A Story about Information

I took a year off from school before I graduated with a BS degree in education.  I’d had almost four years of book-learning and felt that I needed some life-learning, so got a job working in a factory. 

 Image, Source: intermediary roll film
The factory machine shop that I worked in was not much different from this LOC American Memories photo from 1954.  It was a noisy, dirty, and dangerous place, but the work was not without its up-side.

Because I’d taken drafting in high school, I fairly quickly got promoted to Set-up Man. A set-up man (or woman) supervised a number of machine operators.  But the name comes from the fact that he also sets up the machines for the various parts or products that they fashion.  When we finished an order for a particular carburetor manifold and needed to fashion another type, my job was to get the blue prints for the new job from a file cabinet, and then take my tools and literally disassemble the various manufacturing machines that I managed, and then reassemble them so that they would drill the wholes to the correct depths and widths, and machine the correct screw seatings, and mill and sand the surfaces within the accepted clearances.  Then I instructed the operators in running the machines for the new parts.

Several years ago, after I left the state department of education, I called the personnel department of that plant.  I honestly do not remember why, but I asked about a set-up man position.  The woman I was talking too was fairly new to the factory, and did not know what I was talking about.  She had never heard of the job.

You see, they did not have set-up men any more.  The manufacturing was done with robotics.  The person who took the place of the set-up man, now calls up the specs for the new part from a computer network.  Then he or she takes that information and writes an instruction set, or program code, that is then uploaded to the computers that control the robots, and the instruction set re-purposes the robots to fashion the new parts.

It is now and information-based job.  When I worked there, people worked with steel, plastic, and magnesium.  Today, the people who work there, work with information.

One thing that has happened to information, that should be impacting what and how we teach, is that information has become the raw material with which people work.  We mine it, we work it, fashioning it into an information product that will be valuable to other people, and then express it in some compelling way.  It may be a story, a report, a song, or a design.  It may be a piece of computer code, or a sales pitch for a new marketing or distribution technique.  It may be a new experience that people will enjoy.  It may be a new way to grow wheat that is resistant to whatever wheat needs to resist. 

We still teach too much as if information is the end product.  We teach it, you learn it, we test it.  Instead, we need to present information as a raw material.  You access it, and then you do something with it, that adds value in some way.  You construct your own knowledge.

Once again, I’m not saying that processing information replaces memorization.  It’s just that learning to work with information is as important — as critical — to our students future, as learning it.

2¢ Worth!

Image Citation:
Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., “R.E.F., Jericho Turnpike, Mineola, Long Island. Machine shop..” The Library of Congress American Memory. 22 Oct 1954. The Library of Congress. 4 Jan 2007 <http://memory.loc.gov/>.

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.