Friday, July 11, 2008
Isolation should be a thing of the past
Reading David Mccullough's fine book The Great Bridge I've come to learn about some amazing feats of engineering of the late 19th century. Washington Roebling, the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge needed to bury two mammoth towers on each side of the East River and to do this, he used pneumatic caissons. This technology was in its infancy at that time, but there was another engineer, James Eads who was using the same strategy while building a bridge over the Mississippi at St. Louis. The caissons, pictured above were a hollow structure that was lowered to the bottom of the river, then filled with compressed air to drive the water out and allow the laborers to dig deeper into the waterway's floor. The problem that was soon found out on Eads' project is that workers began to get sick from their exposure to the compressed air. Some even died. They were suffering from what later would be termed "The Bends". What's interesting is that Roebling visited Eads' site before starting on his project and was aware of the problems he was facing, but because of fierce competition, pride, and distances not easily overcome, the men did not share notes and details about their experiences. This isolation exacerbated the problem and led to far more suffering than necessary. When I picture these workers far below the surface, working in isolation in these stuffy enclosures, I think about teachers and schools. Traditionally, teachers and schools have been just as isolated as these laborers, but in today's environment, that isolation is no longer necessary. Because of modern tools (video tape, Internet to name just two) we can learn about each others' successes and failures and all improve because of it. The problem is that too many of us are satisfied to wallow in our lonely state for a host of reasons. When we struggle with students who aren't learning, we should eagerly seek out teachers and schools who have had breakthroughs with similar students. Or, we can learn the hard way and the slow way and lose a few more kids in the process.