Archive for November, 2010

Backseat Driver’s Ed

Common wisdom says we learn best by doing, not by watching. So why does the Massachusetts driver’s education “curriculum” require six hours of observing another student driver? The six observation hours (in addition to 12 hours behind the wheel, 30 hours in the classroom) are mandatory for anyone under 18 applying for a license; a parent/guardian is also required to sit through a two-hour class and to attest to having supervised 40 hrs of road time with the child driving.

My daughter spent two hours today in the backseat of a blue sedan “observing” a boy her age drive. I asked if the instructor had given the boy any pointers along the way. “No, he was a pretty good driver already, so we all just talked about our Thanksgiving plans.” My daughter had brought along Huck Finn and had hoped to use the time to do some homework, since that’s what the kid observing her had done during one of her prior lessons. Instead they all talked turkey to pass the  time on their Sunday drive.

If she was getting a pilot’s license I could see the instructional value of observation hours, though I’d still rather she observed an expert pilot, not a novice. Same goes for obtaining a medical license; interns go on rounds and watch procedures before they are ready to make a diagnosis or wield a scalpel themselves. Teachers in training intern with veteran teachers.

But it seems pretty clear to me that driving a car, like playing a musical instrument or riding a bicycle, is a skill that really can only be learned by doing.

Would someone please tell the Commonwealth that this backseat driver’s ed is a waste of time?

(photo by sciondriver on Flickr)

    Postscript (11/22/10)

:
Daughter fell asleep while “observing” another driver today.
Parent class cancelled without notice this evening. Arrived at driving school to find 5 other disgruntled parents in parking lot.

Just Paint

I’ve often wondered why so many contemporary artists seem to exhibit signs of OCD in their work. Admittedly, I am neither an art critic nor a psychologist, but this “diagnosis” springs to mind whenever I see work in which the artist has spent countless hours reiterating a single motif.

One case in point: the recent Charles LeDray exhibit (workworkworkworkwork) at the ICA in Boston. I mean, what does making thousands of itsy-bitsy ceramic vessels (each one unique) say about the artist’s mental state? The LeDray show brought to mind an overstock sale in a dollhouse supplier’s warehouse.

Charles LeDray vessels

So I was primed to slap the same OCD label on Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist responsible for the ill-fated installation of 100 million (!) hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds at the Tate Modern in London this fall. The exhibit hall was quickly cordoned off after concerns were raised about the respiratory dangers from the silica dust kicked up when visitors walked through the seeds. Reading about this snafu in the New York Times, I initially thought Ai had merely one-upped LeDray in the “miniature ceramics taken to extremes” contest.

Ai Weiwei "Sunflower Seeds" at the Tate Modern

But then I watched Ai’s “making of” video and was by turns intrigued and charmed by his creative process and its result. I’ve watched the 14-minute video several times now, and its effect is as hypnotic as the questions it raises about work, tradition, community and art are profound.

Continue reading ‘Just Paint’


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