Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

teach someone something

I was talking with other parents about school choices, good schools, getting kids into gifted, summer reading programs, curriculum to get their kid "ahead" before school started again. It all rubbed me a little wrong.

I think it's because where I work, we don't really have much need for turbo-geniuses.

I mean yes, of course, we have some VERY smart people at the airplane company! But they're also good communicators, because in our industry you're not allowed to make something that only you understand. You have to get the FAA, safety regulators, sales people, and customers to understand it too. If no one wants to buy it there's no point to making it. If we don't think it's safe it's not allowed to fly. So there's this tribal understanding that's incredibly important. Intelligence in a bubble is fine in school where you're graded by yourself, but come to work and the bubble makes you worthless.

Every summer I am sent interns and new college grads and we have to train them on our internal processes, which are complicated and not part of any college curriculum. The guy who just learned the system has to train you, and there's uniqueness for every assignment, and there's a million tools, and it would be pointless to try to teach it in classes. How long would it take to train someone about products that thousands of people spent their whole lives designing? Maybe impossible - and it'd be forever before they could contribute and earn their paychecks. So we just throw them in the deep end and they do productive things and learn along the way, mostly from the people around them, not teachers.

It's said that career success is based 70% on experience. You can't learn it in a class. And the way to do stuff is to have a team who can give you little pointers along the way. So we need engineers who can train other engineers, find them perfect assignments, communicate communicate communicate.

So put yourself in my place: how would you feel hearing that one of the new grads took differential equations in the eighth grade?

That's nice, you'd say. But we're not doing differential equations today. Is he good to work with?

If you knew that classes could only account for maybe 10% of career success, how would you feel if you heard your new grad was good at classes?

When we talk about who's important in our department, we talk about the good mentors. One genius cannot do the work of one "fairly smart person" who can get 10 other people to also be fairly smart people... that team will always out-produce the one genius.

When I think of my kid in school, I don't want her to be ahead of the whole class. I want her to be "of the people" and if she's got time, helping someone else at her table learn the concept she grasped quickly. Her knowledge isn't worth anything unless the people around her are on the same page.

But I don't think that's a thing schoolkids get to do, is it? There's no line on the report card for "can train others". There's only one person who's supposed to do the training... the teacher at the front of the room. And there are group assignments later on, but even then the end result is prioritized over the learning. The group is sometimes asked who did the most work, but I don't think there's ever a question about how effective the smart person was at bringing the other group members along with them.

Maybe it's an irreconcilable gap between school and industry that I'll just have to deal with. It's great that we get graduates who've taken lots of calculus to prove they're smart. Being smart is a first step, I suppose. But the ability to expand your toolbox, keep learning, teach others what you've learned... is that a thing in school?
Tags: engineering, parenting

Posts from This Journal “engineering” Tag

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