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.


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