Decline and Fall of the United States is Education Related

I read an article from Salon titled "How America will collapse (by 2025)" which the author, Alfred McCoy, tells of scenarios which lead to a rapid decline of American power replaced by China. The decline and fall of the United States as a dominate global power seems to be a forgone conclusion now. The United States' own government even marks the end at sometime in the middle of this century. This is not comforting if a government is predicting its own decline. The article goes through various scenarios which lead to a more rapid decline than others expect. These include a continued dependence on oil, costly military adventures which don't work, loss of technological leadership, and economic leadership. The bottom line is almost every scenario involves problems in our educational system that does not produce citizens that can meet the challenges the author presents.

The first scenario is the loss of leadership in technological innovation. The article cites the fact that the United States is not producing enough adults with university degrees much less in science and engineering. This means countries like China and India will have an upper hand in technology innovation which will continue to fuel their economies as they roar past the United States. The second scenario is the United State's continued dependence on foreign oil. According to the article foreign oil accounts for over 66% of our energy consumed. If oil producing countries want to cripple the U.S. economy then all they need to do shut off our supply. This time, China will be very willing to purchase oil and play nice politically with oil-producing countries. Not enough effort is being placed to find energy alternatives that are cheap and renewable. Other countries are doing more than the U.S. in finding alternative energy sources. Whoever finds this first will dominate the world. After 9/11 finding renewable energy should have a Manahattan Project or Moon mission type of national urgency. Yet, we are not producing the scientists needed to undertake such a project. Finally, the author tells about how the U.S. military is becoming more reliant on unmanned, robotic or cyber weapons to overwhelm potential enemies with little cost in life. The problem is these weapon systems need to be invented, built, and protected by technology specialists our country is not producing in the education system. The result, China launches a massive cyberattack that renders our defense capabilities useless because of sub-standard computer systems and not enough experts in anti-cyberwarfare. The U.S. could lose a war in a matter of minutes.

Throughout the history of the United States, the country has always prided itself for rising to meet the challenges other countries have thrown at it. Perhaps the dominate superpower is over relying on this ability when a crisis comes. However, a crisis must be met with decisiveness in a matter of seconds as opposed to months or years in the past. One thing the United States did have to meet its challenges is an educated workforce that could overcome any obstacle with creativity and determination. Does our educational system provide workers who could undertake the challenges like World War II or the race to the Moon? Would a cyberattack by China or anyone else be enough to wake the slumbering giant that crushed Germany and Japan? Would the giant be able to respond before it is too late or not at all? Can the United States place its national future in the hands of today's students given the state of education? Please let me know what you think.

Education: A Matter of National Security

According to a CNET article, former Democratic Senator Bill Bradley claimed national security is "going to be won the classrooms" and "A train wreck is going to happen unless we wake up in this country. " Bradley was speaking to a group of technology elites about education's inability to produce enough skilled workers. To change the situation, the former New Jersey Senator called for national standards, doubling teacher's salaries, and pay schemes based on student achievement. Bradley further went on to say it is time for the federal government to enforce national education standards because of the to produce the qualified workers needed for the future of our country. Anticipating critics who would cry local control of schools would be taken away he responds, "Well, sorry. This is a national issue."

This is not the first time education was considered a matter of national security. The National Defense Education Act of 1958, a response to the launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union, provided the first federal funds for education. The purpose of the act was to increase math, science, and modern language abilities in students to counter a perceived education gap with the Soviets that threatened national security. In Senator Bradley's claim education is a matter of national security has validity. The ability of today's students to learn how to learn, problem solve, and work collaboratively is important. Considering the current war against a loosely organized terrorist group transcending the borders of sovereign nations, the argument that the future of our national security is in the classrooms has merit. The military is constantly reviewing its strategy and tactics and developing new ones to achieve its objectives with the constraints set by civilian authorities.

One of the biggest problems with the No Child Left Behind law is the fact that while every student is supposed to show they are learning according to standards, each state develops those standards and definitions of success. This inconsistency further hinders the ability to produce highly skilled and adaptable workers needed to meet the challenges of the future. National standards can be achieved with continued local control of schools. Adopting national standards could free school boards and district administrations to concentrate more on providing tools, training, and support for teachers to meet those standards.

While no teacher or administrator will ever claim to be overpaid, care must be taken when implementing pay scales based on achievement. There is an old story from the Soviet Union about a nail factory. The manager of the plant, whose position and salary was based on performance, was given a goal to produce one million nails in a year. The nails that were produced were too small and weak to be of any use for construction purposes and the industry suffered. However, the manager met his targeted goal. The next year, the central planners set the plant goal to produce one million pounds of nails during the year thinking the manager would correct the situation. The manager achieved his goal but the nails produced where like heavy spikes and proved to be too big for construction purposes. The industry still suffered and the housing shortage continued. If teachers are told their pay is based strictly on academic achievement based on test scores, then students will be highly skilled in taking tests but those skills will not help students in the real world. While their pay may be based on achievement, teachers must be assured they will have creative freedom to make learning more meaningful for their students without fear of economic loss.