Why Did the Wright Brothers Succeed When Others Fail?
By Shilo Brooks
JMC fellow Shilo Brooks has recently written an article on the Wright brothers for the Scientific American:
That two bicycle salesmen from Dayton, Ohio, were the first people to fly is as astonishing today as it was over a century ago, when the Wright brothers soared above slack-jawed crowds at public exhibitions in the United States and France. For a brief period, the world was united in wonder. The Wrights’ accomplishment is worth revisiting because it challenges the 21st-century conviction that aspiring young engineers should focus narrowly on STEM disciplines in college, and that courses in the arts and humanities are not as important as those in math and science. If the Wright brothers were alive today, they might warn us that pedagogical dogmas like these prevent us from cultivating engineers of the extraordinary type that they were.
Neither Wilbur nor Orville Wright majored in a STEM discipline. In fact, neither brother went to college and neither had any formal technical training. The Wright Flyer cost the brothers less than $1,000 (about $28,000 in today’s dollars) to construct, which they earned through profits from their bicycle business. The first prototype of the Wright Flyer flew 852 feet, and with modifications it eventually flew in excess of 40 miles. Not bad for two working class dreamers from Dayton with no engineering education, no internet access and no university laboratories or libraries…
Shilo Brooks is the Faculty Director of the Engineering Leadership Program in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, with a courtesy appointment in the Herbst Program. He has been a visiting fellow at Princeton University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, a fellow at the University of Virginia’s Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy, and a visiting professor in the Department of Government at Bowdoin College. He is a a member of the executive committee at CU’s Center for Western Civilization; a member of the Boulder Faculty Assembly; and a faculty affiliate at CU’s Center of the American West. His teaching and writing focus on the relationship between politics, science, and liberal education. His first book, Nietzsche’s Culture War, examined Friedrich Nietzsche’s critiques of modern science, modern culture, and higher education.
Dr. Brooks is a JMC fellow.
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