Learning and Age

I remember back through time, to the point in my life when I had most of it before me. I was only 18 and just starting to learn how to fly. It was exciting and that first summer out of high school, the excitement of aviation forced me to change my major.

Back in those days, I did not know the definition of wing area, aspect ratio, L/Dmax, or asymmetrical thrust. I did not fully understand how to set a cruise speed, high-speed cruise or low, or max range cruise. At one time, I had difficulty distinguishing between max range and max endurance. I knew nothing about navigation. It was all so…confusing!

I did not know how I would be able to learn all that I needed to learn to become: 1) A competent pilot. 2) A safe pilot. 3) A knowledgeable pilot. 4) A pilot who knew what I was talking about.

As I learned to fly, I listened to others around me talking about aviation who really knew their stuff. I wondered how they had gained all that knowledge. I looked to my first flight instructor, Charlie. He had 27,000 hours of flight time logged since 1925. I instinctively knew Charlie had gained much of his knowledge from all those hours he spent sitting at the flight controls in airplanes. I wanted the knowledge and experience he had NOW!

He picked up on that and one day he told me I was in too big a hurry to learn, said something about my having a wild hair up my…nevermind. At the time, I didn’t know what he meant, but now that I am older, I get it. As a student, you have to do a great job of learning the first thing, before you can continue to the second.

Charlie had a lot of practical experience and he picked up some “book-learning” along the way, I am sure. In today’s world, it is very different. In complex airplanes, you need a great deal of theoretical knowledge (from the books) before climbing into the cockpit. With simple airplanes, you can still get away with kicking the tires, climbing in the airplane, and lighting it off.

Today, particularly with airliners, tactical jets, and helicopters, you really have to know the theory behind the machines in order to operate them safely, properly, and efficiently. This brings up the very important point about reading.

Reading is becoming something of a lost art. In classrooms throughout the nation, reading assignments are falling by the wayside in favor of “movies” and PowerPoint. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a very important place for visual and auditory learning. However, those forms of learning should reinforce the “old-fashioned book-learning,” which students should complete before coming to class or going to ground school, or climbing into the airplane.

The whole point behind learning is to gain knowledge that one can use throughout a lifetime. Just watching a movie or listening to a tape will not cut it. Here’s why.

The process of reading allows the reader to synthesize the information taken in. In reading, the knowledge is gained slower than from a digital resource. It is also presented in a manner that can instantly be reviewed, if something is misunderstood. You read it, you don’t understand it, you can go back and re-read it right away.

In the digital learning world, analyzing the material in depth may not be possible, especially in a classroom situation. If you didn’t get it the first time, the teacher or the digital media may not present the important concepts of the lesson again for a while. Consequently, the student may not have the fundamental knowledge well enough to proceed with higher levels of learning.

For today’s students (and student pilots), it is extremely important to read. If you don’t read, you may not “get it.” Here is where the student must choose-to read, or not to read, that is the question (to paraphrase Shakespeare). Many students proclaim their hate of reading, which is to me, interesting. I have my own theory as to why.

I believe kindergarten and elementary teachers failed to teach their students how to read correctly. Most people report that when they learned to read, teachers forced them to read material that did not interest them at all. The result? Teachers whose students suffer extreme boredom in class with little desire to continue reading on their own.

Now, I have to explain something about reading. There really are two kinds of reading: necessary reading and pleasure reading. The former is required for your career or other technical interests and the latter for escaping to places you choose to go and enriching your mind.

Here is the important thing about both types of reading – in the process of accomplishing the task of reading, you are educating your mind. You will become more knowledgeable in things you choose to know. It is very good to have the confidence to speak correctly about any subject in which you “know your stuff.” And in the case of aviators, that is the right stuff to know.

Of course, you also have to remember that the older you get, the more you learn from practical experience and the school of hard knocks.


©2014 J. Clark

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2 Responses to Learning and Age

  1. andrew mark garcia says:

    This is all very true! I am sure alot of your students never read the books you tell them to read in their spare time ie; Airplane Flying Handbook.

    • Joe Clark says:

      andrew mark garcia,

      How right you are! Students (myself included back when I was in college), just lack the mindset for reading. Unfortunately, because they don’t read, they miss out on so much in life. When I did settle down and start seriously reading, everything I gained from the books I read and the expansion of my mind absolutely amazed me.

      Thanks for the comment.


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