Is Public Education a National Security Issue?

By: Jesse Prewitt


America is losing in the race for educational prominence. We have been falling behind dozens of other nations in educational testing. The question is whether this is a national security issue. Is Public Education in America a National Security Issue? It is clear that the answer is yes. 
We have relied on a mixed research method. We have shared quantitative research others have worked to obtain, and we have used qualitative methods in observation from a personal perspective as well as from others’ perspectives. 
Not only are we falling dangerously behind in the arena of education, but we are still spending unrealistic amounts of money with empirical evidence that what we are doing to improve education is not working. We have suggested simple changes, but rely upon a collaboration between school, home, and church in the community. This is our only hope. 

Is Public Education in America a Matter of National Security?
Is There a Connection Between Education and National Security?
If so, What is That Connection, and How Does it Affect National Security?

The question posed seemed a reasonable one given that Thomas Jefferson wrote to Charles Yancey: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” (Jefferson, 1816) The concept to Jefferson was that the people are responsible for the oversight of government and it must not be left completely to rulers alone. Of course any reasonable person would be in favor of educating our youth, but does the idea of failing to do so rise to the level of a national security problem? If she ever was, the United States is no longer among the highest ranking countries when it comes to education. This is no national secret.
Our government has been funding public education to the tune of billions of dollars per year for a very long time, but we still find ourselves ranking far behind other nations in testing scores. Again, is this simply a phenomenon or is it a problem of our nation’s security? Many prominent leaders believe it is a serious national security risk. The next generation is mostly ineligible to join our armed forces and many do not possess the ability to read and write as their predecessors. The issue is that we may not have sufficient volunteers to staff our military very soon.
The Federal Government has been focusing on the classroom and the teacher’s ability to control the students. The problem is that enough of these students disrupt the class so that others do not have the ability to learn, and the teacher is distracted with those disrupting class and it detracts from the learning process. A more effective approach to K-12 education must be discovered and implemented very soon if we expect to remain safe in our homes and communities in future generations. I will discuss what I am calling the Trifecta of Education: Order, Instruction, and Learning (OIL), that makes the educational machine run smoothly.

Literature Review
So vast is the literature on the portion of our discussion, relating to classroom management, that it would be virtually impossible to stand on the shoulders of all these giants, as the motto of Google Scholar states; I only have two feet. The literature relating to classroom management is not only abundant but vital to the education process, yet the literature on the relationship of education to national security is not so much. Regarding the former, we will discuss what appears to be the prominent works, and in the latter we will use what is available.
“America’s failure to educate is affecting its national security,” says an independent Task Force on U. S. Education Reform and National Security. Among the members of the task force was former U. S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who is now a professor of political economy at Stanford. (Krache, 2012) This report published five threats to our nation’s security. Among these threats listed, are economic growth and competitiveness, U. S. physical safety, intellectual property, not to mention a global awareness that affect our nation’s unity and cohesiveness. (Krache, 2012) According to a Defense Department statistic, some three-quarters of our American youth are not eligible to join the armed forces, some for the lack of high school diplomas, others are overweight, or have a criminal record. In fact, the Pentagon says that more than two-thirds of American youth wouldn’t qualify for military service. (Jordan, 2018)
According to The Heritage Foundation’s report by Spoehr and Handy (2018), the military expects and depends upon a consistent flow of volunteers, annually. This reports quotes Pentagon data as declaring that seventy-one percent of American youth between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four are ineligible for the military. (See Chart 1)

The chart reveals the primary reasons youth cannot join the military. Education finds its place as number three on this list. The report found that the youth lack a certain “stick-to-itiveness” necessary for military service, plus a basic written and cognitive skills not found in today’s young people. (Spoehr & Handy, 2018)
It is difficult to argue with Defense Department statistics. The U. S. Military has always held to a certain standard and it is not expected to be lowered, as this would very apparently be detrimental to our fighting forces. What accounts for the health problems and the lack of physical fitness? This could not be resigned to recent pandemic situations alone, so what is the contributing factor to the lack of physical conditioning in our nation’s youth?
According to a report in Science Direct, Doctors Landry and Driscoll (2012) note that obesity rates among American youth have “reached alarming rates.” They show that The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services estimate eighty percent of our young people are significantly lacking in physical conditioning and the obesity rate has greatly increased as a result. (Landry and Driscoll, 2012) This paper will not attempt to get into the causes of the lacking health of our nation’s youth, but seek to focus more on the subject of education. Physical fitness for those whose health will allow can be gained with proper exercise.
Leading scholar, Loch Johnson (2015) has much to add to the discussion and has done so. He cites “the nation’s inadequate knowledge base about foreign affairs,” and notes that this “pool of citizens” tends to shrink the number of those eligible to assume the responsibility of leadership in our government. This also limits the informed pool of voters to be able to discern matters of State and foreign policy by those running for office in our nation. Johnson cites a National Geographic Society survey in which it was discovered that thirty percent of those surveyed could not locate the Pacific Ocean, the largest ocean in the world, on a map. (Johnson, 2015, 473) The survey also found that when asked, three-quarters of the respondents thought that English was the most widely spoken language in the world, but the correct answer is Mandarin Chinese. Those surveyed also had little knowledge (about sixty percent) about Islam. The next generation will not be able to understand the concepts of foreign policy decisions made by Washington representatives because they have such little understanding of geography, culture, languages, history and the goings-on of other nations. We cannot be leaders in a world we have no knowledge or understanding other nations and their cultures. (Johnson, 2015)
The Coleman Report (Coleman et al., 1966) which was commissioned by Congress immediately following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to study the matter of equality of opportunity in education, is likely the most often referenced source on this subject. It is difficult to argue with the quantitative evidence demonstrated in the literature regarding the ineligibility of present-day youth for military service. It is equally difficult to do so with Johnson’s quantitative and qualitative data regarding the educational condition of our youth at the present.
The gloves come off, however, when interpreting the finding of Coleman et al. (1966) Over fifty years later since Coleman and his colleagues published their findings, there is yet to be a consensus in the relationship between the school, the home environment, and the matter of inequality, says Downey, et al. (Downey, et al., 2016) For the majority of my career in education, it seems the pressure has been largely placed on the teacher and the control of the classroom. This is no doubt a vital part, but the question raised after all this time is, with all the money funneled into education with this focus, why are we still on the educational treadmill going nowhere?
Downey reminds us that the Coleman Report (1966) is famous it its conclusion that the link in the variation of academic performance was strongly rooted in the students’ family environments, and had little to do with how much money was expended toward individual students or schools. (Downey, et al., 2016) In fact, Oaks writes that schools themselves seem to “create” the turmoil resulting in learning difficulty. (Oaks, 2005) The rushing from one class to the next, the teacher barking out the “Do-Now’s” that are currently expected to be pasted on the board as students walk into the room, so that no second is lost in the process of instruction. There is the unexpected or forgotten announcement over the intercom that distracts from whatever concentration has been gained on the subject matter, and then the bell rings and they are off to yet another classroom, with hardly any time to visit the restroom, and the situation starts all over again, hour after hour, until the final bell rings. (Oakes, 1985; Gamoran, 1992; Condron, 2008) All this is assuming there are no disciplinary issues, or disruptive students to deal with, that can subtract from the limited time allotted for instruction. This last part will be discussed later.
From the literature and my own observations over the years, this information rings very true and I find no major issues with the data presented, with the exception of the simple interpretation of that data. For example, the proverbial illustration of the two kids under the apple tree with “equal ladders”, yet the apple tree seemed to be leaning toward one side, in which case one of the kids could not reach the apples “equally”. This illustration (original source unknown) had been used for some time to demonstrate “inequality” and the need for “equity”, a legal term that claims the kid that is unable to reach the apples simply needs a “taller ladder” to make him/her equal. This illustration on its face seems reasonable, but the question that came to my own mind was why doesn’t the kid unable to reach the apples simply move the ladder to the other side with the other kid? Why does he/she require a taller ladder than the other kid? The obvious answer seems to be in the logistics rather than the allocation of superior resources to the other kid in the name of “equality”. Is equity justified in the act of inequality?

The quantitative data largely presented by those cited, is used in this paper, however, I will rely greatly upon qualitative evidence, gathered significantly by my own observation, and that of others in the field. The primary force of my observation is that of focusing on the correct area of need, as I am convinced we have set our sights on the wrong target for over fifty years. George Keenan was once asked if he could guarantee a better outcome with a perspective he advocated. He replied, “Of course not. I can only say that I fail to see how it could have produced a much worse one.” He went on to say that “conduct realistically motivated is likely to be more effective than conduct unrealistically motivated.” (Keenan, 1951, 56) America has been focusing unrealistically on the wrong area, and we must become realists going forward. Our nation’s security depends on it.

Data Analysis
In the beginning we asked, Is Public Education in America a Matter of National Security? Then we asked if there exists a connection between education and national security. If so, what is that connection? How does education affect national security? We also would like to know what has been done about this matter. What measures have been taken, by whom, and what are were the results of such steps? Were these steps or measures effective or ineffective? What is the impact of this?
If we should find that the answer to our initial question is a resounding yes, then we must also ask if education does affect national security, where do we find ourselves on the education scale? Are we first among other nations? Are we lagging behind in a world successfully moving forward in the education of their next generations? While we are at it, if the answer is that we find ourselves lagging, what is wrong with our educational system? What can we do to remedy it if what we have been doing is unrealistically motivated? (Keenan, 1951)
The answer to our first question is answered in the affirmative by Eberstadt and Abramsky (2022) stating that American’s “education crisis” is a national security threat. They state that not only is a better-educated citizenry a more productive citizenry in regard to their economy but also their military might. They note that is increasingly clear that many other countries are bolting ahead of the United States in educational attainment. The U. S. will soon have to concede to China in the ranking of college-educated workers. Even India may pass us with the total volume of ‘working-age men and women with higher education.” (Eberstadt & Abramsky, 2022)
A Council on Foreign Relations Report also stated that an education crisis is a national security crisis. The report states that America’s primary and secondary schools are “widely seen as failing.” (Klein & Rice, 2014) The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) sponsored the task force that included Klein and Rice to address this subject and the fact of its “national security repercussions.” Klein and Rice note that a ‘world-class education system” is of the utmost importance to not only preserving our physical security, but also vital in relation to the concept of leadership. They say we must have a dynamic economy, as well as an informed and active society, with a bevy of well-educated and well-informed professionals who are capable and willing to live and serve around the world. (Klein & Rice, 2014)
It is clear there is a connection between education and national security. That connection is demonstrated in an inability to achieve a high school diploma, leaving school without the basic skills in math and science that are necessary for jobs in modern industry, and the inability to successfully pass military entrance exams. (Klein & Rice, 2014) The Task Force that included Klein and Rice, also noted the roll out of Common Core Curriculum they hoped would successfully impact the education issue.
Five years later, as the Common Core Curriculum has had sufficient time to make a difference in our educational system, we find both researchers and the general public wanting to know; is Common Core working? (Polikoff, 2017) Polikoff cites the use of mixed methods in arriving at the decision that there is “no analysis of which I am aware provides convincing causal evidence of the impact of the CCS on any student outcome.” (Polikoff, 2017) Although there were states like California, who rolled out Common Core a bit slower than other states, along with other factors such as to what degree are teachers implementing the curriculum, and much effort has been put into surveying teachers with questions designed to be effective as only those teachers familiar with the curriculum would know the answer. (Center on Education Policy, 2016b; Opfer, Kaufman & Thompson, 2016)
With mixed methods, the answer to our question concerning the existence of a connection between education in America and our national security seems to have been answered. There is definitely a connection. That connection is made clear in that an informed citizenry should be able to read, write, and perform the needed skills to get a job in our society, and even to understand what our elected representatives are doing on our behalf.
The action or steps taken included the implementation of a curriculum called Common Core. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) administers student assessments test internationally. As of 2018 when the last test was administered, The United States of America ranked eleventh out of seventy-nine other countries in the subject of science. In the subject of math, America ranked thirtieth. The average score for an OCED math score is 489, and America scored 487. The top five nations were Singapore at 569, Macao at 555, Hong Kong at 551, Taiwan at 531, and Japan at 527. (Amadeo, 2022)
The measures taken included a new curriculum and it has apparently failed at least in bringing America out of the educational hole we find ourselves in. I cannot state whether the curriculum has failed in each and every school or for each and every student, but it is apparent that after all these years, Common Core is not the answer to the problem American education faces.
Former Secretary of Dense, CIA Director, and higher education official, Robert Gates believes that America is in trouble regarding the lack of civics education. He says that the lack of understanding how our government works is cause for alarm in our country. He says that there is a “hyperpolarized political environment” in our nation and without the simple knowledge of how our nation’s business is conducted, citizens may not realize that “one side doesn’t have all the answers.” (Perez, 2021) Every day I hear or read of one side of the political isle accusing the other of something, and then it goes in the reverse. Most of my students have no understanding of how politics work, and probably do not want to learn. The bickering back and forth would put anyone off.
The recent figures for how much the U. S. spends on K-12 education is about $14,891 per public school student, or about $762 billion each year. (Amadeo, 2022) Due to our lagging behind in educational prowess, many companies outsource their tech jobs to others overseas. This hurts our economy and as a result there are fewer and fewer higher paying jobs available in America due to the fact that many may not be qualified. That is a tremendous impact on our society. Amadeo notes that this stark reality may come as a shock to many American who simply believe that our students’ skills are the best in the world. (Amadeo, 2022) This is heartbreaking.
We cannot demonstrate exactly what the federal funding in education is spent on, but I think we can agree that whatever we are doing it is not working as well as we may have hoped. For the last couple of decades, each new President has had a new idea about how to improve American education. Let us cut to the chase. No matter what the program, not matter what the curriculum, nor how much money is funded into the system, as of 2018 America was still lagging behind at least ten other nations in science, and at least 29 other nations in math. (Amadeo, 2022) We score below average among the other countries.
America, we have a problem! Have we been unrealistically motivated, as Keenan stated? Are we living in reality? Or, are we simply pushing on with the same ineffective remedy, hoping all with somehow miraculously change? I agree it is going to take a miracle. We have come so far that it is not going to turn on a dime. Like a friend of mine says, you cannot turn the Titanic around in a minute.

The wisest man in the world wrote: “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1) In Solomon’s day, commercial and business transactions were measured by a stone. These standard weights and measures were safely kept in the sanctuary. (Exodus 30:13; Leviticus 27:25; 1 Chronicles 23:29) There is a message of principle in this fact and that is that the standard of what is right comes from God. However, the chapter continues and in verse 14 we find that it is recorded that when there is no “guidance” the people fall, but in the abundance of counselors there is victory. The word for guidance is the same as “deliverance”, and it literally means steersmanship. We know this concept as leadership.
The admonition in this text is dissuade any from taking action that were dishonest in order to increase profits. We are admonished to do the right thing always because it is right. This is not intended to suggest that dishonesty is at the helm of our education system, but simply that we should be willing to place aside what is not working and replace it with something that will work. This needs to be done even at the expense of our pride or personal reputation. Continuing to spend the taxpayers’ money by throwing it down a dry well is wrong, and though malice may not be a part of the process, it still must be stopped because there must be a better way. The evidence is clear. What America is doing is not working for education. We must consider other ways of getting where we want to be.
This researcher/student does not claim to have all the answers, but I know what will not work—the same thing we have been doing for too long. Sometimes we have to get back to the fundamentals. We must ask ourselves some serious questions. Are standardized tests really working? We might say yes because they show us that something is not working.
Near the beginning of this paper I spoke of a simple plan I call the Trifecta of Education. The term trifecta originated with horse racing, and I am not suggesting we begin laying wagers, but understand the concept involved here. A trifecta is where someone could pick the first place winner, the second place, and the third place winner, all in that order. The idea I am referring to is that there are three fundamental elements to education: Order, Instruction, and Learning. Sounds simple does it not? Maybe too simple?
Let us work this backwards. Learning can only take place where there is competent instruction, right? I have no doubt the majority of our teachers today are overwhelmingly competent in their field of study. Students have a need to learn and teachers have the information the students need. Simple.
This brings us to the matter of order. It is expected of an educator that he/she commands control of their classroom. I have met some who have less skill in this area and more who have sufficient skills to gain the attention of their students. The only exception will be possibly a handful (maybe one or two) of students that are intent on disrupting class to the point that the teacher is forced to expend precious instruction time dealing with the disruption they cause. This matter will need to be dealt with on a school-by-school basis.
It appears that often the school is so bent on focusing on the disruptive student’s right to an education, they miss that the rest of the class is being denied theirs. Perhaps alternative solutions could be utilized in these cases, but much sooner than have been. The removal of students who persist in disruption from the other student’s presence is something that must be addressed by each school board. Parents are involved, but sometimes the parents are unable to deal with the student for different reasons.
This is where the miracle I spoke of earlier comes in. As we showed earlier, Coleman et al. showed that the home environment was one of the major influencers of the student’s education career. It is at this point that local Churches must step up to the plate and focus as heavily as possible on family ministry. Too many homes are dysfunctional. If I had the opportunity to suggest it to the local church ministry, this area is the one most needed.
The last point I wish to make on the subject of order is that I have spoken to many teachers and students over the past few years, and both are stressed to the max. A New York Times article (2019) demonstrates that students have some ideas to relieve stress at school. The report says that teenagers were very passionate about their comments. Some have tough home lives and more stress at school is too much for them. They say, put less stress on students. Another common one was one that surprised me. The students said, use less technology (…or more). Some suggest that since kids are constantly on their cell phones for entertainment, perhaps they need a break from this and would benefit from pen and paper. This is said that they need more time to ponder on things and allow the information to take root, and counter the fast-paced technology life. At least have a healthy balance between technology and pen and paper to give that healthy balance. Another suggestion was, prepare students for real life. The said not everyone would go to college, and from the test scores we have seen this is true. Students need to learn about real life, and too often this is not learned at home. The last suggestion by students, other than supporting teachers, the students’ families, and creating a better learning environment in the classroom, was eliminate standardized tests. (The Learning Network, 2019)
I will discuss these last two suggestions by the students, the classroom environment and the standardized tests. I have encountered many evangelicals who rail about the absence of prayer in the schools. To this I say, let us focus on getting prayer back in the homes and it will return to the schools. The idea is that this must be a collaborative effort between schools, homes, churches, and volunteer organizations, willing to find a way to work together for the benefit of our children and their education.
The absence of order in the classroom is robbing our students of their need of learning. It is obstructing the delivery of instruction by the teacher. This must also be a cooperative effort between home, school, and church. For too long the parents have ‘blamed” the teachers or the schools, and the teachers have “blamed” the parents. If ever churches needed a reason to pray, this is the time. Families are slipping through our grasp and they are in desperate need of being discipled into being the godly families that is needed to foster physically, psychologically, and emotionally healthy children.
This concept of a trifecta means that all must be in the right order or it will not work. Coleman focused on the family as one of the main components of the whole educational experience. This is where we should also place our focus. We do not have a choice. We are losing to other nations in jobs, technology, and our economy. This is not to mention our national security. This is a must! We need leaders to step up and lead, who are not distracted by career advancement or recognition, but to do it for our children, and for our nation.

Works Cited

Amadeo, K. “U. S. Education Rankings Are Falling Behind the Rest of the World: How It Hurts the Economy and You.” The Balance. U. S. and World Economies, U. S. Economy. April 13, 2022.
Center on Education Policy. (2016b) Listen To Us: Teacher Views and Voices. Washington, DC: Author.
Coleman, J., Campbell, E., Hobson, C, McPartland, J., Mood, A., Weinfield, F., and York, R., 1966. Equality of Educational Opportunity. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Condron, D. “An Early Start: Skill Grouping and Unequal Reading Gains in the Elementary Years” The Sociological Quarterly 49(2):363-94.
Downey, D., and Condron, D., “Fifty Years Since the Coleman Report: Rethinking the Relationship Between Schools and Inequality”. Sociology of Education, 89(3), 207-220.
Eberstadt, N. and Abramsky, E., “America’s Education Crisis is a National Security Threat: How a Smarter World is Changing the Balance of Power.” Foreign Affairs. September 20, 2022.
Gamoran, A. “Is the Ability Grouping Equitable?” Educational Leadership 50(2):11-17. e
Jefferson, T. Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816. ME 14:384. “Thomas Jefferson on Politics and Government.”
Johnson, L. American Foreign Policy and the Challenges of World Leadership: Power, Principle, and The Constitution. Oxford University Press, 2015.
Jordan, M. “Recruits’ Ineligibility Tests the Military: More Than Two-Thirds of American Youth Wouldn’t Qualify for Service, Pentagon Says,” The Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2014, (accessed January 29, 2018).
Keenan, G. American Diplomacy: 1900-1950. (1951) University of Chicago Press.
Krache, D. “Report Calls Education a National Security Issue” CNN Report Published Tuesday March 20, 2022.
Klein, J. Rice, C. U. S. Reform and National Security. Council on Foreign Relations, May 14, 2014.
Landry, B. & Driscoll, S. “Physical Activity in Children and Adolescents” Science Direct Elsevier Vol 4, Issue 11, November 2012, pages 826-832. Dr. Bradford W. Landry, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mayo clinic, Rochester, MN. Dr. Sherilyn Whateley Driscoll, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department, Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine Division, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN.
Oakes, J. (1985) Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality. Yale University Press.
Opfer, V., Kaufman, J., & Thompson, L. (2016) Implementation of K-12 State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts and Literacy: Findings From the American Teacher Panel. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.
Perez, J. “Robert Gates: How Civics Education Became a National Security Issue.” Politico, September 09, 2021.
Polikoff, M. “Is Common Core ‘Working?’ and Where Does Common Core Research Go From Here? Sage Journals Publication. January-March 2017, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 1-6. DOI: 10.1177/2332858417691749.
Spoehr, T. and Handy, B. “The Looming National Security Crisis: Young Americans Unable to Serve in the Military” Backgrounder No. 3282, February 13, 2018. The Heritage Foundation.
The Learning Network. “What Students are Saying About How to Improve American Education” The New York Times, Published December 19, 2019.

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