Formal Education – Yes

This writer would give a QUALIFIED yes.. The answer would depend on the curriculum. Sometimes effective knowledge can be gained informally. Formal education should give one a good foundation and a comprehensive framework. However there are times when textbook knowledge does not reflect reality.

People devising the textbooks should consult those who have to apply the subject matter. For instance air combat instructors should consult with fighter pilots on the front line. The United States during World War II took this one step further and rotated their veteran fighter pilots back to the United States to serve as instructors. There was great wisdom in this practice. The veteran pilots were able to pass on their knowledge to the student pilots. This practice helped to grow and increase the number of skilled pilots. By contrast the Germans and Japanese foolishly had their pilots fly till they dropped. As a result as their veteran pilots got killed, the number of skilled German and Japanese pilots decreased. Sure the Germans pilots may have had more kills than Americans, but Germans and Japanese lost the war.

Yes, there is room for theoretical research. But if theory cannot be practically applied, it is useless. Pilots who fight or teachers who teach on the front lines have to deal with applying theory to practice. The front line people have to get results. While the series was Hollywood, there was one episode about the World War II Black Sheep squadron which made a good point. Some bureaucrat from Washington tried to make the squadron fight according to the book. The squadron of course revolted saying the Washington instructions did not work. In the end the bureaucrat saw that the Black Sheep Squadron was right, and to his credit asked to be part of a real combat mission. It would be nice if theoretical ivory tower types did try to live in the real world. This writer is reminded of a conversation with a real life World War II aviator. He was told by the bureaucrats in Washington that if they flew at a certain altitude the enemy could not catch them. During one mission an enemy interceptor was able to get off the ground and intercept their plane in 8 minutes. Needless to say, this aviator sent an angry message back to Washington.

This writer is also reminded of a conversation with a former Wildcat and Corsair pilot. He mentioned how pilots would share information with each other. And effective fighter tactics were sometimes spread by word of mouth. The Thatch weave may have been one of those tactics which was introduced informally.

In summary, while people are devising a curriculum for a subject, be it air combat, ground combat, math, literature, language, art, music etc, they should get some feedback from those who have to apply the subject taught and those who have to learn the subject matter. In some cases failure to communicate the right information could be a matter of life and death.