More than 18 months ago I started a journey, driven by curiosity and a desire to make a difference in the lives of children in the US. That led to an intense and often times obsessive focus on gaining a researcher’s understanding of a then unfamiliar “market” called public education. What I found in the process was most surprising.
I had little understanding of the complexity of the public education system before I began. As a layman, outside of the field, like many people I knew that schools existed to educate children and teachers were the professionals we called upon to do that work. I also knew that many children in the system were not being served well, ending up as casualties by dropping out or by getting an education that neither prepared them for college or career.
In my private sector focused daily existence these issues seemed distant and far removed from the high impact profit world I was accustomed to. This convenient blindness is one of the root causes for the current state of our schools. After 18 months, I now clearly see that the failure of public education in the United States is a major national security issue.
The United States is falling behind. Many would prefer to stick their heads in the sand, wave their flags and wear their USA T-shirts made in China. There are others that have seen the writing on the wall and have adopted a style of selfish unpatriotic greed which has resulted in job loss to India, China and any other location where profit can be maximized even if it accelerates this country’s decline.
The US Government has been complicit, in some instances offering outright cooperation to economic competitors and in other instances demonstrating such gross incompetence that one might assume it to be purposeful in its intent. Not only are we shipping jobs overseas, we are allowing workers from other nations to flow into the country illegally to take jobs that have been knowingly offered by major US corporations looking to keep their wage rates low. On the other hand the best and brightest among us find the Wall Street lure of fast money and power too strong to ignore – so we lose much of the talent that could transform our nation to a culture of greed and excess.
At the same time we are building schools in Iraq, winning the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan, and providing aid all around the globe, we have generations of school children that have not learned basic skills like reading and simple arithmetic. A number of these “failed” kids will graduate to the United States penal system, the largest by far (per capita) of any Western society. Many of these children, left behind academically, will become expert at extracting welfare dollars from a system of supports that is unintentionally enslaving rather than liberating lives. And of course there is the population that will simply self destruct as they fend for their daily survival on urban streets where there is a necessity to pack more fire power than the local police.
Our decline is not only coming from our urban districts. Schools in many affluent communities are behind as well. Many college professors are openly complaining about the lack of preparation, academically and socially, of high school students as they enter college. The result – lack of critical thinking skills, combined with an undeserved sense of entitlement that often results in mental laziness within college communities where the peer pressure of the party culture dominates. Of course most international students are here focused on a purpose – to extract the best education and return to build their lives in their home countries – our economic competitors. There are more honors students in China and India than the total population of the United States. We are losing our global differentiation and our willingness to work together for a national vision.
In this election cycle we will find the same politicians that were complicit in bringing about this decline, using the tools of deception, marketing, sales and statistics to divert the attentions of the electorate from the reality of their future. The “pundits and prognosticators” in their continued efforts to expand their audience will whip up false debates that will divide, distract and deter us from making any national progress. Hidden behind the campaign slogans and direct mail solicitations are politicians that call themselves Republicans or Democrats, sheepishly aligning themselves to party while sacrificing the future of the country.
A national investment in Education is one way out of this quagmire. We must re-arm our electorate with the skills they need to become globally competitive again. We must re-arm our electorate with the knowledge they need so they can become more informed about their future and the future of this country. We must re-tool an education system that has fallen into the hands of political agendas, power brokers and politicians focused on the next election cycle while leaving the children behind.
Our geo-political competitors, with much larger populations, are educating their children to become the world’s future doctors, lawyers, scientists and teachers. Our American kids are becoming obese, dropping out, without skills they can use to contribute to themselves or the tax base needed to support America’s aging population.
Lack of education, few opportunities, a growing underclass, large prison population, and a growing chasm between the haves and have nots – this is a historical recipe that we have seen many times before. That is why I believe that education is fast becoming The National Security issue of our time.
Although this phase of my research is done, I intend to detail specific findings in a series of upcoming blog articles. Comments are welcomed.