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Article of Interest - Michigan

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Bridges4Kids LogoRouge Tour Shows Brainpower Replaces Brawn
Attraction offers center aisle view of our industrial, labor-intensive past and a chance to see how knowledge and the information age will shape our future.
by Tom Watkins, The Detroit News, May 1, 2004
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In a century past, Michigan put the world on wheels. Henry Ford Museum and Ford Motor Co. helped lead the way. Ford Chief Executive William Clay Ford Jr. and The Henry Ford, America’s greatest history attraction, are providing visionary leadership again. As we enter the 21st century, they have reintroduced tours of the Rouge plant.

Make no mistake, their partnership is more than a marvelous marketing ploy or the presentation of just another tourist attraction. It is truly a glimpse at our industrial, labor-intensive past and a telescope into the knowledge and information age of our future.

The tour will clearly demonstrate that our society has moved from an emphasis on “lifting for a living” to one where all must “think for a living.” Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan highlighted the widening knowledge and skill gap. In a recent speech he stated, “Equal access to knowledge is essential to developing a skilled work force.”

For the many of us who worked at the Rouge plant, the tour will be a stroll down memory lane. My back-breaking summer job working on the Rouge assembly line in the 1970s taught me many lessons. Most important, it provided the financial resources to attend Henry Ford Community College and later Michigan State University, where I became a first- generation college graduate.

At the Rouge plant, I was responsible for taking doors off the line and hanging them on the chassis of Mustangs. Today, a robot does that work. Brainpower has replaced muscle power.

In the heyday of the 1930s, the Rouge plant employed more than 100,000 people. Today, in the new plant, 2,000 employees keep the assembly line moving. These numbers tell the story of the evolution of our manufacturing industry.

Gone are the days when one could drop out of school and head to a factory to earn a middle-class income. Today, one needs to have mastered math, be experienced with technology, developed analytical writing and problem solving skills and be able to work with diverse people.

The Rouge plant tour reminds us of an important imperative. We must educate all of our young people to higher academic standards that will prepare them to succeed in a global, competitive economy.

The State Board of Education knows that an educated work force is key to Michigan’s economic future. It recently approved some of the nation’s most rigorous academic standards. Gov. Jennifer Granholm understands that a high-quality education is one of the most important economic development tools.

The governor has asked Lt. Gov. John Cherry to lead a Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth. It is one of the governor’s strategic higher education and economic growth efforts to prepare Michigan’s children for the future. The dual charge of the commission is to:

* Propose ways to double the number of college graduates in Michigan in the next 10 years.

* Ensure that citizens graduating from college have the general and specific skills to succeed in the 21st century work place.

Granholm’s emphasis on early childhood initiatives, high-quality K-12 education, college attendance and technical skill development are strong. She clearly understands that education must be a “womb to tomb” effort.

So, as young and old take the Rouge tour, may they marvel at the innovation, creativity and determination of our past. May they also reflect on the fact that a high-quality education, like high quality in manufacturing, cannot be inspected into a product — it must be built in along the way.

If Michigan is to succeed at doubling the number of college graduates in the next decade, the state needs to redouble its efforts. We need to ensure that all children:

* Have a great start — that they come to school ready to learn.

* Learn to read before they leave the third grade.

* Take college preparatory classes including more rigorous math and science classes.

* Demonstrate skill mastery.

* Successfully complete high school.

* Attend technical school, community college or a university.

There is much The Henry Ford Museum and the Rouge plant tour can teach us about our past. The greater lesson that requires mastery is what we need to do to ensure that all of our children have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in a global, dynamic world.

Michigan stands on the shoulders of creative innovators like Henry Ford. As we learn from and celebrate our past, let us come together to build an even better future for all of our children.

Tom Watkins is Michigan’s superintendent of public instruction.

About the tours

The Ford Rouge manufacturing complex reopens for public tours of the Dearborn Truck Plant on Monday after nearly 25 years.

What: Visitors take a bus from The Henry Ford museum and view historic sites along the route before entering the Ford Rouge Factory Tour visitor's center, view two films, visit an observation deck overlooking the complex, followed by the self-guided plant tour.

Where: All timed-ticket tours begin and end at The Henry Ford in Dearborn.

When: Seven days a week, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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