General aviators are the minority when compared to society as a whole. We are an aberration. However, we have an advantage. There is a tool in our quiver that we have not really put to good use yet. We know stuff. And the stuff we know is really, really cool, no matter how you look at it.
That’s going to be increasingly important. See if you don’t agree with me by the time you get to the end of this post.
The majority of our GA community wears their hair either thinning and gray, or bald. That’s not good. In fact, it identifies us as old fogies who are past our prime – which is not the sort of message anyone wants to convey in their marketing plan.
Let’s consider turning that model on its head. We can use the old fogy routine to our advantage, and revitalize general aviation in the process. The process will take time, cunning execution, and potentially the need to listen to music that you don’t care for. In the end that’s a small price to pay for a revival of the Golden Age of flight. At least it is from my perspective.
If kids are the future (and they are), then we are the present. Let’s put us in a room together and see how we can help each other. Of course it’s difficult to get a bunch of kids to come out to the airport for a day. So we should at least consider going to where the kids are and selling ourselves to them directly.
Where do kids gather in large numbers these days? Oh, I know – at schools.
Consider this: School systems across the country have embraced STEM education as their focus for the foreseeable future. STEM breaks down to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It’s the future of education in America. Or at least that’s what the brochure says. I have my doubts.
The concept is a good one. No, it’s not good, it’s great. A new generation of enthusiastic, highly-focused, highly-motivated kids who have a penchant for science, technology, engineering and math could literally reshape our country, and the world. We should all get behind this movement. In fact, I think it’s reasonable to make the case that we should lead it.
Hear me out.
STEM sounds good on paper, but in the classroom it limps along in many communities, hampered by the unavoidable reality that the blind cannot lead the myopic into the light. Teachers are well intentioned, often dedicated, good hearted people who mean well. At least most of them are. But they are generally not scientists, or technicians, or engineers. And, to be honest, some of them aren’t all that swift at math, either.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire teachers. But we do each other no favors by pretending that the system is so noble that criticism is unwarranted. Teachers are people. They have strengths and they have weaknesses. A class filled with bored sixth graders who are muddling through a book of experiments that they see no legitimate application for — and feel minimal connection to – isn’t likely to produce many rocket scientists, civil engineers, or a revolutionary new toaster.
My mother was a public school teacher, and she’d teach whatever she was assigned to teach. She’d wear a big smile and put her best effort into the job, too. I can guarantee you that she can’t teach STEM with any real confidence, though. She’s a saintly woman who I love dearly, but she can’t explain how an existing toaster works even in general terms, let alone explain the flow of electrons which we perceive as electricity, the electrical resistance of various metals, insulators, Ohm’s law, or the forming of a case that will hold the works together along with two pieces of bread, and still look stylish enough for someone to pick it up from a store shelf and trade cash for it.
Understand, I’m not writing an indictment of my mother, or of STEM education as a goal. My mom’s a pretty cool lady. And STEM is an admirable goal, but it needs help. And so I’m going to jump out there and suggest that the participants and purveyors of general aviation have the ability to provide the exact help STEM needs if it’s to succeed on a large scale.
Imagine the benefits of taking a geezer from the airport who can stand in front of a class and explain fluid dynamics, using an airplane wing as an example. Better yet, imagine a crew of geezers from the airport who can spend time with a series of STEM classes building a wing. Those kids would get a real education that truly incorporates science, technology, engineering, and math skills in one long, undeniably beneficial, very inexpensive, and easily repeatable project.
The ultimate situation would mix a few female aviation enthusiasts in with the usual crowd of old guys. That just might open the eyes of a few sixth grade girls who had no idea that women can design, plan, and build machines that can fly, or float, or go to the moon if they want to. It might get a few lackluster boys to participate more readily, too. Because by the sixth grade, boys will do pretty much anything if there are going to be girls hanging around.
Imagine the surprise on the faces of a classroom full of kids when a teacher pulls out a knife and slices the fabric covering off an airplane wing in order to inspect it, and if necessary reverse engineer components that can be manufactured right on site as replacement parts. And consider the insight and confidence a high school class might get when they learn that a new wing can be built entirely from foam core, a few sheets of fabric, and a pot full of resin. What do you suppose they might think of their own abilities when they realize that this new wing is strong enough to hold the entire class if they stood atop it, but light enough that any two of them can lift it with ease?
STEM has potential, to be sure. But it’s potential isn’t limited to what it can do for the kids. It also presents general aviation enthusiasts with an opportunity to grow the market, fire up some imaginations, and breed a whole new generation of young people who can’t wait to get out to the airport and see what they can do with all the skills and ideas they’ve developed in school.
The question is, will we accept the challenge?
I have hope, but I wonder how many of us will truly step up? How about you? Are you ready to pitch in and become the kind of mentor that kids remember and talk about years from now? That’s a sort of immortality, I’d think. That wouldn’t be a bad legacy to leave behind at all.
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.