Critical ThinkingPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Teenage Immortality versus Critical Thinking

Afternoon, Quiz-Poppers. I’m making a bit of a serious cry for help today with this post and I’d really appreciate any input that you might be able to provide. Fair warning: This post is pretty self-indulgent, but it also deals with a potentially dangerous critical thinking failure.


In the UK it’s pretty rare for high schools students to drive to school. You can’t start to learn to drive until you’re 17 over here and the process usually takes quite a while, meaning that the vast majority of students haven’t passed their test by the time they leave school. You can, however, get a low-powered motorbike at a slightly younger age.


Three of our senior students have acquired motorbikes this year and they ride them to school each day. They’re more mopeds than motorbikes to be fair, but the three boys are nonetheless extremely proud of their new-found vehicular freedom. Two of these boys are in my form class, which is equivalent homeroom in the USA.


At first the boys seemed to be taking things very seriously. They all wear helmets and they all have good quality safety clothing, including leathers. However, it seems that the two from my form class have been getting more and more cocky of late. I’ve picked up, via careful eavesdropping in the morning, various little stories of “incidents” out on the roads. A tumble here, a skid there, some chipped bodywork and the like. I don’t have any experience of motorbikes in any form and at first the things I’d overheard sounded like what I would imagine would be par for the course for a reasonably risky method of transport.


Things got more serious this week. Earlier in the week, one of the boys had what turned out to be a fairly serious crash on the way to school. He came off his bike while alone on a road and injured his shoulder. He came into school and I could immediately tell that there was something wrong when he arrived in my room at first bell. He was sheet white and was definitely not acting normally. He told me a partial story about what had happened, making it sound far less dramatic than it was, and I practically had to drag him to the medical area. He kept on insisting that he was fine, but his biker friend helped me to convince him to get looked at. The school nurse called his parents and they took him to the local Accident and Emergency Department where he was found to be suffering from shock and concussion, along with a seriously bruised shoulder.


The very next morning, his friend did the exact same thing on a different stretch of road. This friend was the one who had helped me the previous day. Both boys are convinced that they are excellent riders and that they were just unlucky. Both of them tried to play off the incidents as less serious than they actually were. The third of the three boys came to speak to me today and told me that he’s seriously worried about how his two friends behave when they’re out on their bikes. He said that they are incredibly cocky and that they often perform risky moves with regards to each other and other road users.


I really don’t know what to do. The boys seem unable to think critically about their behaviour. They each believe that they are not dangerous and that the accidents they have aren’t ever their fault. Even the boy who helped me with his concussed friend and who criticised said friend for riding dangerously couldn’t see his own accident in the same way. They explain away their own incidents with a whole bunch of “special pleading” while simultaneously expressing concern about exactly the same behaviour in others.


I don’t know what to do. I’m truly scared that one or both of them is going to end up dead or seriously injured. These things are happening outside of the school and as such aren’t “officially” our responsibility, but I feel like we have to do something to help them see the risks they’re taking. I’ve tried to reason with them rationally and critically but it hasn’t worked. We have a police officer attached to our school in a community support capacity and I’ll be speaking to him on Monday, but I wondered if any of you had any suggestions about how to tackle this situation.


Have you ever dealt with something like this before? What happened? Can anyone suggest anything to say that might get through to these boys before something terrible happens? Are any of you bikers yourselves, and if so can you offer any sort of perspective?


I’m sorry to be even more self-indulgent than usual, folks. I just wanted to see if anyone had had a similar experience.


The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. In American longitudes, anyway.


Featured Image Credit: Drew Leavy

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Alasdair is a high school English teacher in Scotland. He's a passionate skeptic and science fan, which is why he runs a discussion club for young skeptics in his school. He loves space and astronomy more than pretty much anything and is studying for a physics degree in his spare time in order to become qualified to teach science.

He lives with a cat made of distilled hatred and spikes.

1 Comment

  1. November 8, 2013 at 5:54 pm —

    I don’t know that there’s anything you can say to the boys that will convince them to change their behaviour (they probably really believe they are safe and in control), but if you are really concerned it may be worthwhile getting in touch with their parents. At the very least the parents of the boy who went to the hospital should have an inking of what is going on, but even they might have bought the ‘unlucky accident’ line and could be unaware that this is an ongoing problem.

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