Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Education Is The Key to A Strong Foreign Policy

We live in a very dangerous and volatile world.  Much of our focus is on the events in foreign lands and how those events may affect our way of life.  We constantly talk about having a smart, strong, effective foreign policy that will protect our democracy and promote our economic growth.  We build a massive military to protect our shores and to advance our influence.  We provide billions in humanitarian aid to needy countries; in part because we genuinely care but also to demonstrate our benevolence.  We curry favor with thugs and dictators to assure the free flow of our life’s blood, oil.  We do all of these things and much, much more to solidify our place in an ever changing dangerous world.  But we seem to miss the key ingredient necessary to building and maintaining a strong comprehensive foreign policy.
The key to a strong foreign policy is a strong domestic policy centered on education.  If we want to continue to compete on the world stage and be the leader in technology, innovation, product development and science we have to effectively train our future leaders in those fields.
Our competitors around the world seem to grasp this concept.  While we are pouring billions into the development of new weapon systems they are pouring those funds into their schools.  While we borrow money and then spend that money defending the very countries that lent it to us our competitors are developing tomorrow’s leaders.  While we play the worlds’ policeman the world is passing us by. The United States was once the leader in education.  We now rank twenty first among developed countries.
So what are we doing about it?  Nothing.  At a time when we should be spending more on education the current congressional budget proposals want to cut education funding.  Governors across the nation are cutting teachers’ salaries, benefits and collective bargain rights.  Some would like to abolish the department of education in its entirety.
Yes, there are flaws in the system.  More money is needed.  But we cannot just throw money at the problem.  We have been doing that for years with little result.  The system needs to change.  The system needs to start focusing on the children not the teachers.  Bad teachers need to be removed not given tenure.  Good teachers need to be retained, encouraged and rewarded not laid off because they have the least seniority.  Teachers need to be graded.  When their children fail they fail and they need to suffer the consequences.  Teachers need to be paid a decent wage because what they do is the most important job there is.  But teachers need to be compensated on the basis of their effectiveness.  All teachers do not provide the same level of instruction and so all teachers should not be paid the same.
Our schools are crumbling…they need to be the best in the world.  Our text books, audio visual equipment and teaching aids are outdated…they need to be the best in the world.  And our teachers should not have to pay for them out of their own pockets.
Once our children are receiving the best education that we can provide; if they are still not able to grasp the material, they need to be held back until they do.  Passing them on to the next grade is not doing them any favors.    
If we have the intellect to develop the most advanced weapon systems in the world and land a man on the moon…if we can afford to impose a no fly zone in Libya and build hospitals and schools and milk treatment plants in Iraq…if we can  give an Egyptian autocrat $1.5 billion each year in bribe money and provide rich oil companies $45 billion a year in subsidies… then we should have the intellect and the money to  effectively prepare our children to compete in this world.  Our way of life depends on it.  What could possibly be more important?
The key to a strong foreign policy is to out think the competition not out muscle them.     

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