When you ask people who can ride bicycles to tell you how they do it, more often than not, they tell you that they ‘just do it’. What is there to be said when all it takes is to get on the bike and pedal? Well, it takes a little more than that, because you have to balance, hold on to the handlebars, look at what is in front of you, while you are at it. If you miss any of these steps, you are most likely going to fall.
Where I come from, falling and getting a few bruises is all part of the process of learning how to ride a bike.
No one teaches you how to achieve the right balance, because no one knows how to teach that. There are people who know how to teach you to center yourself, and most successful dance instructors fit the bill. So, when you ask someone to teach you how to ride a bicycle, they get you on top of one, push you off and wish you luck.
In essence, you teach yourself while they watch.
Another scenario, one which has become more common these days is that of smartphones and adults. Most adults of a certain age struggle with navigating new smart devices or any number of the many apps that they come with. While many of the younger generation whose help they enlist are quite fluent with the devices or the apps, they struggle with breaking down the information such that others understand. So in the end, they just grab the handsets and do for the adults what they wanted to do. It’s easier that way.
The two scenarios I have painted above expose what is commonly known as ‘the curse of expertise’. You know it, you understand it, you want to teach someone else, but you cannot.
This, this curse of expertise, is the reason why most parents are unable to teach their children schoolwork. They know these things, they learnt them and mastered them, and they know how easy it is to do it. But when it comes to teaching their children how to do it, how to breakdown mathematical problems in order to solve them, or how to construct sentences, among many other things, they gravitate between extreme leniency and impatience.
They either become so linient that they take over the work and complete it for the child. Before the current crisis that has forced children out of school, this was only limited to homework. Parents would takeover their children’s homework, complete the homework, while asking for affirmations of understanding from the minor, who will only nod. At this point, it is no longer limited to homework, because these parents now have to teach more than homework.
The other side is that of extreme impatience. Parents failing to understand how a child can fail to comprehend such easy concepts. The result is parents shouting instructions at the child and increasingly getting frustrated at the child’s inability to grasp the concepts.
Many parents, naturally, will feel bad when they realise that that’s what they are doing. But, the truth is, they are trying to do a job they are equipped to do. Despite all their good intentions, they cannot teach because they are not teachers.