I sort of agree with you, BB, if you take only the short view, and
if your only concern is to make chips in the near future. But if you
really want a healthy industry, and skilled people to keep it healthy,
then you need to have some traditions, some famous names, and some sense
of perspective, in the minds of people who are trying to learn to be
There are already too many people in our business who think that the
whole thing starts and ends with their own machines, their own narrow
bits of knowledge, and their own ideas about how smart and skilled they
are. To understand the history of an entire business, and to know the
names of some of the people who changed and drove it, and some of the
innovations that have made it what it is, is to have a better sense of
one's own small place in the overall scheme of things, and of how MUCH
there is to learn, and how much room there is for growth, innovation,
and individual accomplishment.
Equally important, IMHO, is the fact that many people seem to learn
more eagerly, and more effectively, when the knowledge they're offered
comes with some kind of context that makes sense to them. If you're
attending a class and paying attention only because it's a way to get a
job in a machine shop, or because you can't get a certificate unless you
put up with whatever the teacher tells you, then you're not really
getting all you can out of the learning opportunity. If you're taught,
however, that there's a whole world full of innovative, productive,
important, and sometimes very wealthy people, and that it can be an
honor, a challenge, and even a privilege to earn your way into that
world, then everything else might have much more meaning, and might
become something a student WANTS to learn, rather than just needing to.
Future lawyers, I suspect, can be energized, and given a sense of
the gravity of their work and profession, if they're taught about a
dirt-poor country boy named Lincoln, who turned his love for books and
law into one of the most important presidencies in the history of the
United States. Doctors take an oath that was written, for the most
part, 2,500 years ago. It's a way of teaching them about the traditions
and history that guide the practice of medicine, and about standards of
conduct that they're responsible to uphold and perpetuate. Those things
don't always work, of course; but I can't believe that either the legal
world, or the medical profession, would be better off without some clear
and constant contact with their histories.
Cadets at West Point are expected to learn about "The Chain", and
about a million other pieces of military history, before they're
considered true candidates for commissions in the US Army. Knowing all
that stuff won't make the cadets into better marksmen, or better
tank-drivers, or better bridge-builders; but it might help them try a
bit harder, if they know something about how hard others have tried in
the past, and for what purposes, and with what results. It might also
give them a better sense of the reasons for command structures, and for
military codes of conduct; and help them have more trust in their
commanders, teachers, and other mentors, as they move through all the
steps that might one day lead to their own place in history.
People can be awed, motivated, challenged, and even impelled to
excellence, when they're shown something about what others have
accomplished in the past, and about how, and why, accomplishment really
happens. A machinist who's never heard of "The Arsenal of Democracy"
might not realize that it was people just like himself, reading prints
and making chips, who once made such a difference in the entire history
of the world. Someone who lacks that knowledge, and that sense of
perspective, might think "it's just a job" and might treat it
accordingly, and might therefore miss out on the excitement, the energy,
and the opportunities for achievement, that could end up helping to
change history again, tomorrow. Someone who doesn't know that it was
machinists - and the sons of machinists who went to engineering school -
who once, literally, put the whole world on wheels, might miss a chance
to dream of greatness for himself in the future, or to work toward his
dreams with commitment and zeal.
It may seem childish or naive for a student to imagine himself (or
herself) becomming the next Henry Ford, or the next Wilbur Wright, or
the next Frank Landis, or Ralph Cross, or Charles DeVlieg... But where
will the future leaders of industry come from, if not from the dreams of
those just starting out today? Will people who learn only because
they're required to, ever have visions that reach beyond their next
paycheck? Will those who think it's only a job, and that they only do
it because they didn't get a scholarship to business school, ever
realize that it can be more than a job, and that you can get out of a
profession - any profession - as much as you put into it?
Will people who know nothing about the history of the industry be
capable of understanding - in context, and with depth and insight - the
current state of our business, or problems that have roots in prior
generations? Will they be able to solve those problems, to compete with
Chinese and Indian companies, to protect and strengthen America's
industrial economy, if they don't even know that there is such a thing,
or where it came from, or how it got to the point of needing to be
Are we really willing to demote our profession to something that has
no history worth teaching, and no traditions worth learning, and no
depth or importance that we expect future machinists to understand and
protect and propagate?
I agree that history lessons won't make people better able to solve
trig problems, or to remember which G code is for clockwise circles, or
to figure out why a surface finish is so rough and nasty...
But the reason WHY anyone would want to learn those things, and
would keep learning, and keep growing, and keep improving, every single
day, is something that happens deep inside a human being. And it's
often something that happens best, most fully, and most succesfully,
when there's a history, and a community, and a sense of pride and
purpose, that a student can aspire to be part of.
We all like to belong to something. We all need and enjoy the
benefits of membership in families, communities, churches, fraternities,
bowling leagues, or whatever. It's part of human nature. If we're
going to train the machinists of the future, then why WOULDN'T we show
them just how big, and how old, and how awesome our particular club
really is? Why wouldn't we offer them something to look forward to, and
some kind of membership that deserves their effort, and their
concentration, and in which they might earn rewards that they've never
thought of? Why wouldn't we want them to learn and think about things
that go far beyond immediate concerns like passing a paper test in a
classroom, or reaming a hole to size in the shop?
We don't need more or better button-pushers, BB. We need more
people who see the metal cutting world as a career, as a globe-spanning
imperative, as a vital part of economic and political and military
history... in the past AND the future.
Any Chinese peasant with an index finger can press the start button
on a CNC machine. But how many of todays young students can we truly
prepare to invent the machinery, and to develop the methods, and to make
the decisions, which will determine whether there even IS a metal
cutting industry in the US, half a generation from now? And what can we
do to improve their chances?
In my mind, teaching them where they're starting from, and how/why
we got here, is an important part of the answer.
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