Monday, August 06, 2007

Teaching to the 2s

This is one of the inane results of the collision between bureaucracy and training. I first heard the expression "Teaching to the 2s" at the academy. The instructors explained that they had no control over who was hired and that the current process of civil service examinations to fill emergency services jobs left many cadets who were tempermentally, physically and mentally unsuited for the job. That left the academy instructors with the obligation to train them as best they could. This became known as "Teaching to the 2s" designing classes in an attempt to reach the lowest common denominator. Make the classes simple for the stupid ones; non-threatening for the timid ones and never pressure tested for the weak ones.

The fallacy of this is obvious, of course. You can't teach the lowest common denominator. By the time someone is an adult if they have any desire to learn or improve, they have done so and are no longer the lowest common denominator. By trying to reach the people who have no desire to be reached, you lose them. You bore the good students and even the mediocre are shafted because they are taught not what they need, but only what the instructors think the 2s can handle.

Training wasn't about the needs of the job or even the students. It became about liability coverage by showing you taught something. This is where you get the cadets who memorize an eight-step wrist lock which only works on other students and only from one position.

This tendancy was compounded by the way the academy was staffed. The people who teach and design the courses are largely administrators. A mediocre deputy could decide to apply to the academy. If he was selected, he would suddenly be called a captain or lieutenant and could come off like a grizzled veteran to a room full of fresh-faced rookies. Unless you knew the instructor from their previous assignment or agency, you didn't know who or what they really were.

It hasn't changed much in the state and probably won't, but within our agency there has been a big change. Most of the credit goes to Mac (but I want some too!). We were able to convince the agency that there were unused resources: classically trained martial artists with years of teaching experience and hundreds of real fights. We knew how to get it done and we knew how to teach others to do it.

I'd been working on 'principles based training' basically instead of teaching students a dozen wrist locks just teach them what wrist locks are and let them create their own. Same goes for takedowns, striking, spine controls, pain... (as an aside, I can teach pretty much everything there is to know about locking in under an hour- or you can take three or four years of aikido or jujitsu. Your choice). Mac looked at it, added his umpteen million years of experience, combined it with a mind blowing insight and we had Awareness Based Training. (The first of the Big Three).

Principles is still big, but combined with live drills that teach the student to recognize and exploit targets as they become available. To see the principles in action. It's been great in many ways. Our agency has 2's as well, but they pick up something here. They play with it instead of trying to memorize it, and that's a big bonus. The best and the medium learn too, and some learn a lot. They are given permission to experiment and improvise and play at speed.

The courses weren't designed by administrators but by line officers and we have a very real stake in the product: On some dark day these folks, including the 2s, will be my backup. I want the best backup I can create. We knew the job and the problems and how hard it is to take pretty classroom skills and make them work in chaos. It was, and is, a good system.

1 comment:

Mac said...

And I had a well-known trainer, responsible for almost 600 officers tell me that certain courses would have to be changed because, "the officers won't understand [the information]." How hard is it to understand that adrenaline changes perception?