Serious Wisdom from John Ratzenberger

 

439px-JohnRatzenberger08RIIFFJohn Ratzenberger was one of the first people I met on my first day in show business. For those of you under, say, 40, he played Cliff Clavin, the talkative fantasist letter carrier on Cheerswhich was my first job as a professional writer. (For those of you who would like to contribute to the Rob Long Residual Fund, feel free to buy the entire series here.) He was a lovely and smart guy back then. He still is. Here is his latest column for Time, in which he expounds on a subject he’s deeply passionate about:

The whole process of knowing how to make things, fix things and build things, fascinated me to the point that, by the time I was 14 years old, I had decided that I wanted to learn how to build a house and everything in it. In fact, I built the first couch I ever owned for my first real apartment. It may not have won any beauty contests, but it sure was comfortable. I ultimately saw my childhood goal of building a house come to fruition, many times over, while working as a house-framer before I landed the role of “Cliff” on Cheers.

Read the whole thing, but here’s the kicker:

We take for granted that this great symphony of things we use every day will continue to exist. Why else would many school systems nationwide cancel the very shop and home economic courses that gave us the generation we crown as “the greatest”? For close to 30 years now we have been graduating students who go on to college without knowing how to read a ruler, use a screw driver or change a tire. We’ve raised an entire generation of narcissists with low self-esteem, posting countless “selfies” in a constant pursuit of validation.

You want children to experience self-esteem? Teach them the rudiments of creating something from scratch. Let them experience the pride they’ll have in knowing they made something real—not a code on a computer, but something they can hold in their hands and use. Develop their innate common sense by thinking through the obstacles intrinsic in building something. As we push our children to become better “thinkers,” don’t ignore the side of their brain that longs to “tinker.” It’s going to take some discipline and interest on your part. So put down your iPhone, turn off the TV and pick up a tool kit. Make something! You owe it your kid—and to yourself.

True enough.

Image Credit: “JohnRatzenberger08RIIFF” by Mary Hanley of the Rhode Island International Film Festival. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. Barkha Herman Inactive
    Barkha Herman
    @BarkhaHerman

    There is a “maker” and DYI movement afoot, among the much maligned millennials. I think each generation has it to some extent, but I am sure if I was in post apocalyptic world and needed to make a couch, I could figure it out.

    As for education, if you have not seen this TED talk by Sugata Mitra – do watch it.

    It’s time to move away from schooling targeted to “create bureaucrats”. School Choice is the only way to go forward.

    • #1
  2. Mate De Inactive
    Mate De
    @MateDe

    Love it, I’ve always loved Cliffie.

    My kids and I are embarking on some projects. Right now we’re refinishing a bookcase we got just a woman who was junking it. We have to borrow all of the necessary tools from my neighbor because we don’t own a sander but still, it’ll will be fun and will teach the kids to put their own stamp on thing.

    • #2
  3. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    Hey. I’m only 31 and I know who Cliff Clavin is.

    • #3
  4. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    He had me, right up until he trivialized coding as not “real” work.

    • #4
  5. PHenry Member
    PHenry
    @PHenry

    Rob Long: Let them experience the pride they’ll have in knowing they made something real—not a code on a computer, but something they can hold in their hands and use.

    I agree 98%, but after a career as a software developer, as well as a DIY type in my home life, I have to take exception with the idea that ‘code on a computer’ is not something that they can use and take pride in…

    I have taken great pride in seeing code I have written resulting in a functional system, the same pride I get from fixing the plumbing or building a fence…

    • #5
  6. David Sussman Podcaster
    David Sussman
    @DaveSussman

    ‘It’s a little known fact’ that DIY was cool before it became trendy.

    • #6
  7. GLDIII Reagan
    GLDIII
    @GLDIII

    Rob,

    As a guy who lives in the house he built, works on the cars he drives, flys in the plane I built in the basement of said house, I cannot agree more with John. Those who have read my rants here know I am a big proponent of the Scouting program (see Mike Rowe, Eagle Scout) because part of the program is to get them to do hands on activities. I have tutored many dozen of boys in my basement workshop on various craft and wood working activities, just to get some tools in their hands, and be comfortable around power equipment. Most of the boys whom I have assisted with Eagle projects are of the construction type activity. Moving dirt, cutting lumber, assembling small (or sometime surprisingly large structures), because they got the confidence when they were younger.

    The schools are not going to do it, we collectively need to step in and pass the skills. We cannot even count on them to teach the academics and civics that will make them good citizens. Government institutions will not care as much about our children as we do

    Some have asked me to blog on the member feed about the construction of my next big project, building a 4 place composite airplane. I am taking a sabbatical from my day job to do this in an expeditious fashion. I chose to do it during this winter so my second son, the aspiring engineer, can join me for 6 weeks during his break, to get some hands on pratical fabrication insight. Nothing worst than a engineer who designs something that cannot be built in the real world, that requires having done something to spark the ideas on how to do it better or what is good enough. I start Dec 1st, see you in the member feed.

    • #7
  8. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Ok IT guys take a breath :) I don’t think he is denigrating the “thinking” side of the brain as much as lamenting the lack of use of the “tinkering” side. Someone who writes code are also probably “tinkering” quite a bit in their own way so the “code” analogy probably isn’t the best. The point is still valid that physically building something or physical labor has been discouraged as inferior to more intellectual activities. (I’m channeling my inner Mike Rowe) In my opinion, this has resulted in a large percentage of a generation that can’t do much physically for themselves and God help them if the WiFi goes down let alone the electricity.

    • #8
  9. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Probably my favorite all time Cliff theory

    • #9
  10. PHenry Member
    PHenry
    @PHenry

    Concretevol: Ok IT guys take a breath :)

    <sighs heavily>

    • #10
  11. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Let me add this to John Ratzenberger’s excellent advice: Many of the skills mentioned can be acquired through the study of a musical instrument. Kids get to know their instruments as mechanical devices that they understand completely and can tweak and fix as they see fit.

    • #11
  12. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    I think we need to take this insourcing idea further: learn to do your own dental work, maybe even self-surgery.

    Enough with those “specialists”!

    More seriously, JR is right. Part of the success of American entrepreneurship is explained by random tinkering in the garage or elsewhere.

    • #12
  13. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    Recently, a neighbor, his son and the knows-how-to-do-this-stuff neighbor fixed up a small pick-up for the son: pulled the engine, re-did the suspension (jacked it up a bit), etc. Now the boy has his own truck and the father learned a lot, too. And, now I know who to go to in the neighborhood.

    • #13
  14. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Concretevol: In my opinion, this has resulted in a large percentage of a generation that can’t do much physically for themselves and God help them if the WiFi goes down let alone the electricity.

    The vast majority of whom also couldn’t code to save their lives.

    • #14
  15. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    Rob Long: (For those of you who would like to contribute to the Rob Long Residual Fund, feel free to buy the entire series here.)

    Rob had me until he tried to sell me a DVD set. What is this, 2002?

    • #15
  16. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    Misthiocracy:He had me, right up until he trivialized coding as not “real” work.

    He said “code” not “coding”.

    • #16
  17. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    Austin Murrey:

    Rob Long: (For those of you who would like to contribute to the Rob Long Residual Fund, feel free to buy the entire series here.)

    Rob had me until he tried to sell me a DVD set. What is this, 2002?

    I think Cheers is on Netflix.

    • #17
  18. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    The best programmer I know (one that solved an interview problem in 20 min of the given hour, only to be told no one ever solved it in an hour), is a Mechanical Engineer by training. He has been tinkering and programming his entire life.

    A highschool friend who works for Microsoft was a gearhead growing up.

    Our IT guy is very handy.

    In short, every serious programmer I know, is also a tinker.

    • #18
  19. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Z in MT:

    Austin Murrey:

    Rob Long: (For those of you who would like to contribute to the Rob Long Residual Fund, feel free to buy the entire series here.)

    Rob had me until he tried to sell me a DVD set. What is this, 2002?

    I think Cheers is on Netflix.

    It is, but don’t you want to own history?!

    • #19
  20. Severely Ltd. Inactive
    Severely Ltd.
    @SeverelyLtd

    This is music to my ears. My younger son was using all my woodworking power tools including an oversized, unwieldy router as a young teen. Despite mom’s worry, he survived with all his fingers. He changed oil and other auto jobs such as putting in a new alternator that I would rather not do as well. He worked with a machete and chainsaw. Many teenage boys will take to all this happily, particularly if you ignore the initial grumbling and make them do it until they’re somewhat proficient.

    Since he was homeschooled in the Bahamas, he took all this for granted until we moved back to the States and he went to college. He needed a bookshelf so he went out and bought the wood and hand tools and made a nice one. We got a picture of it, heard how amazed his friends and girlfriend were as well as how much he missed the table saw, chop saw and sanders (I can’t remember if he mentioned missing us.). That was a good email. There’s nothing like earned self-esteem.

    • #20
  21. KiminWI Inactive
    KiminWI
    @KiminWI

    MarciN:Let me add this to John Ratzenberger’s excellent advice: Many of the skills mentioned can be acquired through the study of a musical instrument. Kids get to know their instruments as mechanical devices that they understand completely and can tweak and fix as they see fit.

    YES YES YES Last weekend my daughter dropped a damp-it into the f-hole of her cello that someone (Mom) hadn’t properly assembled with a collar. So it fell in. Before she even called for help she had assembled two makeshift tools to retrieve it and set up some furniture to cradle it and a couple of lights so she could lay on her back like a mechanic to work it out. It took 30-40 minutes, some jiggling and tapping and contorting and bending. But she got it out and reassembled the device as it should be and as I could not. I think I was MORE proud of her for this creative endeavor than any recital performance!

    She’s also gotten a Grand Champion ribbon for homemade candy at the county fair so I think she’s about perfect.

    • #21
  22. Johnny Dubya Member
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    Adam Carolla should have Ratzenberger on his podcast; they have an awful lot in common. Carolla laments that his young lackeys don’t know what a sawhorse or a Phillips screwdriver is.

    I’m grateful every day for the manual arts my late father taught me. I pity my (male) peers who, when presented with a minor mechanical malfunction, throw up their hands rather than putting them to work.

    • #22
  23. Spin Inactive
    Spin
    @Spin

    Rob Long: Why else would many school systems nationwide cancel the very shop and home economic courses that gave us the generation we crown as “the greatest”

    I would like to suggest that it was the parents of that generation, not the schools, that gave us the greatest generation.

    • #23
  24. livingthehighlife Inactive
    livingthehighlife
    @livingthehighlife

    All is not lost. Here’s my youngest, at 12 years old, replacing brake pads on my Jeep. He watched me once, then was able to do the entire job. (I did check the bolts to make sure everything was tightened properly.)

    IMG_0696

    • #24
  25. Illiniguy Member
    Illiniguy
    @Illiniguy

    All those guys in high school I used to make fun of while they nailed or welded things together are now spending summers up on the lake in Wisconsin and winters playing golf in Arizona while smart guy me had to go to college, grad school and law school so I can work til the day I die practicing law. Who’s the dummy?

    • #25
  26. Richard O'Shea Coolidge
    Richard O'Shea
    @RichardOShea

    Ratzenberger had a TV series out about ten years ago called “Made in America” where he visited factories and talked to the engineers and the folks on the factory floors and showed how things were created.

    • #26
  27. H. Noggin Inactive
    H. Noggin
    @HNoggin

    Mr. Ratzenberger has it exactly right. And, as a side note, as a young woman, I always found men that could really make things (like carpenters) very sexy.

    • #27
  28. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    JimGoneWild:

    Misthiocracy:He had me, right up until he trivialized coding as not “real” work.

    He said “code” not “coding”.

    I was waiting for this. He said that people should make things that are real, not code on a computer, therefore coding isn’t real work. Q.E.D.

    • #28
  29. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Amen to John…says the guy sitting at a desk designed and built at home.

    • #29
  30. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    Misthiocracy:

    JimGoneWild:

    Misthiocracy:He had me, right up until he trivialized coding as not “real” work.

    He said “code” not “coding”.

    I was waiting for this. He said that people should make things that are real, not code on a computer, therefore coding isn’t real work. Q.E.D.

    “Code” is a noun in that sentence. He means that the chair you make with your own hands is more meaningful and more important than your house in World of Warcraft.

    • #30

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