WoodstockJeff

Education, Metaphorically

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The inspiration for this was an email to one of the motorcycle training lists with the final thought,

As we know we can only fill the toolbox, we can't make them use the tools. I hope he never misplaces that toolbox.
That is quite true. In any endeavor, you have "tools", and "skill". And an abundance of one can rarely make up for the lack of the other. Owning a race bike (an excellent "specialty tool"), for example, does not, by itself, make one ready to take on a road with a corner in it. And being Valentino Rossi (who possesses truly excellent skills) does not mean you're going to reach qualifying times at Laguna Seca on an OCC Chopper. It is the combination of our skills and tools that make us able to do what we can do.

However, the physical motorcycle is not our only "tool". Those skills are tools, too. Each time we learn new skills, we're adding tools to our toolbox. Practice keeps them from corroding to uselessness, and our ability to use them to best effect high. And ongoing education helps us realize that a hammer is not usually the best tool to use on a screw and yet, it can also show us when it is.

When we first learn to ride a motorcycle, our tool kit is pretty limited. It contains the balancing skills we earned as kids, the judgment skills we earned as we got older, and maybe a wrench or screwdriver we get from whoever we select to help us with the getting the bike moving. How many of which tools, and the quality of their construction, varies. For some, that "balance" tool is strong and sharp. For others, well, it kind of looks like a balance tool, at a distance.

Admittedly, the tool analogy is flawed to a certain extent. You can buy tools for tasks like repairing vehicles and building furniture at many places, in different sizes, and qualities. And it is usually pretty easy to tell the difference between a $10 no-name drill and a $180 Binford 6100 SuperDuty drill. But while a truly skilled worker can do a good to excellent job with the $10 tool, the inexperienced weekend woodworker can turn magnificent plans for a kitchen cabinet into a poorly-executed bird house, even with the $180 tool.

With the tools in our motorcycling toolbox, though, they are obtained through our work, not with dollars. And their quality is only what we make of them, not what others have done. The best, most expensive education out there is nothing but the raw materials for us to make our tools from. And the tools are almost indistinguishable from the ability to use them properly... or not.

The most important tool in our boxes is our judgment. It allows us to assess situations, decide which other tools we need to use, and when to apply them. It also allows us to assess the condition of our other tools, provided we're honest with ourselves. Is the "quick reactions" tool working properly? No? Then let's use the "greater margin" tool to help out.

Every teacher I've worked with has some item of whatever is being taught that they think is "most important". For myself and motorcycles, it's helping to wake up the judgment tool. During winter, while your other motorcycle tools are rusting a bit, I want everyone to keep their judgment tool sharp and polished. It's the one tool we can work with all the time, the one that can make up for deficiencies in the others, and the hardest one to get working again if we stop using it.

The above was written by me for the Illinois B2 Chapter Newsletter, GWRRA, and published in December of 2008.

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