Allan Bloom in his controversial book “Closing of the American Mind” wrote: “The teacher …. is guided by the awareness, or the divination, that there is human nature, and that assisting its fulfilment is his task. …Midwifery describes teaching more adequately than does the word socialization. … No real teacher can doubt that his task is to assist his pupil to fulfil human nature against all the deforming forces of convention and prejudice” This provoking statement of Mr Blooms is, for me, a good contribution to knowledge.

“Midwifery” is a word that Socrates and Plato selected to define their system to wisdom. They call it “maieutic” and it sets a separation between teachers or thinkers who use power (I am the appointed one and you must learn from me) and the ones who share a passion for excellence /improvement (I can help in changing, growing, learning). At at the core of effective teaching, there is always the concept of serving, levelling with the student and helping her/him to bring out (midwifery – maieutic) the knowledge, the awareness and the potential that is inside.

For these reasons the real teacher refuses titles since are symbols of transmitted (not acquired) power and elements of self-gratification: good teacher focuses on the desire to improve the world we live in and the people that share with us the experience.

The subject was brought back from my archives by a brief note I receive from my friend Attila, intelligently reacting to some of my blogs: “In a single article – he writes- you dropped innuendos at motorcycle magazines, social media and people sharing on them, retro and classic motorcycles, lifestyle and the trends in motorcycle groups, clubs and street racers. Feeling grumpy these days?

Yes, I feel grumpy and, even worst, grumpiness is not limited to these days, I had a grumpy side since I started school. Old age paints with nostalgia the unpleasant elements of the past and gilds memories of joys with a special light. And in synchronicity, a few days later, Attila sent me a longer note: “Your words about nostalgia and past, combined with accidents, solo riding and weird coincidences, all came at an interesting time. I also feel like the past was more fun. You are right, we were more vital for sure. Were we more vital because we had more fun, or we had more fun because we were more vital? This I cannot decide.

Lately, lots of things around motorcycles feel like a charade and these absorb my energy. While taking any pieces of training people are pushed to fully shield up with the state of the art protection but then bikes are ridden with such speed that the protection itself will never be able to survive in case of an accident. Who are we trying to deceive? Ourselves? Trainees? Faith? Laws of physics? Then this guy who swivels through traffic on the highway with full throttle despises you for the daily jeans you had slowly ridden in the short distance from home to grab a cup of coffee with folks. This “mine is the righter approach” exhausts me.

In the long chain of reasoning you, Paolo, are a part of the cause.  Riding is a way of thinking. Strong and creative. But somehow it has shifted to “thinking while riding is the way”. Constant quality assessments in each turn, harsh self-critics for missing to detect the hazard that would be a risk if it was there then, continuous search for progress and personal limits. I do not mean these are unnecessary. On the contrary, these acquired skills might have saved my life in multiple cases without me even realising it.

But at some point, I let training replace riding and fun. The tool became the aim; having fun should have stayed as the aim, riding a bike should be the tool and thinking should be the support to continue to have fun… So as you see I am befuddled. I am looking for the past fun in riding as you do and I hope to find it again. Like the sunny corner on the way to Izmir, lost in unison with my bike where I felt like seeing myself from above. I should have left riding like there and then…”

As defence: for any teacher/observer/expert/trainer (Glydonesque boy scouts) criticising your way of riding and/or your way of gearing one meets much more great personalities on two wheels: sportsmen, travellers, explorers, community helpers, educators  … riding around with competence, confidence and fluency.

Is knowledge the death of Joy?

Are teachers serial killers of pleasure?

Not when you consider the role that some of your teachers played in raising your passion and enthusiasm.

Maybe, for training advanced motorcycling, we have to welcome a new generation of teachers curious in combining competence with joy.

Or, maybe, motorcycling-training just fuel the severe, punishing and joy-killing aspect so common in teachers/masters/instructors.

By Paolo Volpara

"Si sta come d'autunno sugli alberi le foglie"

2 thoughts on “The teacher and the killer of joy”
  1. Reading this post, I remembered your note “Errors and Mistakes” that questions the reasons why one rides. Why one teaches? For the glory, fame and recognition or “as discipline for acquiring skills and virtues – as a way of being and thinking”…

  2. For some particular students, I remain loyal to Socrates and use the Elenchus method instead. Proven to be more effective in some cases.

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