2005-02-22

Back to School


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I had Traffic School tonight. What an experience, and another opportunity to observe the fascinating behavior of folks in the group setting.

Group Dynamics in a Classroom Setting 101:

Lesson A: Seating

Up front are the "Brown-Nosers." They answer lots of questions and ask even more questions. During breaks ... well, what am I saying? There are no breaks for this crew. They gather at the soda machines still deep in the current discussion. Of course there are a couple of unfortunate souls who arrived too late to have a seating choice. By the end of the night, even they may assimilate.

Now this is all commendable stuff, in say ... the college setting. You're there to learn. But this is traffic school - a four-hour jail of a different color for those who can't control their accelerator foot. Don't fight it.

In back we have the wild bunch, or should I say, the wild bunch wannabes. Suddenly finding themselves in a group of 50 people who don't know them, they seize on the opportunity to become the cool, rowdy guy they always wished they had been in high school. This is a little hard to pull off in your mid-30's, but that's not stopping this gang.

In the rows between the front and back are those who just want this night to be over, and people like me who can't seem to do anything like this without finding something to hate on. Thankfully my table-mates have chosen the quiet pouting approach to this thing.

Lesson B: Class Flow

For the most part everyone starts out quiet and grumpy. Let's face it, it's Monday evening. Already one of the grumpiest times of the week, even when there is no Driver's Ed for Big People involved.

Behind me, one of the Wild Bunch is making his case for class BA. "Yeah, I've usually got those guys (police) pegged. That a***ole was hiding out and got me!" He'll later reveal that he's been to the class before (you can attend once per year in order to not be assessed points for a moving violation), so apparently he doesn't quite have them pegged as good as he thinks.

Eventually someone besides the teacher speaks up. Maybe to answer a question. Maybe to ask a question. Whatever the reason, once the ice is broken there is no going back. This fires up the 'nosers who will serve to draw out, ad nauseum, all subsequent points of discussion that will be covered in the class.

Once the floodgates of class participation have been opened, the dumb questions start. And yes! Contrary to motivational speaker-speak, there are dumb questions.

In a throwback to my college days, I instinctively abhor lame, mindless questions. Not that I'm totally against class participation. Quite the contrary, there is a lot be gained from active participation in the right setting. At Traffic School, we're just there to do our time. In college, every question forestalled the prospect of an early release, so they'd better be worthwhile. Here, I guess it didn't really matter. We were there til 10 either way. They could have asked, "How many chucks would a woodchuck chuck?" for all it mattered. Still, dumb is dumb. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

As the class draws to a close, some get sentimental. There is the inevitable, "You've been a great group," praise from the teacher. Tonight some clapped. What is that about? I repeat - this is Traffic School! And now it's over.

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