Published: March 29, 2012
If your motor vehicle sports one of those “My kid can beat up your honor student” bumper stickers, you pose a threat to your country.
An independent task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and co-chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York schools chancellor Joel Klein says our collective failure to prepare children for a global society constitutes a national security disaster in the making.
If the panel is correct, this is at least an orange alert on the color-coded crisis chart.
“Educational failure puts the United States’ future economic prosperity, global position and physical safety at risk,” states the report.
How do the task force members make the connection?
They say Americans living in poverty are undereducated and unemployable, contributing to a lack of “national cohesiveness.”
They claim that America’s anemic foreign-language education is weakening intelligence agencies and a military force already suffering for the lack of multilingual enlistees.
As Rice puts it, “We are the most monolingual major society on Earth.”
Furthermore, the Department of Defense says three-fourths of the nation’s young men and women are not qualified to become soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen due to both educational and physical shortcomings.
And, of course, our returning champion in the “why Johnny can’t pass high school” category—test scores show that we stink at math and science education compared with many other countries.
So, naturally, one of the task force’s recommendations is to put even more emphasis on math, science, technology and foreign languages in the schools.
Here’s a recommendation that is sure to make teachers feel as though they are really under the electron microscope. The panel suggests state governments cooperate with the feds on a “national security readiness audit” to determine whether schools are teaching what kids need to know to contribute to their country’s security.
Of course, there’s also a recommendation that will have students howling – a longer school day and a longer school year.
Several members of the task force disagree with its collective conclusions. National security expert Stephen Walt of Harvard University says national security is not a legitimate reason for reforming K-12 education. He asserts that the United States’ military and technological expertise will continue to surpass other countries for the foreseeable future.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is more concerned about the report’s suggestion that charter schools and vouchers should become more prominent alternatives as long as resources are fairly allocated.
“A move away from [the] public system could do greater harm to our national security and common bonds than doing nothing at all,” Weingarten writes.
And about those resources – both Rice and Klein say more money will have to be spent.
If we keep the schools open longer hours and more days, we’ll have to pay increased utility bills, among other expenses.
If we require additional subjects or more specialized emphasis on part of the curriculum, we’ll have to hire teachers certified in those disciplines.
Years ago, I worked with a man who insisted that he should be freed from the responsibility of paying taxes earmarked for public education because he was childless and, therefore, had no stake in the efficiency or reliability of the schools.
Although he might disagree with the specific ways his tax money was spent on education, I hope now he gets the overall rationale.