The School - Part 4
Montgomery asks Wolfe what’s the connection between looking in the mirror and building a better airplane. Wolfe responds that it gives the viewer the opportunity to review the ten thousand agreements made with professors, school educators, and other engineers as to why your abilities are not sufficient to do the job at hand. These homeostats which control the viewer’s thinking will be examined, some will be kept, and most will be discarded. In summation, he says that accepting anyone else’s solution to a problem, without thinking it through yourself, is a form of homeostat.
Via the mirror, Montgomery obtains an unadulterated view of who he really is and it horrifies him. The persona that he has built up over the years is stripped away and his true nature is revealed to him. He realizes that even though he has an engineering degree, he’s not an engineer. He knows the formulas and knows where to find stuff in a textbook, but if required to do original thinking, without the aid of textbooks, he knows he would flounder.
He realizes he’s a phony and a fake, and the façade he presents to the outside world is just that, a façade. He tries to console himself that his position as liaison officer between the civilian contractors building the XB-91 and the Air Force was an important one, and had he not been there the project would have been delayed by at least a year. But it’s no use; the mirror shows him what he really is, a totally incompetent bumbling butterfingers with gold braid who struts about his office and basks in the limelight of his association with real engineers. To say that Montgomery is devastated would be an understatement.
In frustration and anger at the revelations presented to him, he takes off his headset and throws it at the mirror, damaging it somewhat. He stalks out of the room, and moves towards the beach. With the illusion that he was somebody ripped away, he picks up a stick and begins to draw in the sand as a way to vent his frustration. He draws an aircraft wing, but not a conventional wing. This one has an irregular shape. With a burst of insight, he realizes that the design of this wing could have shortened the wingspan of the XB-91 by 20 percent. He had had such thoughts and premonition during the time the aircraft was in the drawing stage, but he was reluctant to voice his opinions.
Montgomery consults with Wolfe about his experiences with the mirror, but Wolfe has already reviewed the tapes and knows what Montgomery has seen. He encourages Montgomery to go back to the mirror and probe farther to try and discover the reasons why he was content to being a phony big shot instead of a productive individual in his own right.
Montgomery reports back to Colonel Dodge his findings, but this time not as an inside agent for the colonel, who wants to shut down the school, but as an institute agent to convince Dodge that the school has merit and should be kept open. He relates to Dodge everything he’s experienced and invites the colonel to come and see for himself, and he will prove to him the value of the school. The colonel accepts the invitation and says he’ll arrive in three days.
To convince Colonel Dodge of the validity of the school, Montgomery uses the 3-D box to construct an exact replica, in very small scale, of the XB-91 using his modified wing. Then, as though he had a modern 3-D printer available to him, he prints a copy of the model in plastic. He gives the plastic model airplane to his colleague, Norcross, and asks him to take it to the testing facilities at Firestone Aviation and have the engineers there test it in their wind tunnels and bring him a printout of the results. Norcross completes his assignment before Colonel Dodge arrives
The upshot of Colonel Dodge’s visit is that the school is saved from closure. The colonel, upon reading the printout of the wind tunnel trials for the altered wing design of the XB-91, is astounded by the plane’s increased performance and possible reduction in overall size. But what he’s even more astounded by is the fact that the creator of the altered wing is Major Eugene Montgomery, an individual he considered to be nothing more than a strutting peacock in dress blues. His parting comments were that if this institute could do for other men, what it has done for Major Montgomery, the school has great value and should be protected.
After Colonel Dodge’s departure, Montgomery and Dr. Nagle confer together. Montgomery tells Dr. Nagle that he wants to continue working with the mirror. When pressed for specific reasons, Montgomery says that while the mirror laid bare his total being for him to reflect upon and to contemplate the various segments of his personality, he also caught a glimpse of who he really is.
“I’ve come to realize," he said, "that I’ve had a long existence before I ever entered into mortal life. It’s like I’ve lived forever and all knowledge and all wisdom are already a fundamental part of me. It’s in all of us, all of humankind," he says, "and I want to explore, to the fullest depth possible – who I really am.” (Jones)
Epilogue: So who can teach the best and most advanced experts? Who is capable of instructing the Einsteins, the Steve Jobs, and the Bill Gates?