A Matter of National Security: The defense of the republic begins in the classroom.
The United States is an exceptional nation. As a people, we are not bound by blood, nationality, ethnicity, or religion. Instead, we are connected by the core belief that it does not matter where you came from; it matters only where you are going. This belief is what makes our country unique. It is also what makes education critically important, more so today than ever. While our political leanings may be different, our careers have taught us that education is inextricably linked to the strength of this country and our leadership in the international community.
Today, globalization and the technological sophistication of our economy are widening already troubling socioeconomic disparities, rewarding those who acquire the right skills and punishing brutally those who do not. Much is at stake.
It is not hyperbole to say that the state of education in our country is a challenge to our national security. Human capital has never been more important for success in our increasingly competitive world economy. Yet, although the United States invests more in education than almost any other developed nation, its students rank in the middle of the pack in reading and toward the bottom in math and science. On average, U.S. students have fallen behind peers in Korea, China, Poland, Canada, and New Zealand. This puts us on a trajectory toward massive failure.
Our schools simply must do better. It is essential, too, that we provide a base of knowledge for our students in order to produce citizens who can serve in the Foreign Service, the intelligence community, and the armed forces. The State Department is struggling to recruit enough foreign-language speakers, U.S. generals are cautioning that enlistees cannot read training manuals for sophisticated equipment, and a report from the XVIII Airborne Corps in Iraq found that out of 250 intelligence personnel, fewer than five had the “aptitude to put pieces together to form a conclusion.”
For the United States to maintain its role of military and diplomatic leadership, it needs highly qualified and capable men and women to conduct its foreign affairs. Knowledge of the world and of foreign languages is essential.
Finally, we must also foster a deeper understanding of America’s core institutions and values. Successfully educating our young people about our country, its governmental institutions and values—what is sometimes called “civics”—is crucial to our coherence as a population and for informed citizenry.