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Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

We Need a Henry Petroski…

…who, by the way, is an American engineer specializing in failure analysis.  Failure analysis is the process of collecting and analyzing data to determine the cause of a failure. Don’t we need that?  Don’t we need someone else to tell us why we are failing in schools?? Couldn’t a failure analysis keep us from repeating the failure of our schools?

After all, “when we take into account past failures and anticipate potential new ways in which failure can occur, we are more likely to produce successful designs.”  Look to the Titanic, Henry Petroski suggests. “Imagine that the Titanic did not strike the iceberg on its maiden voyage. Then the general belief in its “unsinkableness” would have been reinforced. In fact, if the ship went on to have many successful crossings, other ships would have copied its design, which we know was seriously flawed. Its sinking — its failure — was a lesson to shipbuilders, who learned from the failure how to design, build, and operate safer ships. They knew what to avoid in their own designs to increase their chances of success.”

Petroski also speaks about bridge collapses and while he isn’t the first to postulate this, he “theorizes that bridge collapses happen approximately every 30 years because that’s how long it takes a new generation of engineers to emerge and then ignore the old lessons, to disastrous results.” Does this sounds like our veteran teachers who say things come around every 20 years or so?

He speaks about the differences between scientists and engineers and while poor engineering got us into the mess with the Gulf Oil spill, politicians kept trying to get  scientists to fix it, until, in the end, “it was engineering that finally capped the well.” Politicians have tried for years to “fix” education.  Isn’t it time educators did?

He quotes Albert Einstein:  “Scientists investigate that which already is;  Engineers create that which has never been.”

It’s just like Eric Drexler said, “Inquiry is the essence of science, design is the essence of engineering, and in their pure forms, these activities are utterly different. Scientific inquiry draws observations from the world to reshape the mind; engineering design projects ideas from the mind to reshape the world.”

When we think science versus engineering, one draws from the world to reshape the mind and one projects ideas from the mind to reshape the world

Hmmm… Reshaping minds… reshaping the world… I’d like to be part of that, wouldn’t you?

What I’d really like to be part of, though, is reshaping education.


About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


2 thoughts on “We Need a Henry Petroski…

  1. I’m with you, Paula.

    We keep ramming the damn icebergs, but there are too many passengers onboard for us to abandon ship.

    Let’s keep moving ahead in transforming everything we can – eventually our students, parents, and communities will see the status quo for the collapsed bridge it is.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | March 1, 2011, 9:20 pm
  2. i left this link on a comment on John’s recent post.. but it’s resonating in so many ways Paula.. going to leave it again.
    Chris Argris on why we don’t do the things we often really want to do.. our defense mode:

    Eric’s reshaping makes me think of Roger Schank, going back and forth from the mind to the computer to the mind…
    it makes me excited for where we are headed, coming out of our private spaces, zooming way out, because often that’s the only way we can take in the volumes, and finding that differences and unlikely connections and failures need no longer be burdened or hidden by stigmatized labels.. but in fact, bode us quite well when embraced.

    Posted by monika hardy | March 2, 2011, 10:00 pm

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