featured-post Know-How

This Tale of Man’s Lost Skills Won’t End Well

August 16, 2018


This Tale of Man’s Lost Skills Won’t End Well

Things are a bit hectic at the Manward house these days.

We bought Mrs. Manward her farm.

It’s a beautiful piece of ground in a lush valley. With a brick farmhouse that was standing when the Civil War broke out, it’s a living piece of history.

We just hope it has enough bookshelves… we like our books.

In fact, it’s while we were boxing up the missives stacked on one of our shelves that we stumbled onto a piece of history that we forgot we owned.

It’s an old textbook published in our hometown back in 1932. It’s part of a series we got when our alma mater cleaned out its library.

We couldn’t help but smile as we thumbed through the pages once again.

But that’s when we realized if we had the book… nobody else did. The college, after all, wasn’t tossing it aside to make room for the newest edition.

No, it was making room for more modern subjects – you know, the classics on subjects like sexual identity, climate change and man-hating (apparently, there are now volumes).

If we had the book, nobody else could read it. Nobody else could ponder its ideas. And nobody else could put it down and say, “Hmmm… isn’t that interesting.”

But, we wonder, does anybody else want to?

Have You Read It?

The book isn’t all that modern. The title says it all… Foundry, by Dr. Melvin Lewis and John Dillon.

We look at the piece of nonfiction as a relic of a bygone America… when Know-How trumped Feel-Good… and when skill was something men went to school for.

We cherish the book for the same reason we cherish the hours we spent in shop class.

It’s not because we use the skills every day. No, it’s been a long time since we had a need to cast a fresh set of candlestick holders.

It’s the knowledge of how the world works – how it all comes together – that we hold so dearly.

It’s just like we wrote recently. As our economy becomes more technologically advanced, we’re losing the skills it takes to build it all.

As we learn to program… we forget how to build the factories that build computers.

As we learn how to sell online… we forget how to make the stuff we yearn to sell.

It’s not a whole lot different from not knowing how to cook our own meals. It’s quite luxurious while it lasts. But what happens when the chef doesn’t show up?



We look at our book and wonder just how many folks know how the wheels on their car were made. We wonder if anybody cares about the difference between a cast part and a forged part.

To the industrious folks who studied our book before us, the difference was huge.

It made America.

These days, though… we just hope the part is cheap.

Blowing the dust off the old book last night reminded us that we’re doing our kids a great disservice with our one-size-fits-all classrooms these days.

We’d rather teach our kids what’s on the test and prep them for a college they can’t afford than teach them the skills they’ll use to build a great nation.

The fact is some 6 million young Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 are not in school and are not employed. It’s largely because there’s a huge gap between what our schools are teaching and what real-world employers need.

It’s why skilled manufacturing jobs – the kinds of jobs where folks need to read a textbook from 1932 about how to cast quality metal parts – are paying $80,000 a year and are still going unfilled.

The New America

Perhaps it’s what we saw this week that paints the trouble most accurately.

We went for a drive downtown… to the same city blocks where our book was published 86 years ago.

The factories are long closed.

The place they used to make tractors is now a high-end apartment complex with ultra-low occupancy rates. The building that used to house huge printing presses is now the rundown warehouse for old government records. And the foundry that brought so much molten metal to life… is now a brew pub where tipsy customers stare out the windows and wonder what in the world all those machines are for.

To them they’re art. For the many eyes that read our book… they’re a way of life.

We all know a good book can tell us quite a tale.

But this old book spilled its guts before we even opened it.

It tells the story of America’s lost Know-How.

We haven’t gotten that far yet… but we bet this tale doesn’t end well.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *