« ÖncekiDevam »
it is probably not possible for any school to make a thinker out of a dreamer, or a successful experimenter out of a numbskull, we still claim that, given ordinary fair mental endowment, it is possible for the schools to make successful testing engineers, or to spoil the material they start with.
It hardly comes within the sphere of this paper, or coincides with our present purpose, to say anything about the curriculum of studies best calculated to fit a man to be a successful testing engineer. This is neither the time nor the place for such a paper, although we may possibly say something a little later about the self-education of the one who expects to spend his energies in this field of work. At this place we will, however, touch upon one or two points in connection with methods of teaching. Our observation of what the world wants to-day, not only in the field and work of testing engineers, but also in almost every other field, is men who can think; men with minds so trained and so fitted with mental equipment, that when unexpectedly and for the first time put in presence of a combination of circumstances, where action is necessary, they will know what to do and how to do it. This may look like a very severe dictum to apply to recent graduates, with their limited experience and small accumulation of facts, and yet we cannot help feeling that in some degree this dictum may legitimately be applied even to them, and that if they have been properly trained by the schools they will show in some measure a capacity for meeting unexpected and unforeseen emergencies. But it may be asked, what teaching and what training leads to the development of this capacity?
We answer, that while it is undoubtedly true that the mental characteristics of the student himself are a most important factor, and that it is clearly impossible to make thinkers of every student in the class, yet as we understand the matter, that teaching which brings out and keeps prominent before the mind of the student the principles underlying the theme which is under consideration, be the subject of study whatever it may, rather than that teaching which fills the mind of the student with methods, with manipulation, and with accumulated information, embracing a taste of many subjects, will have a tendency to develop the kind of mind we are looking for. A somewhat extensive acquaintance with recent graduates from the chemical schools for a number of years past, has led us to fear that methods, manipulation and accumulated information were given undue prominence, and that principles and reasons why were not sufficiently insisted upon. We are clearly of the opinion that the schools truly desire to furnish what is wanted, and that the situation as we seem to find it, is due to the effort on the part of the schools to turn out their graduates, fitted to at once begin to earn a livelihood or perchance to take charge of independent work. We are compelled to say that, while the motive seems praiseworthy, and a legitimate yielding to the demands of the times, we cannot help feeling that many a graduate will, under such tutelage, fail to reach the success which, with a different method, would have been legitimately in his grasp.
Perhaps an illustration will make clear the difference in methods of teaching which we have in mind. Not long ago we separately asked three recent graduates, each one from a different, entirely reputable, school, why nitric acid is used to dissolve steel, when one is going to determine the phosphorus. Why not use some other acid just as well? Two of the three replied that they supposed that nitric acid was a good solvent for steel, and they knew of no reason why any other acid that would dissolve the steel would not do as well. The third answered that in order to take the next step in the process, it was essential that the phosphorus should exist as ortho-phosphoric acid, and that nitric acid being an oxidizing agent would bring the phosphorus to that condition. Now each of these three recent graduates knew how to determine phosphorus in steel, and as a matter of fact each of them had done it in an entirely acceptable manner and under check for six months or more in my own laboratory. All three of them were familiar with the method and with the manipulation. But as we look at it only one of them had been properly taught. He not only knew the method and the manipulation, but he also knew the reasons why, and the principles underlying the method. One of my assistants put the matter very forcibly. He said: “The chemist who knows methods and manipulation gets along swimmingly as long as everything goes well, and perhaps turns out more work in a day than a thinking chemist who understands the reason why for every step in his analysis, but let a difficulty arise, and your method chemist is absolutely lost.”
There is another phase of this case which is perhaps worthy of a moment's notice. Given two young men of equal ability, and let both of them go through good technical schools, both graduating say as chemists, or as mining, mechanical, civil or electrical engineers. The one during his course of study has covered much ground, has stored his mind with facts, has learned carefully, and well, the methods and manipulation required in the branch chosen. The other has not covered so much ground, but every bit of information that he has, he thoroughly understands; he has acquired principles rather than a large array of facts, and he knows the reason why. Let now these two begin work after graduation in the same place, and we are ready to confess that the former will make the best showing, and progress the more rapidly for the first year or two, but if our observation is worth anything, the latter will distance his competitor at the end of ten years.
But we are perhaps spending too much time over this point. The mental equipment which the schools furnish is only a fraction of that needed by the testing engineer, especially if he happens to have it as his field of work, to defend the interests of a great consumer. It is legitimate and reasonably to be expected that the schools should teach a young man how to learn, and should start him in a number of subjects; but his real education comes later. We often say to our young men that the two things that a recent graduate needs most are experience and acquaintance. Under the head of experience, we comprehend the arranging of the information already acquired, so that each part will have its due, and only its due prominence, the accumulation of additional information, either by reading, by close and continuous study of his main theme or related branches - we fancy it almost goes without saying that the man
who expects to reach even moderate success as a testing engineer must study harder the first five or ten years after graduation than he did at any time while in school -we say a man must accumulate experience by arranging the information already acquired, by reading, by study, and actual contact with industrial processes, and with the world's work, in every possible detail, and above all, a man must acquire experience by actual wrestling with problems that may be committed to his care. It is apparently not essential, in order to gain experience, that one should successfully solve his problems. Faraday was accustomed to say that he actually learned more by his failures than from his successes. We cannot, we think, too emphatically insist on the importance to the testing engineer, of self education, of the broadening of his field of knowledge and of the acquisition of facts. The testing engineer should be an omnivorous student. Nothing too trivial to interest him, nothing too remote from his present line of work to make a legitimate demand on his attention should opportunity offer. The schools, if they have done their duty, have given you a more or less trained mind, and have taught you how to learn. It is your own fault if you do not broaden every day. You can never tell what moment you will need, and badly need, some out-of-theway fact. Store them up against that time of need.
Perhaps you will forgive me an illustration or two on this point. We recently saw a broken steel car axles The break occurred ten or twelve inches from the end of the axle. On examining both ends, there was some appearance of seams, not radial, but rather in a sense irregularly parallel to the circumference. These seams