The rode code and the paradox of freedom

By Thomas McGrath – Deputy Principal High School

Perhaps one of the most sought after badges of independence for any adolescent is that of the New Zealand Driver’s Licence. Why is this?

On the surface, there is the prestige and personal fulfilment in being able to own (or borrow) a car. A car is a status symbol for many, and the status that any vehicle represents to the adolescent is that of the independent person. When one can make one’s own way around, it means that a vital stage of independence and trust has been reached (not to mention an opportunity for parents to finally relinquish their part-time ‘taxi-driver’ roles.) Vehicular mobility allows for a new and unprecedented level of ‘going out’. When we examine this further however, it provides us some valuable insights into what adolescents need, because it models many aspects of the well prepared environment.

Firstly, consider the paradox of the road system; an intricate network of tarmac and paint, signs and symbols that allows you to travel wherever and whenever you please (within reason). The rigid form of the road and its rules actually create a structure in which to allow safe freedom of movement. It can be common for some observers in Montessori classes to say, “That is so strictly controlled – where is the freedom”. While others can say, “That is so free – the children can do what they want.” In reality both of these statements are true. Through a process of lessons, children are able to engage in the careful structure of the environment with increasing levels of independence and with natural consequences for error and misdemeanour.

The privilege of road access is withheld until the ripe old age of sixteen to ensure that the task is undertaken by a conscious and mature young adult in a series of stages. The first stage being the learner – the ability to engage in the world with limited capacity with an experienced driver. Secondly, the restricted driver – the ability to engage alone, but with conditions in the environment. And finally the fully licensed driver that may use the prepared environment of the road as required within the agreed road rules and may even begin to teach learner drivers.

Curiously the ‘road code’is a sought after study text for adolescents. These beings whom we often associate with being blasé or dismissive of rules actually take quite a fascination with the road code. But it is for the simple reason that a fine understanding of the road rules gives a fast road to freedom. Many might consider driving to be a dangerous pastime, but this by its very nature is what makes it so effective as a system; there are very real and immediate consequences for mistakes and errors. So, to the adolescent, it is an attractive model of freedom and independence and what they require.

Is your adolescent driving you crazy? Don’t worry, one day they will drive themselves.