FORMAL EDUCATION FOR THE INVENTOR
By Peter H. Kilham
father, a very prolific inventor and engineer, had something important
to say. He was willing to give education a chance, but became
discouraged. In 1933 he wrote:
let us look at schools and see what the future of the country may be.
Are people made like machines, in quantity and to a set standard? Or is
education a means of developing the individual? In the main I think we
shall find schools to be factories of the more expensive variety. Of
course there is at present a very strong trend in teaching towards
broader and more individual education, but in general what have we?
Classes of numbers of pupils, I believe, all of whom are graded in a
series of numbers that do not relate to any of them. Classes in which
the book is the thing, not the pupil. Classes where memory ranks high,
imagination low. Classes where every subject is divided into parts
instead of classes where the parts are combined to show the whole.
Self-sufficiency demands a broad general education put to use according
to the need. Schools give a pigeonholed education almost totally removed
from use. They tell us it is “mind training” but the memory is only
part of the mind.
I couldn’t agree more. It was the same in my education 20 years later.
education often is very important in determining success factors behind
creativity, invention and entrepreneurship. Creative minds, however,
tend to be impatient and often drop out of school before they complete
their formal education. They become frustrated with the formality and
rigid structure they perceive to be endemic to classroom education.
There doesn’t seem to be any room left for the mind to wander, catch a
glimpse of a new vision, or pursue it wherever it may lead.
schools traditionally have been a source of second start education for
those who grew to realize that they didn’t learn enough to achieve some
aspiration. Today’s correspondence courses are offered with the
convenience and appealing media of online transmission. Some
universities including MIT are offering their courses free online to
anyone who logs in to them. This is a definite second chance for some
self-directed individuals. Where possible in such cases however it would
be very helpful to have a couch or tutor critique and guide the
otherwise self-guided student as they try to sort out this stream of
highly interactive computer clouds offering multimedia education in a
reality-based dialogue method, the students could find themselves in a
virtual classroom with personal attention.
students become employees in industry or government, they often will
find more interest in new ideas than seemed to be the case in schools,
especially if they are employed in technical areas such as engineering.
However, deficiency of essential formal education often shows up as lack
of essential technical knowledge or communication skills.
have encountered many entrepreneurial technicians and engineers who hit
a brick wall because they didn’t know the physics or chemistry involved
in their inventions. It is very difficult to catch up in deep technical
areas later in life. They should have studied more science and math in
schools and universities. The areas of significant technical invention
today usually are much more complex than in Edison’s day, so prospects
are much dimmer for the essentially self-taught entrepreneurs.
a stumbling block is the lack of communication abilities on the part of
these entrepreneurial hopefuls. They can’t seem to explain in
understandable language what they are thinking or proposing. They can’t
read published information that is required to support their project.
They can’t write down their findings and notes for their associates and
schools apparently have the reference resources students need in terms
of both technical education and communication skills, but this knowledge
often doesn’t seem to be getting through to the students. Three things
need to be done:
– Get children interested in creative accomplishment at an early age
and keep them focused on this throughout their lifetimes. This requires
teachers who love what they are doing. Teachers who are on fire.
Teachers who love science and really want their students to absorb it.
– Make sure that the fundamental knowledge needed has been presented
and learned. If teachers do not know their course material, replace them
with ones who do.
– See that the students who are interested in innovation, invention and
entrepreneurship don’t drop out of school prematurely, foregoing the
additional technical education and communications skills that they will
will need many graduates who are hooked by the challenge of the
unknown. They will be captivated by the wonder of unknown and the goal
of making a unique contribution to its understanding.
motivational process starts at the top—with the president of the United
States—and carries through political and business leaders, parents,
clergy, educators and many others. When Russia launched the first
orbiting satellite, there was frenzy in the United States not to fall
behind again in the technological race. We put our man on the moon
first, and this goal has faded out. Now
the world is faced with larger and irreversible problems of
environment, climate, food, water and energy, and a new sense of mission
to be accomplished must be developed.
(c) 2009 Lawrence B. Kilham