February 27, 1998

How To

What happens during a "how-to," and what our how-to's say about us. Most how-to's promise that you'll not only learn skills, you'll be transformed.


Host Ira Glass with Brooklyn schoolteacher Melissa Cantor, who reads from a how-to manual written by a sixth-grade student. It's about how to protect yourself against unwanted visitors. Like the Wolfman. Dinosaurs. Aliens. We make how-to's to help ourselves believe the world is an orderly place that we can control, even when we can't. And how-to's go back to the very beginnings of our identity as English-speaking people: when it became legal to publish whatever you wanted in England in 1696, the books that immediately became the most popular were how-to's. They explained how — through hard work, education, self-control — you could better yourself and move up into what we think of today as the middle class. And in fact, they appeared before there was a substantial middle class; people read the books and created a middle class. Our identity is bound up in the very idea of "how to" — the notion that it's possible to better yourself, to become a different person. (7 minutes)
Act Three

How To Increase Your Value As A Person

In which we tackle the biggest possible how-to we could think of: how to make your life worth more. And we get answers — real, practical answers — from the people whose job it is to think about this issue: insurance adjusters. Adam Davidson reports. (12 minutes)