development, freedom, and lifelong learning. If you're going to take away the bike, please let it be replaced with a hoverboard, a camera, and a podcast.
What tools can you release to kids? What conversations need to take place? How can we engage them, empower them to learn, and then entrust them with the tools to go beyond the crowds? How can you provide a map, leadership, and a tool for exploration anticipating both the need for some first aid and tales of first adventure?
Remember KIDS can't do epic shit with basic TEACHERS. We need to help them kick some class!
Join the conversation.
What tools and methods are you using with kids to engage, empower, and enhance their learning journeys? Drop a tweet @baldsci with the hashtag #kicksomeclass to add to the conversation.
As a 20+ year veteran teacher Bryan have served many roles from Middle School Science teacher to Department Chair, Instructional Technology Specialist, STEM Coach, and PBL Coach. Learn more on his website: https://kicksomeclass.com/about/