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Training & Education

Where everybody learns a trade

By Nick Wright

This story has been updated for the July/August 2016 Top Webex issue.

Georgia receives $1M donation from former “Cheers” star to revive shop class in public schools

April 2015 - Actor John Ratzenberger, best known for his role as Cliff Clavin, the know-it-all postal carrier on the sitcom “Cheers” is using his blue-collar ethos to bring back shop class. In his portrayal of Cliff, Ratzenberger dispensed half-baked yet believable theories such as why beer makes you smarter. Now he is delivering funds through the Foundation for America, a nonprofit whose mission is to beat the drum of skilled trades—and their decline, to re-ignite individuals’ passion for blue collar work and boost U.S. manufacturing.

The Foundation for America made headlines earlier this year when Ratzenberger donated $1 million to the state of Georgia as a part of a National Educational Initiative to revive shop classes in schools.

“By working with key stakeholders and leadership on a state-by-state basis, our goal is to create a presence in states like Georgia that are actively seeking to prepare their students for the skilled trade jobs that are available and will become available in the near future,” Ratzenberger says. “Georgia was the first of many states we hope to bring into the National Education Initiative and we are presently working closely with stakeholders in several other states to bring the campaign nationwide.”

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The state will administer the money, intended for the 932 public middle and high schools in Georgia to have access to resources that will help make clear the importance of trades knowledge. 

In the years since traditional shop classes began to disappear, the concept of shop class has changed as advanced manufacturing has evolved. Writer Matthew Crawford poignantly notes in his 2009 book “Shop Class as Soulcraft” that he knows a great dealer of lathes, mills and other tools whose stock came mostly from schools.

Ratzenberger told Fox News in February that between 30 and 40 years ago, schools started canceling shop classes, not thinking they were necessary.

“We’re a nation of self-reliant, self-sufficient people—we were,” he said, noting he was a carpenter before he began acting.

Much of the Foundation for America’s efforts revolve around the public relations image of the successful blue collar skills that aren’t attracting a younger potential workforce.

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In Georgia, all 932 public middle and high schools in the state will receive the educational licensing for American Made Movie, a 2013 documentary that expounds on areas of manufacturing and their importance on the nation. There are also 28 lesson plans aligned to Georgia’s educational standards, which have been endorsed by the state Board of Education. Funds are being allocated for teacher training, scholarships and marketing collateral about what manufacturing jobs exist in the state. The Foundation for America hosts weekend workshops where students can tackle small projects like building benches and shelves, and will be encouraging companies to open their doors for tours on Manufacturing Day.

The foundation largely works with manufacturing associations and policy makers across the country. But getting students in classrooms poses its challenges, says Ratzenberger.

“Due to current education requirements, it is terribly difficult to get shop classes back in public schools. With budget cuts across the board, it is certainly an uphill battle. Our mission is to work within the current structure to allow students the opportunity to explore skilled labor and manufacturing as a future career.” FFJ

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