4 April 2005
Subject: Disciplined Minds
From: Brendan Touhey
To: Denis Rancourt, University of Ottawa
Sorry about the length of this e-mail, but I just finished reading Disciplined Minds and was thinking about the e-mail you sent from another student who had read the book. I also remember how you both indicated that you both felt overwhelmed after reading it. I actually have a few different feelings after completing it, including feeling overwhelmed, but also having a new sense of "awareness" and guarded optimism.
My "sense of awareness" is hardest to explain. I never had any illusions that studying engineering was about anything other than preparing people to work for "the man," so to speak. Moreover, I always thought that since I was aware of this fact that I would be able to preserve a certain degree of independence in my studies. Yet, while I was conscious of the nature of the courses being taught, the extent of the involvement of corporations in the faculty, and so on, I nevertheless failed to realize just how deeply I had been incorporated into the system until reading this book. I also now realize what you were talking about when we were discussing the confines of working in groups like Engineers Without Borders.
I also feel overwhelmed not only in terms of the state of academia, but also in terms of how Schmidt exposes the mechanisms of how society often functions. Furthermore, combining this feeling with my own failure to recognize how I was allowing myself at times to be co-opted by it, leaves me feeling like a lobotomized eunuch. I suppose a lot of people would understandably laugh at how a white male who comes from an affluent family and has a university education could feel powerless in society. Nevertheless, I can't help but feel at times that trying to make a meaningful difference in society is like a fly trying to knock down a wall.
Still, a lot of people who have had nowhere near the number of opportunities that I have had have been able to bring about meaningful changes (for example, the civil rights, women's, and labour movements). Schmidt also provides some excellent strategies at the end of his book like you said, and there are quite a number that I feel I can use. I suppose these factors, and a few others that I have left out, are what give me a sense of guarded optimism.
I apologize if this e-mail sounds a little bewildered, as I'm still trying to process all that I have read. Either way though, I'm grateful for having been exposed to this book. Hope all is well with you.