Who learns what how?

I’ve written about my wife’s cousin’s experiences learning Italian and Japanese. Tonight he revealed that in English he never could comprehend what he reads. He knows the words but reading doesn’t convey information to him. He amended that by saying he can read a novel if it interests him, like the Louie L’Amour westerns.
I was intrigued, thinking at first that it might be b/c of dialect (he grew up in Oklahoma speaking Black dialect), but he said he could understand what the teachers said but not what was written down. Clearly he is attuned to language b/c he learned Italian in five years living in Italy and Japanese in three years living in Japan. His ability to comprehend complex systems is illustrated by his job in the Navy: repairing jet engines. The following story contains so much drama, it would be good lesson in an engineering class. In fact, I’m thinking of submitting it to my grandson’s h.s. engineering teacher.
The Air Cobra engines began coming up with a problem. So cousin Touche pulled a bunch of them, about 80, and tested them. He found five that did not pass the test. Not being an officer (he was an E-6, equivalent to an Army non-com), it was courageous of him to call for a shut down on the repair of Air Cobra engines. He made a lot of people world wide very mad at him. He pulled out five engines that did not pass the test (it involved getting the right amount of air through a gas generator rotor). He then researched and tested to make sure his instruments were correctly calibrated – they were, then to looking at the engines’ provenance. It turned out that all five engines had one thing in common: they were all from City X.
When he announced that, all hell broke loose. The big wigs wouldn’t listen to him. Finally, he got a guy in California who was willing to listen to him. But that was after two engineers from the City X plant had been flown to Asia to examine the engines. To his horror, cousin Touche realized the engineers only knew the part they had engineered but not how all the engine parts worked together. These engineers meticulously cleaned every part but still got less than satisfactory performance. Touche reminded them that he worked on engines out at sea, not in a laboratory. Also, he had only so many sailors to work on engines.
Touche took out a rotor from a good engine and put it in a bad engine and the bad engine passed at a high rating, meeting all parameters plus. That confirmed for him that the problem was in the engine itself. At that point the engines were examined in a lab setting. It was found that the rotor blades were off by a fraction, thus not allowing enough air to get through. When he reported this, the brass finally had the City X facility checked and found the five engines all came from the same bench. The instruments at that bench were checked and it was found they were a fraction out of calibration.
He did all this without reading the manuals, only looking at the engine.
Let that sink in: he did all this without reading the manuals, only looking at the engine.

Six months later, he was sent along with a lot of other mechanics at his level to the GE plant in Massachusetts where engineers listened to them and took notes. When they were presented with a brand new engine, something they had never seen before b/c they worked only on engines taken off aircraft, they were giddy. The engineers were amazed at how delighted these guys were to take this engine down and put it back together without having to break corroded parts, etc. to get at the workings. They were dumbfounded by how fast these mechanics broke down and put back together this complex engine.
Here he is, a non-com, halting the repair of these engines in demand all over the world at naval facilities, all based on his ability to repair any sort of engine. Another post here told of his experience working in a tractor repair parts warehouse (can’t find it; maybe I didn’t post on it). Eventually, the customers overcame their reluctance to deal with a Black man and would come in and just go straight to him to describe the problem they were having and he’d sell them the  part they needed.

Fortunately, his parents gave him the social skills he needed to break through the racism both at home in Oklahoma and in the Navy and focus on his job and not get side-tracked. How many similarly gifted people do we loose b/c they can’t navigate a system that doesn’t appear to have a place for them?

I asked him if this had been written up and he said that the whole affair had been investigated and set down for people to learn from. But how do we get massive systems like the American public school system to untangle itself from its print-oriented and college-oriented rut?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *