A Different Sort of Training

Training is important enough for a business. Training is even more important for a nation. Here are unintended lessons from "Schoolhouse Rock."

Columns From: 8/12/2009 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Peter Zelinski

The latest addition to MMS Online is a Training Zone at www.mmsonline.com/training. Training is vital to any manufacturer’s success, but as fewer employees are formally educated in machining, machine shops in particular are increasingly developing skilled employees themselves. The Training Zone speaks to this, featuring an expert in exactly this sort of in-house training.

Training of a different sort is also vital to a nation’s success. I have been thinking about this lately—ever since my daughter, just turned 8, began enjoying “Schoolhouse Rock.”

She watches it on DVD. I watched it between Saturday cartoons. “Schoolhouse Rock” is the series of animated musical shorts that once ran on ABC TV, covering math, science and grammar. My daughter can’t yet appreciate its influence, but an entire generation knows the correct part of speech for and, but and or because of a ditty sung by a train conductor (“Conjunction Junction”).

Installments also covered history and civics. And in watching these now, one senses the measure of something that has been lost. The very premise of these shorts is that the details of the founding of this country are worth learning. Do enough of us still share that premise?

I am not sure when the loss began. American history and citizenship were already becoming peripheral aspects of the public school curriculum when I was young. In part, this was the product of our nation changing its mind. Public education was founded for purposes of citizenship, but later we decided its main purpose should be preparation for industrial-age work. Today, even the criticism of public schools tends to focus on math and science scores—not the state of history instruction.

Yet the lack of that foundational instruction seems significant now. The times are loud. Across various issues, voices clamor for big and sudden change—changes in the nature of federal authority, or newly defined rights that fellow citizens must obtain. Set aside the question of whether history argues for one side or another. Set it aside ... because we cannot argue the question. Without history—without a shared understanding of the purpose, principles and preciousness of the nation and its institutions—it is practically impossible for one side to reasonably persuade the other. We are divided because we have lost a connective heritage.

Still, there is another lesson from “Schoolhouse Rock.” Seeing similar animations and hearing the same voices repeated in these shorts makes it clear that just a handful of people created this work. Wikipedia says the series began simply because a father noticed his young son struggled to memorize multiplication, but could easily remember song lyrics. Little things done with love have this kind of far-reaching power.

That is why I see promise in a different kind of “in-house” training. In homes across America, parents eyeing the landscape they see are quietly resolving to teach their children lessons in citizenship, responsibility and value that they do not want to see lost. At least, I hope they are. Love can secure a generation. Perhaps it’s the only thing that ever has.

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