At a conference of scholars in New Haven last week Dr. James R. Killian Jr. called for a national effort to "de-emphasize the hot rodders among our youth and to encourage the hot minds."
Ordinarily, as the humble counsel to the nation's carefree hours, this magazine would hesitate to lock horns with the boss man of MIT and the President's top adviser on national brainpower. In any case, our objection may well turn out to be only one of semantics. Nevertheless, there is to us an unwholesome and febrile connotation in the term "hot mind" and a comparable injustice in Dr. Killian's casual brushing aside of a breed of youthful experimenters whose natural ancestors helped make this nation great.
Even before its official birth, the U.S. was a country of hot rodders, a nation of incorrigible mechanical tinkerers just as bent on improving the family spinning wheel at the expense of the schoolbook as today's young men are bent on conjuring up a motorcar better than Detroit's out of the rusty detritus of the nation's junk yards. Even with an education at Yale to back him, young Eli Whitney failed to get a job as a teacher, but Eli's inveterate puttering with mechanics led him in time to conceive the notion of making guns with interchangeable parts—a notion which not only helped his country out of a temporary military hole but marked the birth of its eventual leadership in the field of mass production.
Curiosity, a thirst for adventure and a stubborn refusal to accept at face value what it says in the textbooks—these have long been national American characteristics. They belonged to Ben Franklin, Tom Edison, Henry Ford, and those obstinate Wright boys who were always neglecting their bicycle business to play with mechanical kites. Hot rodders? We're inclined to think they were all worthy of the name, as indeed was a young German boy named Wernher von Braun. Von Braun, who more than anybody else was responsible for putting the U.S. satellite Explorer into orbit, did his hot rodding—pardon, hot rocketing—in a Berlin junk yard.
"It is my own deep conviction," said Dr. Killian last week, "that the liberal arts cannot be liberal without including science, and that humanism is an indispensable ally of science in a sound scientific education." Offhand, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED can think of no moments when science, the liberal arts and the humanities are in closer alliance than those in which a young, grease-spattered American, watched over tenderly by an adoring girl in blue jeans, labors lovingly over a rusty engine block in a leaky shed on the frontier of the future.