Column by Corinne Chin

Driver's education doesn't accelerate learning


I sat in the back of the room, one seat behind the one in which I sat two years earlier. I had a clear view of the teacher, the students and, most of all, the lesson to be taught that day.

It was "drunk goggles" day in drivers education: the day everyone eagerly awaits, bickering over the chance to slip the vision-distorting glasses over their own bright young eyes. As I stood against the wall, the 15-year-olds, armed with crisp new driving permits, dashed out of their desks instantly regressing five years in age as soon as they were presented with freedom from their student shackles.

Yet they still had an assignment: throwing and catching a ball using their artificially drunken eyes. They stumbled over their shoes and tripped over their toes as they tried to walk the line. They laughed. They chased each other. They exclaimed, "So this is what being drunk feels like!" "It's so easy to hit the target! Just aim left!"

That's not what being drunk feels like, I wanted to tell them. When you're drunk, you're not trying to compensate 20 degrees for a left-distorted field of vision because you don't know it's distorted 20 degrees.

They laughed and yelled.

"Man, I feel drunk!" "You would know!" "I can totally drive in these!"

My heart ached. You can't drive in those, I wanted to say. You could get arrested, your license suspended. I've seen it happen. Like some of my friends, you could kill your record-you could kill a person. Or, make someone who's alive want to be dead.

Playtime was soon over and it was time to watch a video about drunk driving. A video that had real life examples of what I wanted to warn them about. It put faces, sad, disfigured and even dead, to those drunken activities. I took this same class before. Why had I never understood these terrible things, why had I never comprehended the consequences until I'd seen them in real life?

I turned my head and saw: the kids in the corner chatted and giggled through the entire movie.

I saw in that corner a splitting image of myself two years ago.

I didn't get it back then either. But I hope I do now. And I hope those kids do soon, because they will need to "get it."

Luckily though some students are not as immature as those kids are and I was.

"It's obviously drilled into our heads- 'don't drink and drive' - but taking Driver's Ed showed me why we shouldn't drink and drive, and what danger it puts people in," Brooke Atlas, a high school senior, said. "When we are tested on it, we have to face reality, so a lot of people will pay attention... even if it's for the wrong reason."

Still, many don't pay attention. Many high schools require a classroom course of drivers education before graduation in a desperate attempt to get students to listen and learn, but more often than not, it doesn't work. Yes, classes educate; they inform. They do not necessarily teach, because kids don't always learn.

"Driver's Ed [was valuable] only because I got my drivers license. I personally think it's a little ridiculous that driver's ed is a graduation requirement," Mike Basak, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said.

After all, kids will learn outside of the classroom; they will learn by doing. That's how humans work: how did you learn to use a computer? How did you learn to become a functioning adult from that toddling child; how did you emerge from behind your bassinet bars and begin making impressions on the earth?

Not from a high school class.