Gerald Wollum

It’s been both fun and interesting this summer watching documentaries and reading the retrospectives about the moon landing of 1969. It brings back a lot of memories and kind of gives a sense of the wonder and awe that everyone seemed to have. As a teenager interested in space and science, I had been collecting news clippings back to the Gemini days and watched and read about the Mariner spacecraft that sent back pictures from Mars. It was a topic that was discussed at home and at school, even on the playground in elementary school. We knew the names of all the astronauts and considered them as brave American heroes, right up there with Roy Rogers, Daniel Boone and Superman–although we all know Superman was from the planet Krypton.

As children, we had no real clue about the difficulty involved in all of the calculations required to get even the simplest task done. It was the product of many talented mathematicians with complex equations filling reams of paper that took countless hours to produce, using things like slide rules, mechanical adding machines and simply scratch paper. Another thing the space program brought about in the fall of 1965, I think, was New Math in school. This was an educational prescription to keep American kids from falling behind Russian kids. I’d be lying if I said there was no shock and awe on our part, not to mention dismay at this new-fangled mathematics. Math and science would win the space race, but I believe it was really all of the spin-offs from research that were the real payoff.

Now in 2019, however, the world is beset with people who seem to be against knowledge. It’s pretty popular lately to be bashing four year degrees, with talk of “educated idiots” with no practical experience, but that is not the whole story. I worked with engineers and scientists who were often clumsy with anything other than a computer, a chalkboard, or a pad of engineering graph paper. Many people, myself included, have a tech school diploma in a trade with no debt to repay. I actually paid as I went, back when tuition was reasonable. And there are lots of people who learned construction and other jobs working with someone who knew a lot and was patient enough to teach. Then the “learn-by-doing” part kicks in, but it is pretty important to have some baseline knowledge techniques involved so you don’t mess things up too badly at the beginning. I think that trades people and engineers, architects and scientists compliment each other because of their different skill sets. And there are so many other careers and jobs out there, the whole medical field, farming and ranching, teaching. Teaching requires knowledge, patience, and excellent communication skills. And people are beating up on teachers too! And not funding schools properly? That is stupid. Unaffordable tuition? Outrageous! Nowadays, I couldn’t even afford to go to tech school for electronics where I went many years ago.

All kinds of workers bring different viewpoints, resourcefulness and innovative ideas to their jobs, as long as the boss is professional enough to take advantage of what they have to offer. But now employees are pressed to “convey a sense of urgency” in doing their jobs. Isn’t that like pretending everything is an emergency?

The point is that we need all these varied skill sets, education, experience, practical knowledge, imagination: we need all of it, and not to be bashing anyone for what they know and can and can’t do. We need those artists, musicians, and writers as well.

Gerald Wollum is a guest columnist. He is a history buff from Red Top and Coon Rapids.

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