Taking Hints


One of Miriam’s proudest achievements since her 6th birthday had been learning to successfully ride her bike without training wheels. Because it had been her custom to make a considerable fuss on the occasion of a small scrape (from tripping over the dog, for example), I was disinclined to help Miriam. She borrowed Robby’s crescent wrench and removed the wheels herself. For several days thereafter her procedure was as follows: Sit on the seat and push off; try to get both feet on the pedals before the bike falls over; at the first indication of instability, turn the wheel in the direction of fall and stick both feet out to catch oneself.

The procedure is not bad; it’s nearly perfect in fact. The only flaw was that the bike would fall over after going about 3 feet. Luckily for Miriam, at this point she received some good advice from our neighbor Jim: “If you start off fast you won’t fall over.” When Miriam recounted that advice to me, I reinforced its authority, noting that Jim’s advice was absolutely correct and that for problems that look hard or mysterious, if you get one good hint you find they are not hard at all. Miriam conjoined Jim’s advice and a lot of practice. The advice provided the breakthrough she needed and with practice, she has refined her skills so that she now rides ably.

This evening when she encountered Jim in the courtyard, Miriam exhibited her skill with the hula hoop at both waist and foot. (confer Vignette 10) After being praised for her considerable skill, Miriam went on to tell Jim he should see her ride her bike, she was really good, and his “one good hint” had taught her how to do it.


I consider these observations important because they reveal a central incident in Miriam’s developing view of learning. Two roles are defined: that of a person who is having trouble doing something he wants to do; and that of an advisor who gives advice with these qualities — the advice is directly applicable to the problem; the advice is abstract and non-directive, therefore leaving the person latitude to develop a personally satisfying particular solution to the problem to be solved. In general terms, the two outstanding features of this view are: the desire and execution are her responsibility and privilege; ideas (hints, good tricks) are effective and thus worth knowing. If Miriam can maintain this view, which I infer from her comment to Jim, the terms in which we talk, and from her behavior, her education promises to be a profoundly satisfying experience.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email