Barack Obama on International Partnerships and Youth

Something I forgot to blog about before Barack Obama left office was his essay in Lonely Planet, of all places. In an essay titled, “US President Barack Obama reflects on why a million miles of travel gives him hope for the future,” he writes, in part:

During my time as president, I have traveled well over a million miles to every corner of the world. These foreign trips have included international summits and bilateral visits that have been fundamental to the progress that we’ve made – strengthening alliances, engaging former adversaries, renewing the global economy, and forging agreements to fight climate change, stop the spread of nuclear weapons, expand commerce, and roll back poverty and disease.

I leave office more convinced than ever before that international cooperation is indispensable. Without regular consultations with foreign leaders, and institutional coordination between the US and our allies and partners, we cannot overcome challenges that recognize no borders. It took dozens of countries working together to stamp out Ebola. It took coordinated pressure and careful diplomacy to reach a peaceful agreement to roll back Iran’s nuclear program. Nearly 200 countries spent years in painstaking negotiations to achieve the Paris Agreement to protect our planet. Every single day, the US works seamlessly with other countries to share information to prevent terrorist attacks, stop human trafficking, break up drug cartels, or combat corruption.

But while this cooperation is essential, I have always believed that our engagements with other countries must not be limited to governments – we also have to engage people around the world.  In particular, we must sustain our engagement with young people, who will determine the future long after those of us in positions of power leave the world stage …

More than half of human beings are 30 years old or younger. This is even more pronounced in the developing world – that’s where 90 percent of the global population under 30 lives. These young people are living through revolutions in technology that are remaking life on our planet, allowing for unprecedented access to information and connectivity, while also causing enormous disruptions in the global economy. And while the world’s leaders discuss the pressing issues of the day, it is the world’s young people who will determine whether their voices direct the change that is sweeping our world towards greater justice, opportunity, tolerance, and mutual respect …

Every day, these young people are working to improve their communities from the bottom up. A rapper from Uganda is now promoting civic participation through his music. A Rwandan entrepreneur is using new technologies to provide power to villages that are off the grid. A doctor in Myanmar is offering free surgeries for children. An activist from Thailand has organized young people across Southeast Asia to fight human trafficking. A young Laotian is mobilizing communities to stop the illegal logging that damages the environment. A city manager in the Philippines is launching new initiatives to promote women’s health and combat teen pregnancy; to do so, she is drawing on skills she learned on a fellowship in Montana …

No one of these initiatives will transform our world. But each of them creates a ripple of progress that can gradually bring the change that our world needs. And in talking to these young people, one thing comes up again and again – the value that they gain from being connected with one another …

At a time when we are faced with so much division in global politics, young people are often more tolerant, more compassionate, and more committed to working to make change that benefits their communities from the bottom up.

To read his essay in its entirety and see photos of him engaging with youth of the world, visit Lonely Planet’s site.

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DIY and Political Expression

In our maker conversations over the past few weeks, one thing that has stood out in the protest-fueled air was the DIY nature of the Women’s Marches. Unlike many more top-down rallies, which furnish protesters with ready-made, mass-produced signage, the Women’s Marches often featured original, individual, and hand-crafted signs, as well as handmade pink hats known as “pussyhats” (ugh – not a term I’m fond of, but I get why they used the name).

Here’s a clip from Rob Walker’s recent story from The New Yorker, “The D.I.Y. Revolutionaries of the Pussyhat Project,” highlighting the DIY nature of the hats, building on centuries of DIY as protest:

The Women’s Marches … elicited a response from Michael Cohen, the famously combative lawyer for the Trump Organization, and now for Trump personally … “Question: Were the pink hats made in the USA?” …

Cohen clearly didn’t know much about the Pussyhat Project, which made those “pink hats” into a material-cultural phenomenon that could end up earning a lasting place in the annals of political symbolism.

The knitted, sewn, or crocheted hats, often with cat-like ears, were inescapable at demonstrations … They can be read, most obviously, as the opposite number of the red maga caps, which are the defining symbol of any Trump …

But the object also grew out of a politically tinged D.I.Y. tradition that’s been around for years. Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, friends who reportedly began taking knitting classes at the Little Knittery in Los Angeles, last year, started the Pussyhat Project with the shop’s owner, Kat Coyle, after the election. The goal was to outfit as many protesters as possible. Posting hat patterns online, they invited demonstrators to make their own, and suggested that crafters who couldn’t travel to the National Mall make one for somebody else to wear. By January 19th, the organizers estimated that a hundred thousand hats had been made and distributed to march participants.

In short, the project “marshalled a volunteer army of crafty women and men,” Shirley Wajda, a curator at Michigan State University Museum, who is currently in the process of collecting materials from the Women’s Marches, said. “I see the Pussyhat Project as a form of political craftivism, and there are historical precedents for this sort of voluntary production for patriotic purposes, dating back to the Revolution.” She mentions the Phrygian cap, adopted as a symbol by the colonists, who also made homespun cloth to replace fine British textiles, as a gesture of their rejection of British rule … In this instance, Wajda continued, the project … “provided a focussed activity related to the then inchoate Women’s March that individuals could actually do” …

The effort of the volunteer crafters certainly clears up Cohen’s question: most of them were, indeed, making the hats in the United States. And the fact that they did so by hand, using traditional skills and often tweaking or embellishing the original patterns, contributes to the hat’s status as an individual, personalized act of labor dedicated to communal protest …

Read Walker’s complete article here.

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Shifting Gears Post-Election

[cross-posted from Makerbridge]

I’d like to build on Sharona’s post from two weeks ago and discuss post-Election (or perhaps post-Obama) maker movement impulses … something is changing, and I haven’t quite put my finger on it, so here goes with what I know so far.

First of all, we are transitioning from a President who loved technology, innovation, community, and youth empowerment. It’s no surprise he liked the maker movement and elevated into a Presidential initiative. Now we are entering an administration built on big business. There’s a big difference between a POTUS who enjoys shooting off a marshmallow cannon in the White House as a pathway to American excellence and a POTUS who has accumulated a long resume for not paying American workers and outsourcing mass-produced manufacturing under a banner of “America First.” (I’m trying to be fact-based here, not political. And I’ll be honest, there are probably holes in both arguments to be made.)

Anyhow, in the midst of this, we’re running our graduate-level makers course again this winter, which I haven’t taught for 18 months (we’ve offered it annually, but moving it from Fall to Winter led to an above-average pause in it being offered). I’m using Dale Dougherty’s late fall book, Free to Make: How the Maker Movement is Changing Our Jobs, Our Schools, and Our Minds, in my graduate-level makers class this fall. (Later this term, we’ll go into Innocent Experimentswhich I raved about here.)

I read it and thought, “Here’s a book that will give folks an overview of the maker movement from multiple perspectives: education, manufacturing, crowdsourcing/Kickstarter, and more. It’ll talk about some of the key tools and people, some of the goals, and give a really great ladder onto which my students can filter and build new understandings as they engage on their own with maker projects and experiences. There might be a few passages or threads I don’t agree with, but I was on a different maker trajectory than Dougherty was, so that doesn’t surprise me.”

My students, on the other hand, are having quite a different experience. Almost every student — and it should be said that they do the reading and are prepared for class, sometimes recalling details that have slipped my mind since this fall — is troubled by much of the narrative.

According to my Amazon account, I ordered the book on October 27, 2016, and if memory serves, I read it immediately. (I traveled on Election Day, and I know I brought a different book on that trip.) That means I read it before the Presidential Election. I mention these details because I wonder if the timing is contributing to the different lens they are using. They’re pushing back specifically in these ways:

  • Making is described as nearly a cure-all for all woes, from unemployment to psychological depression. (Keep in mind that depression is up on college campuses, so this is a hard one for some students to swallow.) I call this the Thneed effect, recalling The Lorax, in which Thneeds are described as the ultimate Swiss Army Knife purchase — able to do anything! To be honest, I do think that hands-on, repetitive, but creative work does do something powerful to our psyches … and I see it in this class of students. There is a luxuriousness when we just all set out to work on stuff … none of us having much time to just settle in and create things outside of class. It’s powerful. But would I claim it as a cure for a medical malady? I’m not sure I go there, either.
  • Making is seen as a low- to no-cost enterprise, but only if you’re middle class or above. Graduate students, most certainly, do not currently fit that bill. They point out $800 or $1200 or $10K tools early in the book. That’s true. Of course, in my world of making, we’re looking for projects that can engage large numbers of folks. A $1 project is a big deal. Of course, underlying this is the tension: is making meant to grow up from the individual (a more libertarian approach that honors individual impulses but also further empowers those who already have access and means) or grow in a community fashion (which transfers some/all of the planning, purchasing, and executing to organizational budgets, which almost always means less costly projects?)
  • Making as a return to the good old days, something I’ve said in many talks along the lines of, “We need to use our hands … we feel productive when we use our hands … in the era of swipe and click, we want to feel productive with physical objects”? Umm, Kristin, I don’t want to be rude, one tells me (absolutely not being rude in doing so, to be clear), but your generation remembers when economics were better. Our generation never knew those times. It doesn’t feel true.
  • Making is supposed to be any creative act, but the book examples are almost always about technology, digital fabrication, or  making-as-business-enterprise. (To be fair, I caught this theme, too, but I’m used to kinda tampering that theme down in my head, so I guess I now do it almost subconsciously.)
  • There are five types of makerspaces, including libraries, but library makerspaces are the only type that are listed but not described in the book. OK, I caught this one, too, but again, I’m used to being tangential in the larger conversation about making. My students are not. Some came to class precisely because they aspire to library work and think making is an aspect of librarianship that they should understand … so I get it that their identity role isn’t validated in the book.

How about American Maker, the 1960 Chevrolet promotional video Dougherty uses as an example of us being a nation proud to use its hands (embedded below)? I remembered having shown it in class 18 months before. While we found it a bit corny then, and definitely reflective of a world where white men go to work, white women sew and cook, and minorities are absent (FWIW: Detroit was never homogenous or all-white — both Southern migration and international immigration were at play, and I have long hypothesized that immigration is a critical way in which new industries are built — as Hamilton says, “Immigrants … we get the job done.”), this year’s students found it to be a false kind of narrative. Making wasn’t assembly lines and inspectors, as discussed in the video. This whitewashed world where everyone is middle class and sparkling clean on the assembly line wasn’t their America.

So I’m wondering what you think … do you see any of these themes in your work?

  • Making defined as inclusive but fleshed out with purely digital examples
  • Generational differences about the maker movement
  • Maker success being defined primarily via examples of “making for money”?
  • Maker activities where the promised payout far exceeds the reality?

In the meantime, I remain steadfast in my belief that communities coming together to use one’s hands — particularly in more-“neutral” settings like libraries — can be a  powerful balm for our fractured selves. When our hands are busy, but we are together, we have opportunities to converse until we find common ground. That’s my hope, anyway…


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On Sewing Machines and Love

I enjoyed this lovely reverie by Jocelyn Heath on the power of sewing machines and traditions across generations in ”The Heirloom Art of the Sewing Machine,” part of The Atlantic’s “Object Lesson” series. I see this kind of family connection when we bring a sewing machine to an event – talk of grandparents and learning to sew from a relative always hover in the air behind those hunched over to make their first stitches.

Both of my sewing machines come from my grandmothers, though neither taught me how to sew. The older one is a child-sized, antique Singer, which can no longer stitch a seam. The hand crank that powers it, however, still turns, and the presser foot still lifts. The other—a plastic electric model from the 1970s—runs well, for now. It’ll eventually go the way of my mother’s machine, a workhorse that outlived the manufacture of replacement parts. When it does, another will take its place, and I’ll have to learn a new set of motions for bobbin-winding and needle-threading …

The first machine-sewing project I remember was a rag doll I made with my mother, during a week-long blizzard when I was in eighth grade. I struggled most with consistency, especially in the doll’s face; no amount of effort could get my satin stitch on her eyes to grow and shrink in increments to form a perfect sphere. Eventually, I abandoned the face to my mother and watched her place the thread at near-perfect intervals. Her needle slipped into the weave of the fabric at just the right points so that her stitches lay snug together, not overlapping, and emulating the circumference of a human eye. Years of cross-stitch and design stitching had taught her the incremental adjustments needed to pull this off …

Unlike humans—who produced natural variation by virtue of training, oversight, preference, or simple idiosyncrasy—the sewing machine could achieve uniformity, evenness, and consistency because its construction “trained” it to repeat endless copies of the desired stitch length …

For my grandmother and others, the inconvenience of time spent negotiating the slippery garment fabrics and stitching buttonholes was apparently worth more than the convenience of designing a fit unachievable by the standardized garment industry … In the U.K., mechanization had certainly put individual artisans out of work, compelling them to seek factory jobs in crowded industrial centers like Manchester and London and condemning many to poverty.

Today, information technology makes a similar threat to supermarket clerks and educators alike, given the ability of machines to learn and execute tasks previously requiring human participation. Sewing machines, too, exist in computerized form; some can be hooked up to computers and programmed with a pattern of choice, be it embroidery or more. What once came from shared knowledge now exists in code.

But hand-crafting is experiencing a resurgence. Young women are learning knitting and crocheting, spurring the rise of Stitch ’n’ Bitch crafting circles. One need not go to a specialty shop to buy fabric or notions; Walmart carries both. Still, most people sew for leisure rather than necessity, making specialty items more often than complete wardrobes …

As her memory fell away and dementia advanced, my grandmother hallucinated that she had a baby. Her mind, unable to retain names or medicines, returned incessantly to this imagined infant. Only physical representations of a baby she could care for relieved her anxiety. For her own sake, I used her sewing machine to make her a doll. Body, clothes, hair, cap—all forged on the old white Singer she’d given me. …

Read Heath’s complete essay at The Atlantic.

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Repair, Resell, Reuse

I’m excited to see Patagonia’s plans for recycling unwanted but still useful garments. Here come a few more sewing jobs that will undoubtedly be more creative and interesting than those for factory construction.

In a new take-back program that will launch in April, [Patagonia] will begin offering store credit for used (but still usable) clothing. At its repair facility in Reno, California—the largest garment repair center in North America—it will wash used clothes with a new waterless technology that helps restore the fabric, and then make any needed repairs. The refurbished garment will be sold on Patagonia’s website …

“If we can make really durable products, and we can work with our customers to keep them in service and in good repair, then we’re providing a solution to the environmental crisis,” says Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s vice president of environmental affairs. “Because then the overall footprint of the products that we make, and our customers buy from us, is as low as we can possibly make it. That really is intrinsic to our motivation for doing this” …

When the company initially asked customers to buy less in 2011, it experimented with various programs … At the time, the company launched a new program called Common Threads, which promoted four “Rs”—recycling, reusing, repairing, and reducing consumption.

In 2013, the program was rebranded as Worn Wear, and the company decided to focus on one “R” at a time, beginning with repair. The repair facility in Reno hired more staff, retail stores opened simple repair centers on site, and the Patagonia website added 45 videos teaching consumers how to fix zippers, sew buttons, and make other DIY repairs. In 2015, the company started sending a converted diesel truck around the country on a mobile repair tour. With the new take-back model, Patagonia will move into a phase of focusing on reuse as well.

The repair and refurbish model would be unlikely to work, Ridgeway says, if Patagonia didn’t also design clothing to last …

The company calculates that if clothing stays in use for nine extra months, it can reduce the carbon, water, and waste footprint by 20% to 30%.

Read the entire article and see some great photos at Fast Co. Design.

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Quotable: Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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Quotable: Carl Wilkens

Decorative graphic that reads, "When we make something with our hans, it changes the way we feel, which changes the way we think, which changes the way we act." Quote attributed to Carl Wilkens in Terry Tempest Williams's book The Hour of Land

Source: Williams, Terry Tempest. 2016. The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks. New York: Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

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Teacher Librarian Maker Article: Design Thinking

Thanks to the publisher, I’m able to share my latest “Makerspaces” column on design thinking from Teacher Librarian..

Full citation: Fontichiaro, Kristin. 2016. “Inventing products with design thinking: Balancing structure with open-ended thinking.” Teacher Librarian 44:2, December, 53-55.

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In the new administration, what’s the role of the maker movement?

[cross-posted from MakerBridge blog]

I’m going to be honest: after Election Day, I was pretty convinced that there would be little interest in the maker movement from the incoming Executive Branch. So I was surprised to see that the conservative Brookings Institution has just published “Five ways the Maker Movement can help catalyze a manufacturing renaissance” by Brookings senior fellow Mark Muro and Maker City co-author Peter Hirshberg. They write, in part:

Amid the hoopla of celebrating a deal to save 800 jobs at a Carrier Corp. factory in Indiana last month, President-elect Donald Trump promised to usher in a “new industrial revolution” —one that sounded as much like a social awakening as a manufacturing one.

How will the nation achieve that renaissance, though? If past is prologue, the Trump administration will lean on high-profile tweets and one-off job-retention deals combined with moves to renegotiate some trade deals to give U.S. workers a leg up …

However, there is another way to think about touching off an industrial revival … That approach would embrace the Maker Movement as a deeply American source of decentralized creativity for rebuilding America’s thinning manufacturing ecosystem …

The makers’ locally-grown enterprises are expanding beyond their artisanal and hobbyist roots to create true business value. The movement has emerged as a significant source of experiential learning and skills-building, as well as creativity for the nation’s innovation-driven manufacturing sector.

More broadly, there is momentum on the ground, both in large cities and small ones, located in both red and blue America, and there is much success to share.

Two years ago, 100 mayors signed a  Mayors Maker Challenge to bolster making in their communities, and now, the just-published book “Maker City: A Practical Guide to Reinventing Our Cities” reports how these strategies are working across the nation. Long to short, the story here is that the Maker Movement isn’t just about reviving manufacturing in cities (though it is doing that). In addition, the movement is proving that anyone can be a maker and that genuine progress on the nation’s most pressing problems can be made from the bottom up by do-it-yourselfers, entrepreneurs, committed artisans, students, and civic leaders …

And so it’s time for the nation—and especially its local business leaders, mayors, hobbyists, organizers, universities, and community colleges—to embrace the do-it-yourself spirit of the makers and start hacking the new industrial revolution one town at a time … to help build a new industrial resurgence that links local ingenuity to genuine economic development.

They go on to outline five strategies:

  1. Start organically;
  2. Make space for makers;
  3. Engage community colleges, universities, and national laboratories;
  4. Pull in the private sector;
  5. Experiment with new forms of education and training.

Finally, they conclude:

In the end, the future of manufacturing in America is going to be high-value, high-tech, and more automated—dominated by new production technologies and fast-evolving supply chain practices.  President-elect Trump’s focus on manufacturing resonated with millions of blue-collar workers because his promises responded to rising anxiety in the country about where the jobs will be in a new automated world, and where automation will hit hardest. And yet, those unknowns only make the maker movement more relevant. In city after city, region after region, the movement offers a practical, inclusive, all-hands-on-deck approach to preparing for and shaping the future of manufacturing … Ultimately, the movement is one modest way to renew the economy with broad engagement and experimentation at a time of uncertainty and division …

Dale Dougherty responded to this essay here, stating in part:

The authors call for “modest competitive grants to support” makers and makerspaces. They also think that there is a need to connect makers with manufacturers. This may or may not be something that the federal government chooses to do. Either way, local and state governments should “take matters into their own hands” … there is much that can be done to assist, sustain and grow participation in the Maker Movement. Adding financial support and focused leadership to this bottom-up movement will allow more of us to innovate and solve problems. It will create new opportunities that can benefit individuals, communities and the economy. It may help the U.S. remain competitive.

China is certainly moving ahead with both funding at the national and local levels for the Maker Movement in Shenzhen, Chengdu … and Beijing. Leaders in the Chinese government recognize the need for China’s citizens to become more innovative. Even there, the future is not about expanding factory jobs but rather building smarter factories and developing smarter citizens who will design products that can be made in China.

I have to say that some of the maker narrative, the idea that we begin organically as individual makers and then coalesce upwards into a movement and into significant change, is really tough to envision in some of the rural areas I visit. It puts a tremendous burden on the individual to get started, and in under-resourced areas, that’s an awfully big responsibility with which to endow the solo actor. In one-industry towns where the factory closed decades ago, and my goodness, I sure seem to drive through a lot of them as I travel throughout my home state of Michigan, much of the expertise behind those factories has left as well. Along with those losses came reductions in home values, resulting in lower property taxes and, by extension, reduced school funding. Some of the very programs — particularly vocational programs, but also “electives” in business development– that would fuel this next generation have been cut back, as have programs in art, music, and libraries that would develop some of the creative thinking, collaboration, and research skills needed for successful entrepreneurs. Under those circumstances, engaging the next generation of innovators from communities comprised of those who took pride in executing others’ visions is an enormous challenge. The more work I do in rural communities, the more I wonder if the future of those communities lies in the artisanal skills of community members more than the high-tech manufacturing skills needed.

So I agree with the writers that municipal and governmental interventions are essential, and yes, they should do an environmental scan. The difference is that while the Brookings article says to search makerspaces first, that’s just not going to be a strategy that works in many communities, because those organizations just don’t exist. Better, try the local hardware store or, as the authors suggest in a later section, consider the power of community colleges to provide low-cost, highly-effective education at the local level. This is where critical, non-outsourceable hands-on skills can be developed that yield to decently-paying jobs. Community colleges are also well-prepared to work with non-traditional students, those who have not been served well by K-12’s drive for everyone-to-college. Additionally, I believe that rural areas will be better served by leveraging existing institutions: Chambers of Commerce, educational institutions, and libraries, particularly public libraries. These have existing spaces, infrastructure, personnel, and policies that can adapt rather than be supplanted. (This raises important questions about the role of public education as the U.S. Department of Education is likely to be led by someone who favors starting new charter schools in lieu of existing infrastructure — a system that works better in urban areas than in rural ones where there is barely enough population for one school system, much less a charter one.)

Where should public libraries, especially those in underserved areas, position themselves? That’s the question that haunts me. Is it through developing youth’s STEM skills? Soft skills? Business incubator skills for adults? Business plan development? Partnerships with Small Business Association projects? Yes. The thing I know is this: if we are serious about having libraries at the table as we move through the next decade of business growth in imperiled areas of our country — and there are so many of them, we have to find a way to connect the dots between today’s LEGO programs and tomorrow’s small business development. It’s a decade or more of commitment, not a one-time Amazon purchase. It likely means that we shed some of our traditional silos (“I’m in youth services — that kind of work is done by adult services staff”) and think more about the long-term trajectory of our patrons (and those who are yet to become patrons). (And that, in and of itself, is a sticky wicket: how do we encourage idiosynractic, passion-driven passions in a systemic way?) It’s a powerful and sometimes scary upward climb … but if we say, particularly in underresourced and underemployed regions, that we are committed to our communities, is there any higher calling?

What do you think?


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Washington Post charts and maps with manufacturing data

{Cross-posted from the Data Literacy for High School Librarians Project blog}

The Washington Post has a fascinating series of maps and graphs about the state of manufacturing in the United States.

Here’s a snippet of one of them:


I love newspaper stories like this because you get a wide variety of maps, graphs, and other visualizations that students can use as jumping-off points for discussion and future inquiry.

Click through to take a look at the story, then come back here and think about these questions:

  1. Based on the data shown above, where might a manufacturing worker want to live to have a better chance at job openings?
  2. We keep hearing that the Rust Belt states are in terrible economic shape. Does the data above support that claim? What about other data visualizations in the article?
  3. In the story, compare the various market segment graphs. If you were a high school career counselor and were meeting with a student interested in manufacturing, which market sectors would you encourage her to pursue? Avoid?
  4. Which states would mostly likely respond better to a political candidate who promises to bring back manufacturing jobs? How does that compare to the election results of 2016?
  5. What does the sparsity of dots in the manufacturing maps in the West tell us about manufacturing there? What should we be careful not to assume based on those dots?

What else would you discuss with students?


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