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Alumni Letters

Comments from our readers.
March 1, 2005

Thoughts on Thinking

I found Roger O’Dell’s article (“Picturing a New Undergraduate Education,” MIT News, December 2004) most interesting. In 1992, I wrote a short book titled Mental Mechanics: A Beginner’s Repair Manual. The first chapters look at general areas— knowledge, emotions, needs and wants, and values and self-esteem—as data-processing activities accessing our stored acquired information for definition.

It is readily apparent that there is so much data now that a new educational paradigm is required, and to build one, an understanding of thought processes is necessary. In our current culture we are deluged with so many choices that chaos is the usual state. My first awareness of the potential problems brought about by “plethora” came when taking my two daughters and their friends to a Baskin-Robbins for birthday ice cream. At previous birthday celebrations the group responded to the offering of ice cream instantly with either yes or no. When presented with 31 different choices and asked, “What kind of ice cream would you like?” the response process slowed to geologic speed in the majority.

Fewer and fewer of our children are able to think clearly enough to avoid serious mental and emotional instability. I firmly believe if they had better thinking skills, their conclusions would be more realistic. Educational institutions are attempting to cram more and more data into students in the same time period in response to the increased availability of information. The outcomes do not indicate great success. Students reach input overload and cease functional storage.

Focusing on the three Rs would be a good idea today in the early grades, especially so if considered as data-handling programs rather than information in and of themselves. Reading and writing should be viewed as data-in and data-out processes, the vital requirements for all other learning activities. If the basic capabilities are in place, advanced data acquisition is relatively easy, just as O’Dell says.

Doug McKee
Brownsville, TX

Thinking about Starting at MIT

Mr. O’Dell’s ideas about the future of undergraduate education are right on the mark. As a member of the class of 2009 (next year’s freshmen), I could not agree more with his assessment of the situation and suggestions for improvement. Mr. O’Dell’s new “liberal science and engineering” curriculum is exactly what I’m looking for in a college education.

Like Mr. O’Dell, I see the need for knowledge rapidly changing. This is most evident by Google’s plans to digitize a number of major libraries. Once this project is complete, everyone will have access to virtually limitless information. In this new era of on-demand knowledge, the ability to effectively and efficiently use information will become the true measure of a good education. In my opinion, with enough time and dedication anyone can become an expert in a given field. However, it takes something more—a different way of thinking—to be an innovator and problem solver. This is what MIT is renowned for.

I hope that the ideas that Mr. O’Dell put forward are carefully considered and eventually implemented at MIT. Learning the skills to approach and complete any task or problem will infinitely multiply the value of an MIT education. I’m looking forward to “learning how to think” at MIT.

Josh Sommer
Greensboro, NC

Fletcher Peck, MIT Prankster

Regarding the November 2004 issue, box at bottom of page 17 (“Commencement Surprise,” MIT News): Who (or what) is Fletcher Peck?

John Addis ’63
Beaverton, OR

Editor’s Note
Fletcher Peck, not to be confused with Jack Florey, was a (supposed) member of the Class of 1956 who was blamed for various hacks done around that time. While I’m not sure Mr. Peck was as well known or as prolific as Mr. Florey, he is making a comeback of sorts as he writes to his class often about their upcoming 50th reunion. He intends to attend, provided his parole officer will allow him to travel out of state. (See 1956 Class Notes, September 2004, which is where I first learned of Mr. Peck.)

Jim Wolken
Assistant Director of Communications
MIT Alumni Association

WRITE MIT News, One Main Street,
7th Floor, Cambridge, MA 02142
FAX 617-475-8043
Please include your address, telephone number, and e-mail address. Letters may be edited for both clarity and length.

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