The School - Part 2
Montgomery inquires about his future plans and Gunderson says that he’ll probably do a little fishing, a little traveling, and go back to school. Montgomery is taken back at his suggestion that he would go back to school, for he knows that no engineering school could teach him anything about aircraft design. He knows that Gunderson could walk into any aeronautical school in the country and make their professors look like hicks.
Gunderson tells Montgomery that the school he’s contemplating is a different kind of school, one that purports to having a totally, unorthodox way of learning. He says he heard about the school from a fellow named Norcross who worked for Boeing.
After his conversation with Gunderson, Montgomery reports to his superior in Washington, Colonel Dodge. He tells Dodge about Gunderson making application to go to a school. Colonel Dodge is aware of this school, which goes by the name of Nagle-Berkeley Institute. He’s concerned about the nature of this school because in the last year, over two hundred, highly qualified, top of the line engineers have quit their positions in military-related projects to attend this school. For a long time, Dodge has wanted to get one of his own men into the school, to learn more about it, and he asks Montgomery if he can procure an invitation to the school, if he’d be willing to attend. Montgomery agrees to give it a try.
Montgomery confides to Gunderson that, if at all possible, he’d like to attend the school, as students are by invitation only. Gunderson says he would make inquiry. Six weeks later, when the Air Force accepts the XB-91, Gunderson resigns from Firestone Aviation, and together with Montgomery, they head for the school’s campus which is housed in an unsuccessful summer resort in Northern California, just below the Oregon border.
Gunderson has an interview with Dr. Berkeley while Montgomery has his initial interview with Dr. Nagle. The first question Dr. Nagle asks Montgomery is why he wanted to attend this school? In anticipation of this very question, Montgomery recites the answer he’d been working on for six weeks. He borrows heavily from Gunderson’s perception of why the XB-91 is a failure; then he concludes his remarks by disparaging the inability of engineering schools to find solutions to prevent another occurrence of the next generation of XB-91s.
Dr. Nagle picks up on this line of thinking and adds his remarks. He agrees with Gunderson’s assessment that the XB-91 is a failure, and that it’s simply the end result of the concept that bigger is better, that it was built from a mound of data, and not from invention and research. He states the problem succinctly as being a “lack of new basic ideas.” He says the problem is not for lack of engineering schools, but the inability of the schools to solve the problems as represented by the XB-91. He asks Montgomery what public education is supposed to accomplish, but then goes on to answer his own question. He says,
“Schools are public property, whose controls are mandated by the community. Since time immortal, schools have existed to enable the individual to become an integral part of cultural life – whatever form that culture might be. Cultures demand a minimum degree of stability for its existence. Accordingly, customs, thoughts, and habits all contribute to this stability and excursions from the norm are highly frowned upon.”
He asserts that schools provide students with textbooks with the collective results of data gathering and present it in the form of a Handbook of Wing Design for Aeronautical Engines.
“This," says Dr. Nagle, "is the homeostatic process, the process of maintaining internal stability by not venturing into the unknown.”
“The sole purpose of the educational system is to preserve the cultural norm through indoctrinating the masses with the data currently accepted as truth. Schools do not necessarily concern themselves with the individual by inviting the individual to engage in original thought. Schools give information and if the student, during an exam, can regurgitate back to the teacher the exact same information, you are labeled as brilliant, or at least better than average.”
Montgomery takes this all in and asks what it all means, to which Dr. Nagle replies,
“What happens when the homeostatic controls are pushed too low, when expectations for internal stability are marginal, when education is substituted for learning and data collection is substituted for research?”
“The predictable end result will be a continuation of XB-91s. The problem can only be solved by tackling the way minds do the thinking. Building more wind tunnels, more complex computers only evades the fundamental problem. We must find out the nature and purpose of humankind.”