With America’s kids now back to school and summer memories traded in for back packs and books, parents everywhere are doing what they can to make sure their kids are getting the education needed to help them be ready for the future.
Every parent knows that the key to any good future for their child is having an education that provides the foundation to learn, adapt and succeed, but a recent report points to a challenging future, not just our kids’ future but our nation’s.
Released this past April, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), issued a report called “U.S. Education Reform and National Security” which offered some rather sobering statistics on the state of education and its impact upon the country’s security. This is just not some fly-by-night report, either. The authors of the report were an independent task force chaired by former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and former U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice – two accomplished educators and leaders in their own right. The Task Force’s membership is also a “who’s who” of policy, education and business leaders. Comprised of executives from Intel, Teach for America, Harvard, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and other distinguished groups, the membership has an almost E.F. Hutton quality, meaning “when they speak, people listen.”
Part of what they are saying is not necessarily new – there are literally library shelves filled with reports from nationally recognized task forces that proclaim that our schools are not living up to needs or expectations that we have for them. This is especially true in producing increasing numbers of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and technologists.
Besides the recently issued CFR Report, it was the Hart-Rudman Commission Report that I think best exemplified the crisis we are having with our educational output. One of their findings was “Second only to a weapon of mass destruction detonating in an American city, we can think of nothing more dangerous than a failure to manage properly science, technology, and education for the common good over the next quarter century” (page 30, The Phase III Report of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century).
Think about that – second only to the consequences of a WMD leveling an American city is our inability to produce the science and technology talent we need for our country for the next twenty five years. That recommendation was issued in February 2001 – eleven years ago – and we still have not turned the corner on this issue.
China, India and other countries continue to far surpass the United States in producing this type of high caliber talent. While many of these nations have populations that dwarf that of the United States, our continued trickle of production of this talent puts not only our economic competitiveness at risk but our national security too. While there will always be a place for “muscle” and pure firepower in terms of the national security apparatus, having the gray matter – the brains to fight the wars of the 21st century – will be paramount. All you have to do is look at the increasing accounts of the ongoing cyber warfare that is occurring every minute in this country and around the world. From successful and thwarted cyber attacks emanating from China, Russia, and North Korea to other incursions from countries that the U.S. has far better relations with, brainpower, rather than brute firepower, is what is most important to have on today’s front lines.
If we don’t produce students with the foundational skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, we cannot put them into our higher education institutions to refine these talents for the ultimate benefit of our economy and preservation of our way of life. Amidst all of the stark recommendations that this latest CFR report contains, that is what it is telling us, and the echo factor of this report is even louder than its predecessors.
Pick up any newspaper or magazine from the past few weeks and look at the decisions, careers and events that are increasingly dependent upon these skills. Now look at the class schedule and curriculum of your child. If we are ever to turn these stark numbers around, it has to be parents that ask their kids to take on the tougher assignments.
All too often we point the finger at teachers for the dismal educational output. While it is certainly fair and appropriate to question what schools do in their classrooms, too often it is misguided to singularly blame educators as the primary cause of the output problem. Prepared and professional classrooms are certainly important, but it is the classroom that is at home that can have the most impact in educating the talent of the future.
If parents don’t challenge their children, they will never know how far they might go, or what discoveries they might make. That certainly can happen on a sports field or in a game, but it is in the mind, on the blackboard, and in tough subjects that we need to be making these challenges more often.
Our future security is literally depending on it.
Think about that on ‘back to school’ night.