Zen and the Art of Driver’s Ed

Matthew R. Morris
4 min readSep 18, 2023

This should in no way be connected to that great body of factual information connected to the art of Zen. It is not very factual on Driver’s Ed practice, either.

This is actually about teaching.

The first time I drove a car I was 12 years old. My father travelled to Jamaica for his father’s funeral. My mother never owned a driver’s license. I was old enough to not have to walk across the street and then walk down another two houses to be babysat during summer break anymore. And with this I even earned my first latchkey. That summer was the first time I felt like a man.

I wasn’t a man…

For the first few days after dad got on the plane and mom went to work, my younger brother and I scrambled to figure shit out. It started with sleeping in and using more peanut butter than we were supposed to on toasted sandwiches at lunch. We had free range of our house for the first time ever. Naturally, we ended up exploring.

By the end of the third day, with dad being away and mom at work, we found the keys to our sky blue Buick Regal. I pressed the key into the door hinge and reached over to unlock the passenger side for my brother. We sat there for half an hour, me moving the steering wheel, him telling me to press the gas because it’s some cops and robbers shit. Both of us, pretending to be driving around. Like kids.

We weren’t men yet…

We did that one time on the third day and three times on the fourth day. On that fifth day I pushed the key into the slot right beside the steering wheel. Then I twisted it.

We drove to and ate breakfast at Aunt Marys, the local breakfast restaurant across the street from the middle school. I got fried eggs with bacon and Tiny had scrambled with sausages. We paid with a ten dollar bill mom left for us days before. And we got in that mothafuckin’ car and drove home. Like men.

I didn’t hit anything until I came around that very last corner, the one leading onto our street. When I hopped the curb my little brother looked at me with so much fear that I had to stop for a second. I didn’t know anything about gears so I drove over Mr. Tedesco’s nicely mowed boulevard, back onto the street, and parked almost a quarter foot on my own lawn. We ran inside and left the keys back where we found them. We barely went outside for the rest of that week.

Mom was almost too tired to even notice but Pam and her talked everyday. Pam always knew what happened on our street. Mom told us we weren’t anything close to the grown fuckin’ men we thought we could act like. She also told us that this would be the first thing she told our dad when he got back. She didn’t even make us dinner that night. We had to stomach that.

We knew, we weren’t men.

Twenty years later they both would bring up that story at family functions. It served to embarrass us when we started talking like we knew more than we did. Ten years after these times I think I understand why.

They, as parents, knew what upbringing and raising and lessons looked like. We thought we knew how to be them — adults — but we really had no clue. Both of them abridged the child-to-adult development by giving me a key and letting me learn on my own, without babysitting. They balanced, intrinsically — from what they experienced — how to parent in a good way and what quality parenting is.

In being parents, like teachers, what they learned to do helped them teach us how to learn. They figured out that parenting, like driver’s ed, is some parts teaching and some parts letting the child, or the driver, learn on their own.

But how would they know what good teaching could be without them letting us roam a little? In order for parents to grapple with what quality parenting can look like, they have to be willing to let their children explore. Same rule goes for driver’s ed instructors. Same for teachers.

And same for the educators who teach teachers how to teach. We only arrive at quality teaching by letting teachers learn bits on their own. That’s the art.

I never went to driver’s ed. When I finally really learned how to drive years later it was my dad who sat in the passenger seat and let me navigate. Those times were quality experiences. His teaching from the time he travelled away to the time he sat beside me in that same car served as good education. His method was a gift. A gift in so that he probably left his keys on the top of the fridge for a reason. Only known to his why. Only articulated between and through his understanding of the difference between good teaching and quality education. Because of him — and good teaching mixed with quality education — I too know how to steer.



Matthew R. Morris

my new book: Black Boys Like Me: Confrontations with Race, Identity and Belonging on pre-sale now. www.matthewrmorris.com