Kimeldorf's Bike Library Index

The Scholastic Roots of Bike-A-Demics

Martin Kimeldorf

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Written and Illustrated By:   Martin Kimeldorf

  This is an excerpt from:
  An instructor's guidebook for bike education  


Socrates was an inspiring teacher and a risk-taker. He believed that learning is not the filling of an empty vessel, but rather, it is the lighting of a flame. He was describing the fire all good teachers want to kindle in their students. He preferred a classroom filled with discussion and questioning. (Unfortunately, striving to created this high-energy learning experience lead to a cup of hemlock. In our times, he would have received a grant.) Today, as teachers explore new ways to teach and learn, we have re-discovered the power of what is termed Socratic seminars. We are no longer content to simply pose questions and await responses. Instead, the emphasis has shifted to critical thinking skills. We pose more open ended questions and ask students to explain their logic. Today, after a student offers an answer or opinion he or she will probably be asked, "Why do you believe that?" or "How do you know that?" In other words, he or she will be asked to demonstrate the logic and information backing up their answer.

In an earlier educational reform era, one of America's preeminent philosophers and educators espoused the notion of Learning By Doing. John Dewey connected the power of hands-on-learning with the larger education task of expanding our thinking capacities. This foundational thought has blossomed into a host of related teaching techniques known by such monikers as experiential learning, action learning, service-learning, performance based learning, competency based learning, and work-based learning.

One of the best examples of experiential learning began in the American South. Elliot Wiggens connected the subject of writing with the tasks of conducting oral histories and publishing. He taught kids how to interview local (often elderly) people. They turned the interviews into stories which later appeared in books under the banner of the Foxfire Project. Once students knew their works would be read by others, they concentrated on the process of revising and correcting their writing. They learned grammar and writing skills as they crafted a book. Since that time, people have experimented with a wide range of experiential teaching methods, departing dramatically from the traditional ABC's approach most of my generation grew up with. I have even used the production of latte coffee as a vehicle for teaching service, math, reading and vocational skills.

Coping with information overload in the schoolhouse has lead some educators in a new direction. The traditional method of lectures, note taking, and test taking does not make sense in advanced societies where information has become overly specialized. Philosophers and teachers have looked for a means of integrating the highly fragmented nature of living in an information-rich society. The response has been to find ways of integrating experiences and information.

Creative schools try to integrate or package learning into meaningful units. They study history by reading an historical novel and viewing art history, thereby linking English, Social Studies, and Art. Hands-on projects in technology labs help to connect the concepts of math and science with real world problems. The study of bikes presents the same opportunity for integrating the learning experience. Bike-A-Demics is much more than greasy wrenches and sweaty bike riders. Bike-A-Demics links the tools of thinking with the tools of doing.

Bike education can become a hub, with spokes branching out into the study of math, science, history, sociology, writing, poetry, fine arts, environmental education, ethics, vocational education, and health or wellness. An increasing number of books are being written which address the entirety of bike culture. In Roni Sarig's Book, The Everything Bicycle Book and David Perry's Bike Cult, the authors document the fascinating twists, turns and bumps comprising the history of bikes. This history crosses the evolutionary path of transportation, manufacturing, politics, art, entertainment, ecology, law, work, and the emerging global economy.

Today the digital generation is entering the world of online learning. They shop in virtual malls, and develop relationships unbounded by geography, sometimes ending up in a virtual romance. In this keyboard-driven world, it is refreshing to contemplate that learning can remain earthy, greasy, and hands-on. In project-based learning, students demonstrate skills as they create various real-world products.

Knowing the proper steps to clean and repair a mud-caked mountain bike or a rain soaked commuter bike re-ignites the flame in many of today's forgotten learners. A student can read about global warming, but he or she can also learn first hand to appreciate and respect Mother Nature, while aboard a two-wheel cycle. The study of friction, centrifugal force, and vectors takes on a heightened meaning when you head into a fast turn or pop a wheelie. Hands-on learning provides an excellent counter-weight to the highly symbolic (and hype-laden) quality of modern life.

It is time for repair and renewal. The challenge for teaching in a new century remains clear: make learning real, make it fun, make it significant. Bike-A-Demics can help in the larger task of overhauling our current practices. It is rooted in Socrates' desire to ignite a passion for learning.


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