I have many criticisms of the modern university system. Most of these relate to the bureaucratic and political behavior they engage in. I spent approximately ten years, at night, collecting an education and a degree. In that time, I learned more on the job, than in the classroom. There were many instances, where the class material was woefully obsolete. It was, however, a golden opportunity to attempt real time integration of college learning, with my job.
I could go on and on about the despicable liberal political demogoguery in the college classroom. I wish I had a digital recorder back then. I would have captured some of the absurd temper tantrums, thrown by college professors, at my tuition expense. Most of the offenders were in the social sciences.
What do the these sheltered people really know about the real world that feeds them a salary and a decent standard of living?
This is another rant for another day. I had many fantastic professors. I also had many abysmal professors. Two of my favorite professors had both retired from private industry jobs. They were sharing those life skills with college students, just to stay engaged.
If so much importance were not conferred to that paper degree, I probably would not have bothered. The fact is, a degree is still a crucial standard. Without a network of professional friends, it is one of the only things you can use to prove your worth . Another way to prove your worth is to start your own company and make it succeed, like famous college dropout William Gates. I think the degree standard is being abused by the university bureaucracy. If you don't have that degree, you don't get a good job. So you should bite your lip, and suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous liberalism.
All the jobs I have had were referred by friends. Unfortunately, this is poor insurance. That degree is still honored as an achievement milestone. There is a cruel irony here. The product produced by many of the schools can be almost as bad as the public schools. I have seen many a college graduate sliding through the company's hands, with degree in hand, unable to perform basic skills.
The Mentor and Apprentice
One of the smartest engineers I ever learned from is no longer with us. He never went to college. He was a passionate hands on person, who had a strong father mentor. His father had his own electronic repair shop. We do not see many of these places anymore. The global economy of large scale integration and consumer pricing have brought us great toys, but have eliminated the need for a local toy shop to repair them.
Charlie was raised by a father steeped in the curiosity of electromechanical machines. He would often accept challenging jobs, rejected by others. One of these jobs was to repair an optical grading machine being used in his school district. This was the early fifties, so this was a fairly new computing technology. He and his young ten year old son tackled the task, with potentially hazardous results. It was a wonderful wiz bang, whir and purr learning experience for Charlie. His lifelong curiosity and passion were germinated that day.
Charlie's educational institution of learning was his Alma Pater. He had a 'nourishing father'.
Charlie could design circuits in his head, perform the analysis and produce a schematic result. Although it was difficult and sometimes impossible for him to produce a design model for his results, I could prototype his circuits or simulate them on a computer. They worked quite well. They would even have statistically conservative, tested behavior. His engineering was just another example of how incredible the human brain is. It can form its own models, methodology and execution entirely within a private framework of understanding. This works even with complex modern technologies.
Many of the views we have of our world are based on models. Mathematical models are quite powerful. If you can prove that an observed phenomenon follows a math model, you can be sure that your use of that model in design will be robust and predictable. Applied physics is such a math framework. But a model is still only a model . There are many new computer iterative design models based on genetic algorithms, fuzzy logic and non-linear processes which have been proven to produce functional results. Although many of those results cannot be described mathematically, they function nonetheless.
Have we lost something, as a society, by marginalizing apprenticeship?
So many people, operating in the close learning environments, of friendship and collaboration, have produced miracles of new technology. Just look at the Xerox crew, which brought us GUIs, Networking, Object oriented software etc.
Relight the Torch
Universities and colleges are supposed to provide the substance of a career interest. They are supposed to provide a toolbox for learning new things. They are supposed to teach you how to think. Is that standard toolbox always the best start? Is it always the best set of tools? When I meet people like my late friend Charlie, I think we need to rethink our emphasis on institutionalized models and teaching.
Not everyone is a natural teacher, but there are many with natural gifts for creative building and innovation. Charlie was that rare blend of natural teacher and renegade technologist. He got all of that power from his own study and family dynamics. Apprenticeship is a old, tried and true concept, preceding all of the modern institutions of learning. Can this old concept be reinvigorated in our time, for more than the traditional electrical, plumbing and legacy trades?
Perhaps attempting to tap this mentor to apprentice communication will destroy it. Small team chemistry is meant to be small. Maybe it is best left alone.