A Mathematical Proof of Menand’s Theory 1

Last week I was meticulously studying the Syllabus for my Math 116 course in anticipation for an upcoming quiz.  A theme that my Graduate Student Instructor stressed was teamwork to encourage learning. Throughout the year we will be having group assignments and we will have opportunities to teach the other students. One point my instructor made about teamwork was that once we graduate and begin to work in the real world, we will be probably not be working individually but rather be part of a group. And to prove the power of teamwork outside of the classroom my Graduate Student Instructor alluded to a statement from some professionals in the working world. Below is taken directly from the syllabus,

Boeing’s most famous plane the 747 (via Wikimedia)

Here’s what a principal aerodynamics engineer from The Boeing Company and members of the Washington State Software Alliance have to say.

What do we look for in employees? We hire those who have demonstrated that they:

  • Enjoy the process of learning & know how to learn independently
  • Thrive on intellectual challenges
  • Are creative and flexible in how they solve problems
  • Have a good understanding of the fundamentals (mathematics, science, economics)
  • Can manage knowledge and information, as well as tasks and things
  • Can operate effectively in a team environment
  • Have good communication skills

College acts as a Sorting Hat like the one featured in Harry Potter

As I was studying, a light went off in my head, I thought, “where does it mention anything about an engineering degree?” It was my belief that an aerospace or software engineering degree was crucial for a job at Boeing or similar companies. I realized that these companies are following Louis Menand’s Theory 1. His theory states that college is simply a four year intelligence exam, so that by the end the smart and hardworking are separated from the lazy and dumb. My political theory professor, Mika LaVaque-Manty, was able to relate this theory to Harry Potter as he has done with many other aspects of our class. He said that this theory treats college like it is a sorting hat- it will separate people based on their skills and strengths.  A controversial aspect of Menand’s theory is that the content of the classes a student takes is irrelevant, so it does not matter what the students learn just so long as it is challenging.

Boeing and the Washington State Software Alliance are stating that just so long as someone is intelligent and willing to work hard then they are a good candidate for a position in their companies.  This is in direct opposition to Menand’s second and third theories of what college should be. Theory two is focused on knowledge and actually teaching students for the purpose of learning rather than for a job. Theory three is similar but is more focuses more on teaching students only one skill. This theory states that the purpose of college is to teach students a skill that they can then apply to a job later on.

Wall Street, New York City (Via Wikimedia)

This is an example of a real company putting their support behind theory one. Up to this point we have discussed these theories and their meanings, but we have not looked at any concrete examples of them being put to use. In my own experience I have seen other instances in which theory one has been applied.  After I graduate I am looking to go into business- hopefully finance or investment banking.  I have met a lot of people in that field who haven’t majored in finance or economics but rather in history. I can guarantee that Wall Street firms didn’t hire these people because they know a lot about ancient Greece.  These people were hired because of the skills they developed during their time in college- writing concise and “to the point” essays, and being able to read lots of information and pick out the important points. Employers look for these skills, and it doesn’t matter what the person has actually learned, just so long as they have a skill set that fits the job.

After seeing this in my math syllabus I was convinced.  Theory one is definitely the theory I put my support behind because up to this point I have not heard about a company strictly hiring people because they have an education in a relevant field. Just this small omission of a requirement of having a degree in engineering was all I needed to persuade me. It is beginning to seem more and more like employers want people with skills, not with knowledge.  Companies can train and teach employees what they need to know, but it is much harder to teach good writing or communication. The argument can be made that college is not all about getting a job.  But my time here at the University of Michigan will only be four years (hopefully). I need to get a job and make a living for the rest of my life and it seems that an education that follows theory one is the best way to achieve that goal.

One thought on “A Mathematical Proof of Menand’s Theory 1

  1. This is an interesting point, that backs up your argument with a concrete example. Until I read this blog post, I was a supporter of Theory 2, which focused on knowledge and overall learning of information. However, after reading this I am convinced that you are correct with the fact that companies look for raw skills that one poses rather than the information that one attained in school. This because those skills cannot be taught always and are much more valuable than some reading out a textbook or a memorized solution to a problem that one needed for a test. I, too hope, that after graduating from the greatest college in country that I will have gained skills that will allow me to a legit contender for the jobs I want to pursue.

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