Dumb Kids Equal Easy Targets

Your national security depends on the job you do educating your children. 

Here’s an alarming wakeup call: a task force led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein, former chancellor of New York’s school system has issued a stunning report. They warn that the nation’s security and economic prosperity are at risk if America’s schools don’t improve. The task force consists of 30 members with backgrounds in education and foreign affairs and was organized by the Council on Foreign Relations. As reported by the Associated Press, the report cautions that far too many schools fail to adequately prepare students and that “The dominant power of the 21st century will depend on human capital. The failure to produce that capital will undermine American security.” A shortage of skilled workers is expected to get worse as the current work force retires. The task force said the State Department and U.S. Intelligence agencies face critical shortfalls in the fields of foreign language, science, defense and aerospace. And so, it’s not a stretch to realize that no matter how diligent we are about educating people and businesses to protect their identities and information and to develop safe habits, the problem is ever so much more complex.

In my profession, just the thought of this scenario scares the living daylights out of me – it means I’ll never be put out of a job. Nothing would please me more than knowing that the sensitive information of most people and businesses – even the world as a whole – had become so secure that I’d have to tackle another topic. Rice and Klein said in interviews that they’re encouraged by efforts to improve schools such as the adoption of “common core” standards set in reading and math and the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top’ competition. But, they added, the pace to improve America’s schools must accelerate. “The rest of the world is not sitting by while we, in a rather deliberate fashion, reform the education system,” Rice said. Klein continued “I don’t think people have really thought about the national security implications and the inability to have people who speak the requisite languages who can staff a volunteer military, the kind of morale and human conviction you need to hold a country together.”

The panel makes three main recommendations:

  • Adopt and expand the common core initiative to include skill sets critical to national security such as science, technology and foreign languages
  • Make structural changes to provide students with more choices in where they can go to school, so many students aren’t stuck in underperforming schools
  • Create a national security readiness audit, prepared by governors working with the federal government, that can be used to judge whether schools are meeting national expectations in education
So what can we do? To protect ourselves and our children’s children, we have to jump in and actively support our school systems. Beyond the education community, we can encourage discussions that engage those in the defense and foreign policy establishments about how to improve schools.

At the same time, there are great rays of hope in education. On February 7, I spoke at The Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado and found the students to be engaged, curious, and eager to learn how to be critical thinkers. When I return in April, I anticipate they’ll put me through the paces with their intelligent observations.

These may have been some of the same students who recently heard Andrew Fastow, former chief financial officer of Enron speak to the students, faculty and staff of Leeds. Fastow contacted the university and asked whether he could speak after reading an op-ed piece, published by Bloomberg Businessweek in January, written by Leeds dean David Ikenberry and Donna Sockell, director of the school’s Center for Education on Social Responsibility. The piece was about the need for deeper ethics training in business schools. Fastow, who completed a six-year prison sentence in December, imparted the message that following the rules isn’t enough. It took him a couple of years to realize he had “used the rules to subvert the rules.” So while there are bright spots in education, it’s more important than ever that we commit to improvement at every level, from grade school, up!

John Sileo is an award-winning author and international speaker on the dark art of deception (identity theft, data privacy, social media manipulation) and its polar opposite, the powerful use of trust, to achieve success. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which advises teams on how to multiply performance by building a culture of deep trust. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, the FDIC, and Homeland Security. Sample his Keynote Presentation or watch him on Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes or Fox Business. 1.800.258.8076.