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