As educators, we often stumble right out of the starting gate if we begin with “this is how it works…” By doing this we fail to address (and help unlearn) preconceived notions already present; how it does *not* work! It might be better to first ask your student how they *think* a complex process (like a climb) works and once this is exposed, carefully modify and correct any errors and build from there. As Mark Twain said;

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

As educators we have to dig deep to discover these misconceptions and aggressively correct them. This fascinating field of “unlearning” is finally being popularized and elaborated at the Harvard Graduate School of Education by Dr. Chris Dede.

As an example, I am sure you have been “entertained” at social events by friends and associates trying to explain aerodynamics in untrained, and usually totally inaccurate, terms. Since we evolved walking the earth, this long history has deeply embedded an intuitive operating theory that is badly flawed (and dangerous) in flight. What could be more natural (and wrong) than just pulling harder to get away from the ground rushing up to meet us? Or that automobile habit of cranking the “steering wheel” left and right to make a turn? Obviously, a little more nuanced understanding is essential for safety. It is illuminating to finally understand that every new pilot you attempt to teach already has this bad code rattling around somewhere in their head and hands. BTW; I find that many pilots approaching certification on flight tests still retain badly flawed versions of aerodynamic reality.

I am also convinced this is one of the root causes for many loss of control accidents that plague aviation. Everything is working fine until a pilot is forced out of their “comfort zone” of normal and thoughtful flight and into an area where immediate, accurate response is necessary. In their startled reaction they often revert to their more primitive (and flawed) subconscious reactions and lose control of their plane. We absolutely must rewrite this deeply embedded code with correct habits and reactions.

As you delve deeper into adult learning, you will find that at every level there are ideas and habits that need to be “unlearned” to import new knowledge. Every experienced educator knows the horror of “fixing” a person with flawed instruction or habits (if it can really be done at all?). It is often painful to even establish the need for this correction (“buy in” is only step one in this twelve step program). The purging of entrenched knowledge and habits seems to take forever. Try to discover misconceptions before you “build” and let me know how that works? Thanks for reading and fly safely.

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About the author 

David St. George (Lifetime Member)

David St. George learned to fly at Flanders Valley Airport in 1970. Proving that everyone is eventually trainable, he became an FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor for airplanes (single and multi, instrument, and glider) and serves the Rochester FSDO as an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner. In this capacity, he gives flight tests at any level from sport pilot to ATP and CFI. For 25 years David was East Hill Flying Club's 141 Chief Instructor and manager. David holds multi and single engine ATP pilot certificates, with pilot ratings for glider and seaplane and several jet type ratings. He recently earned his 13th renewal as a Master Instructor and owns an Aeronca Champ so he can build hours for that airline job!

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