How do you teach someone to land an airplane?
A twenty one year old is almost totally incapable of jumping into the cockpit of a T-6 Texan II and teaching himself to fly. He (or she) will almost certainly kill himself in the process.
Contrast this thought with the fact that Wilbur and Orville Wright taught themselves to fly. Furthermore, an experimental test pilot, having never flown an aircraft before, can take-off on the first-ever flight of an experimental aircraft for which no one has an idea on its handling and flying qualities and literally teach himself to fly it.
How do we resolve these ideas?
I think there are two points in the spectrum that contains ideas on learning, and an awareness of their existence will help us. First, in the modern day, we have the internet–more specifically, countless books, videos and other resources on the internet–the autodidactic’s utopia–has created an environment in which anyone can learn anything for free. This isn’t a new approach to thinking about learning though. In 1909, then President of Harvard University commissioned the publication of 50 volumes, a shelf of books that could offer its reader:
…a good substitute for a liberal education in youth to anyone who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading.1
On the other hand, we have traditional teaching–by this I mean something that looks like a student with his teacher–a mentor, a coach, etc. Why do we need teachers? Or more importantly…
Do we need teachers?
Mark Mondt said this about the early days of his technical career in flight test: “Everyone gladly answered my questions but much of the time I just did not know which questions to ask.”
I think this quote is the center of the bullseye of learning. I think we can learn faster with a guide, and I think we can learn from the preserved knowledge of others. I also think that you can’t teach someone to land an airplane. You can show them what a good landing looks like, and then you ride along with them while they teach themselves to land.
Incidentally, I think being a test pilot is a great analogy for life.
I also think sharing our observations is important. Sometimes it will give that wondering mind an answer to a question they didn’t even know they had.
Life is a journey. And these are observations from ours.