Learning to Ride


I recently began training for my first triathlon. My husband has done several, and finally talked me into joining him for one in October. I thought the difficult part of the training would be the swimming. I don’t swim well. In all truth, I sink more than I float, and at first I struggled just to make it across the pool and back. But now I’ve got it down.

No, the difficult part has turned out to be the biking. Now, I learned to bike years ago as a child and have biked throughout my teen and adult years. I used to bike to work, bike to the gym, bike forest trails … I thought I had this biking thing down. Then I bought “big girl pedals”, the ones that your shoes literally clip into! I haven’t fallen so often on my bike in years. And just as I thought I was getting the hang of it, I had my biggest fall yet. Bruises, cuts and scrapes ensued. Not just to my body but to my ego and my confidence.

This all happened this second week of school, when scores of freshmen are experiencing college for the first time. As I hobbled across campus, bruised body and ego, I reflected on the situation these students find themselves in, and realized it is not dissimilar from my recent biking escapades.

These freshmen come to us thinking they know how to do school. They have, after all, just successfully navigated 12 years of primary and secondary school. What more is there to do but work a bit harder for college? Then they realize that their past experience and success is of a different kind than what is required in college.

Suddenly, questions don’t have neat answers that can be found verbatim in the textbook. Knowledge isn’t sufficient; questioning and critical thinking now take precedence over knowing the facts of a historical event. They are expected to make connections not only between concepts in one class, but between completely different subjects in their liberal arts education.

The way they knew how to do school is different. They stumble. They stay up too late having fun, spend too little time reading, ask too few questions. They realize more than just working harder in college, they have to work differently, think differently. And there will be scrapes, bruises, and falls as they learn how to do that: tests failed; presentations fumbled through; days spent writing and rewriting and rewriting essays.

But like my learning to ride, they will figure it out (with our help as professors). And in the end, their learning, and thinking will be so much richer and stronger than before. Much like my pedaling has become faster and more powerful than I thought it ever could be.

Bring on the Freshman year, bring on the triathlon!

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