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Aptitude: Public Testing of Private Persons
Why You Can’t Get There From Here
Somewhere around Junior High my school gave us series after series of tests. The word aptitude floated around the giving of some of them. I remember the teacher actually enlisting us to “grade” some of them ourselves: applying some formula which was supposed to magically tell our owners (our prospective employers, colleges, Selective Service, our parents …) what our interests and talents were.
One of those I graded myself I remember very clearly the results of: 99% Religious. Ah, the school administrators concluded, He doesn’t know yet what he’s interested in: he hasn’t matured.
That’s because I went to public school in Rockville Centre, Long Island. South Side High School turned out doctors and lawyers, not preachers and housewives. Religion simply didn’t register on the parents’ slaves as an interest. “I want to conquer the world” also would not have registered. Law and Medicine were the two valid categories: all else was Immature.
Had I gone to some college-bound school in the Bible Belt I don’t doubt that the opposite would have applied. I’d have been a star in any class. The kid who loved his chemistry set would have been the immature one, the one who wasn’t yet showing a clear path.
Bucky Fuller told me a story I’ll repeat here. He told me that the Army had some committee that had some slush fund, a few extra million dollars beyond anything needed for payroll, tanks, or ammo. The army committee wanted to use its extra cash to benefit genius: the army recognizing that success was somehow correlated to intelligence, and “genius” we all know is some super form of intelligence. Now the military had already influenced millions and millions being donated to MIT, to Stanford RI, etc. This time they wanted to try something different. So the Army used part of its millions to hire consultants to advise them on the disposal of their surplus. The consultants researched the problem. The consultants went to recognized geniuses, people with patents the Army respected for example — maybe some guy with a better transistor — and asked outright: “how come you’re so smart?”
The consultants concluded that the common thread seemed to have something to do with small Liberal Arts colleges and with anonymous instructors, not with tenured faculty. In other words, the Army got more than one answer that went something like, Well, I went to Hamilton College, and I remember one day in Freshman English the instructor, reading Frost’s poem about snow in the woods, said …
So what did the Army do? They gave another couple of million to MIT and SRI!
Bucky grinned. “They refused to learn what they had learned.”
See my Learning: Hard Learning, Soft Learning (pkTools Blog)
Of course Bucky had ample reason not to love the army: no other single institution had violated so many of his patents. Bucky was not hurting for money by 1968 or 1969 when I benefited from that narrative, but the army must have owed him way up toward eight figures in violated royalties by then: every other army building was geodesic, the patent holder getting not one penny of thanks. (Besides, Bucky was a Navy man!)
My school went out of its way to test us: but then only accepted the results they were prejudiced toward. Imagine a democracy holding an election in which all votes for Candidate B meant that the voter hadn’t really made us his mind and all votes for Candidate A counted: the election remained undecided until Candidate A won.
By the way, my religiosity continued to register absolutely zero at Columbia. Law and Medicine were its default settings as well. Columbia was one of the schools my public school was quite hysterical for.
What if I’d discovered a new principle though in either area of inquiry? Something like “germ theory” on the one hand or “Liberty” on the other? I don’t think Columbia would have been much quicker than my public school to recognize it. In fact, I did something more important. I offered Networking. In 1970. To the actual public! To commoners! (The first FLEX documents were composed in a Columbia-owned apartment.) It didn’t register at all: in either community. Yet both yap in networked glee once the networking is offered not to the public for the public but by industry for industry. The Microsoft-IBM internet is much embraced both by Columbia and my public school. The same concept was invisible to them when offered in connection with old-fashioned liberty: for the people.
How can Columbia ever live that down?
Simple: by not recognizing it to be true. By understanding history about as well as my public school understood my aptitude tests.
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