Teaching Children To Fly: Parents As “Flight Instructors”

As a flight instructor, it is important for me to be aware of and make use of the four levels of learning.  It is equally important for me to set an example for my students.  The attitudes and behaviors I exhibit will impact the type of pilots my students become.  Flight instruction has similarities to parenting.  Parents are the primary instructors of life in general, and of the Catholic Faith in particular.

The first level of learning is “rote.”  Rote learning is the ability to repeat back something from memory.  I can tell a flight student how to turn an airplane.  “Apply coordinated aileron and rudder with slight back pressure on the yoke.”  If the student can repeat that back to me, rote learning has taken place.  However, this does not mean that the student can properly turn an airplane.

Next is “understanding.”  Why will the airplane behave a certain way when the student applies coordinated aileron, rudder and slight back pressure?  The student must gain an understanding of the aerodynamics of flight.  Why must the ailerons and rudder be coordinated?  What will happen if they are uncoordinated?  Understanding is a higher level of learning.  Yet, the student may still not be able to properly turn an airplane.

“Application” begins when the student is in the airplane and actually attempts to turn the airplane.  When the student can perform turns well, the level of “application” has been accomplished.  It is possible to turn an airplane without understanding aerodynamics.  However, it is preferable to have a learning process that promotes understanding prior to application.

“Correlation” is the highest level of learning.  When the student can properly perform turns while climbing or descending, for example, then correlation has been achieved.  The student has taken the skill and incorporated it into more complex maneuvers and situations.  Turning the airplane has become “second nature,” and the learning has been “transferred” to other maneuvers.

During the learning process, the instructor must instill good attitudes in the student.  If the instructor is casual or noncompliant with safety concerns, for example, the student will not learn how to be a safe pilot.  The instructor must exemplify the “culture of safety” expected from all pilots if the students are expected to be safe pilots.  An apathetic, careless instructor tends to produce apathetic, careless pilots.

Parents are the primary instructors of their children.  This includes the Christian Faith.  For example, parents must teach children certain prayers (rote), what the prayers mean and why they are praying (understanding), how to pray (application), and how prayer affects all aspects of their lives (correlation).  In order for children to adopt a “culture of praying,” they must also see their parents praying.  The parents set the example just like flight instructors.  Parental attitudes and practices regarding the Faith are very important in teaching the Faith.

One thing I quickly realized as a new instructor was that teaching is the best way to learn.  Before I could teach a lesson to a student, I first had to teach myself.  I had to make sure that I personally had achieved the highest level of learning with each lesson before teaching it.  It would be no good for me to explain to my student how to perform a maneuver if I could not properly demonstrate the maneuver myself.  It would not be helpful to insist that my student learn FAA regulations if I myself did not know the FAA regulations.  I needed to constantly be teaching and re-teaching myself in order to remain proficient as an instructor.

Parents must teach themselves the Faith if they expect to teach the Faith to their children.  Parents cannot rely solely on the Church or Catholic Schools to teach children the Faith.  If parents are “stuck” on a lower level of learning, they will not be able to teach their children effectively.  For example, if parents only have a rote level of learning of the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Rosary or the Mass, they will not be able to take their children beyond a rote level.  Children will not gain an understanding or be able to apply those things to their lives in meaningful ways.  The Mass and prayers may become meaningless rituals that are shed by the children as they seek meaning in the world beyond their families.

When parents accept their responsibility as teachers of the Faith, everyone benefits.  The children learn their Faith in meaningful ways that transfer to real life.  The Church and the Schools are better able to pastor and teach the children that already have a fundamental grounding in the Faith.  The parents learn and strengthen their own Faith by teaching it.  Families grow closer as they learn and explore the meaning of their Faith together.  Love, compassion, empathy, discipline, togetherness, all the things families crave are realized in living the Faith genuinely.  Society benefits from having faithful, ethical Christians that are able to live and apply the love of Christ.  Everyone wins when parents learn and teach the Faith to their children.

Parents do not need to have degrees in theology to teach their children.  There are plenty of reputable resources available through books, CDs, DVDs, the internet and Church programs.  All it takes is for parents to claim the responsibility and step up in faith.  One resource I have found is a series of DVDs for children called “Brother Francis.”  My three year olds love them and I have learned from them as well.  Just start with the basics and build upon them.  Teach yourself.  First and foremost, pray for the grace to be the loving Christian your children need to see and follow.  Any parent with children of any age can do that!  Teach your children to soar on what Pope John Paul II called “the wings of faith and reason!”

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