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Is Education a National Security Issue: A Critique of the Rice-Klein Report

13 August 2012 30,965 3 Comments

In March the Council of Foreign Relations released the report of a task force chaired by former head of New York City Public schools and now a News Corp. executive vice president and close advisor to the media giant’s chairman and chief executive, Rupert Murdoch and former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice. The report U.S. Education Reform and National Security makes education an national security issue, which is of course not new, but still garnered tremendous media attention. I have seen different responses to the report and found Hostra University Professor Denny Taylor‘s perspective unique and refreshing. Her critique is part of a long blog post Can the American People Avoid Disaster and (Possibly) Save the World? Not If U.S. Political, Corporate, and Financial Decision Makers Destroy the Planet First. She has given me the permission to post the part on the Klein-Rice report. A few highlights:

  • The worldview of this report is irrationally ideological, and the rhetoric is militaristic and threatening. Children are “human capital”, and the task of teachers, predominantly disenfranchised women, is to prepare them for whatever future conflict the U.S. might have with the rest of the world.
  • The report is nothing less than a call to arms in preparation for future wars, and not a call for arms to hold our children and protect them from the damage to the planet which we have caused.
  • In addition to the militarization of U.S. public schools, the Rice-Klein Task Force recommends privatization, competition, and market-based approaches to education reform, all of which are deeply problematic, given the global concerns about the negative impact of overconsumption on the planet.
  • In the case of the U.S. public schools, the erosion of democratic principles by politicians and policy makers is catastrophic, but for the people of the world and the future of the planet, the cascading effects of these covert and overt mind manipulations are potentially disastrous.

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Type in “Panel says “Schools’ Failings Could Threaten Economy and National Security”’, and a link should pop up to a piece from the Associated Press which was published in the New York Times on March 19th, 2012. Here’s the first two lines: “WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s security and economic prosperity are at risk if schools do not improve, warns a report by a panel led by former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Joel I. Klein, a former chancellor of New York City’s school system”.  AP quotes from the report include: “The dominant power of the 21st century will depend on human capital”, and “failure to produce that capital will undermine American security’”. The takeaway from the piece is that schools are sites of insecurity and children are human capital. Once again, skip the blogs and go right to the report.

We know that human well-being and global sustainability go hand in hand, and that inequality has negative consequences, not only for people, but also for the planet, and that the U.S. leads the developed world on every indicator of inequality. But the Rice-Klein Task Force Report on U.S. K-12 public education is not about the anthropogenic challenges that the U.S. must address, which will require a rethinking of education for sustainable development and global security. Instead, the report focuses on U.S. national security, and makes no mention of the threats right now to this generation and future generations of children, as a result of the U.S. over consumption of Earth’s limited resources.

No consideration is given in the Klein and Rice report to the fact that we are transgressing planetary boundaries for human life on Earth, or that the temperature is rising and our children can expect to live on a much hotter planet than it is now, or to the fact that wars endanger ecosystems and other species as well as maim and kill people. Again, go to the source. Look up “War and Conflict” inSustaining Life, by Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein (2008). Then go to costsofwar.org and get the data on the environmental impact of war. On this site you will also find data on the financial cost of war. The U.S. is spending more than all other countries combined on the wars we are now fighting, increasing corporate power and the opportunities for corporate profiteering, which makes the case for the perfect marriage of Klein promoting corporate profits from Rice’s advocacy for the schooling of K-12 children to prepare for war.

The worldview of this report is irrationally ideological, and the rhetoric is militaristic and threatening. Children are “human capital”, and the task of teachers, predominantly disenfranchised women, is to prepare them for whatever future conflict the U.S. might have with the rest of the world. Richard Haas, President, Council on Foreign Relations, states, “this report calls on state governors, working in conjunction with the federal government, to establish a national security readiness audit that holds educators responsible for meeting national expectations in education” (p. x).

In the Chair’s Preface, Klein and Rice call the report “a clarion call to the nation” (p. xiv), but their intent is not to humanize or democratize. They state, “No country in the twenty-first century can be truly secure by military might alone. The dominant power of the twenty-first century will depend on human capital. The failure to produce that capital will undermine American security” (p. xiii).  It is not difficult to imagine what Wilkinson’s response to this worldview would be.

The purpose is to “catalyze national change”, and “mere tweaks to the status quo will not create the necessary transformation”. The Klein and Rice Task Force argues that “urgent shifts in education policy are necessary to help the country hold onto its status as an educational, economic, military, and diplomatic global leader” (pp. 5-6). Similar statements appear throughout the report. Words and phrases used in the report include “threat”, “crisis, and “negative impact”, not engagement, and not participation. The Task Force advises that the United States should “aggressively implement assessments that more appropriately track student outcomes” (p. 48). To ensure aggressive implementation the Task Force recommends that:

The Defense Policy Board, which advises the secretary of defense, and other leaders from the public and private sectors should evaluate the learning standards of education in America and periodically assess whether what and how students are learning is sufficiently rigorous to protect the country’s national security interests” (p. 50).

States and schools are advised to “remain vigilant”, and that “in order to catalyze reform and innovation and better safeguard American national security, it is essential to measure how well students, teachers, and schools are measuring up”, and that “accountability must also engender consequences and public awareness” (p. 53).

Thus, three key recommendations are made:

  1. Implement educational expectations and assessment in subjects vital to protecting national security;
  2. Make structural changes to provide students with good choices, which the report states will enhance choice and competition; and
  3. Launch a “national security readiness audit” to hold schools and policy makers accountable for results and to raise public awareness.

The report is nothing less than a call to arms in preparation for future wars, and not a call for arms to hold our children and protect them from the damage to the planet which we have caused. While the concept of children as human capital and K-12 public education as training for the military is deeply troubling for U.S. parents and educators, it is also undoubtedly of serious concern to the global community, given the immediate response that is needed from the U.S. to the great acceleration of the pressures on the planet, and the transgression of planetary boundaries for life on Earth as we know it. Which brings us to the TENTH CLUE: Global action to avoid social or planetary tipping points will require the active participation of the U.S., in rethinking K-12 education to make schools more equitable and just, and to reconnect children with the natural world.

Political progress is urgently needed, but the shift in the discourse from national security to global security is unlikely to happen in the U.S. any time soon. Washington is in no mood to participate in any collective action that might jeopardize U.S. global supremacy. The exhaustion of twentieth century economic structures and a predilection to go to war has left the U.S. government fragmented, stagnated, ideologically polarized, and dangerously dysfunctional.

In addition to the militarization of U.S. public schools, the Rice-Klein Task Force recommends privatization, competition, and market-based approaches to education reform, all of which are deeply problematic, given the global concerns about the negative impact of overconsumption on the planet. The idea that public institutions can be privately owned, that the purpose of education is to compete or that consumerism is the basis for school reform, is not widely supported by the public. Manygroups are organizing including: Children Are More than Test Score; Fait Test; New York Principals, Parents Across America, Save Our Schools; Unite Drop Out. But the widening gap between the U.S. government and the American people does not seem to bother those in power. The use of propaganda to manipulate public thinking is endemic in the U.S. The Task Force makes this case, writing that it “believes the annual audit should be aggressively publicized to help all members of society understand educational challenges and opportunities facing the country.” Rice and Klein state:

This public awareness campaign should be managed by a coalition of government, business, and military leaders. It should aim to keep everyone in the country focused on the national goal of improving education to safeguard America’s security today and in the future.

Astute use of media and communications have a proven ability to effect changes in mindsets and actions, and the group believes that a targeted, annual campaign, led by the Department of Education in collaboration with the U.S. States, the Department of Defense and State, and the intelligence agencies could have this impact (p. 55, emphasis added).

There is no doubt that while espousing democratic principles of liberty, equality, and freedom, the minds of Americans are constantly exposed to smoking gun—mushroom cloud mind manipulations by politicians, policy makers, and government agencies. Even so, the high numbers of U.S. casualties in the armed forces, many experiencing brain injuries, limb amputation, and other crippling body conditions, combined with the deaths and casualties of  military personnel in Afghanistan, makes the Task Force report on the preparation of K-12 children for armed service seem more life ending than mind bending.

“When a system rides roughshod over its own basic assumptions, supersedes its own ends, so that no remedy can be found,” Jean Baudrillard (1993) writes in The Transparency of Evil: Five Essays on Extreme Phenomenon, “then we are contemplating not crisis but catastrophe” (p. 32).

In the case of the U.S. public schools, the erosion of democratic principles by politicians and policy makers is catastrophic, but for the people of the world and the future of the planet, the cascading effects of these covert and overt mind manipulations are potentially disastrous. But the situation could be cataclysmic, when the clarion call by U.S. policy makers and government agencies is for K-12 public schools to prepare the nation’s “human capital” for military service to protect U.S. global supremacy, is combined with the pressures exerted by the U.S. government, corporations, and billionaire plutocrats to dismantle the U.S. public school system.

But the devil is in the details, and it takes a specific example to bring to the attention of both the U.S. and global community how far the U.S. has slipped from its democratic principles. “Without examining the full range of privatization actors, our understanding of educational and institutional arrangements is attenuated, the shift in power relationships becomes opaque, and the profound alterations to leadership, teachers’ work, and community participation in democratic governance receive insufficient attention,” Janelle Scott and Catherine DiMartino (2009) write. Digging deeply, they describe the power structures that un-Earthed the New York public school system:

In 2002, when the state legislature gave the mayor control of the public schools, he became the ultimate gatekeeper in New York City. Upon gaining control of the public schools, Mayor Bloomberg, the former CEO and founder of Bloomberg LLP, chose to hire corporate sector professionals to be key leaders within the Department of Education (DOE). For example, he hired Joel Klein, the chairman and CEO of Bertelsmann, Inc., to be chancellor of the New York City Public Schools. In turn, Chancellor Klein hired McKinsey and Company, and Alvarez and Marshal, private management consulting firms, to help with the reorganization of governance and operational structures within the NYC DOE. Chancellor Klein hired Chris Cerf, the former president of the EMO, Edison Schools, Inc., to be the deputy chancellor of operational strategy, human capital and external affairs. Espousing market ideologies and the positive potential of competition, these leaders invited private sector organizations to partner with the DOE to provide educational services to further their vision of schools reform (p. 441).

Scott and DiMartino provide the private sector, market driven, ideological connection between Klein the CEO, Klein the Chancellor of NYC Public Schools, and Klein the Co-Chair of the U.S. Education Reform and National Security Task Force Report. Add the admitted mind manipulations to militarize K-12 schools, and all that stands between U.S. democracy and plutocracy are the teachers and parents of America’s school children, who are doing their best to resist. (B: again, listed)

Back to the New York Times and the May 7th article, “Steering Murdoch in Scandal, Klein Put School Goals Aside”, by Amy Chozick. “While Mr. Klein still worked for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Klein became close friends,” Chozick writes. “They talked frequently about the state of public schools and Mr. Klein was lured to New Corporation with the promise that he could use the company’s deep coffers to put in place his vision of revolutionizing K-12 education. Mr. Murdoch said he would be “thrilled” if education were to account for 10 percent of News Corporation’s $34 billion annual revenue in the next five years”.  Klein was paid more than $4.5 million by Murdoch in 2011, and so a principal advisor to Murdoch, who the British parliamentary report has stated was “not a fit person” to run a major corporation, continues to have enormous influence on the U.S. K-12 public education system.

Given that the News Corp scandal began with the hacking of the phone of 13 year old Milly Dowler who had been brutally murdered, there is something perverse about the fact that Wireless Generation, for which Murdoch’s News Corporation paid $360 million, has Klein at the helm in the development and use of educational data systems and assessment tools used in U.S. K-12 public schools. Chozick writes, “Mr. Klein’s education unit is now one of the few areas within the company that is currently growing, both through investment in Wireless Generation and potential acquisitions”. She also states that “Wireless generation said more than 2,500 United States school districts, 200,000 teachers and three million schoolchildren currently use its products”.

Back again to the New York Times, and an article on May 11, “E-Mails Provide Inside Look at Mayor’s Charter School Battle”, by Anna M. Phillips. The e-mails were written during Bloomberg’s 2010 campaign to expand charter schools, and Phillips writes that they were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The “fight of our life”, Phillips writes, was the way one email described it. “We need to mobilize,” Phillips reports that Klein wrote to James Merriman, the head of the New York City Charter School Center, on January 18, 2010, “Every time we keep our powder dry, we shoot ourselves.” The following dialogue ends Phillip’s article:

“You were terrific,” Mr. Klein wrote to Bradley Tusk, a consultant for Education Reform Now. “Perfect pitch, perfect message.”

“Who’s the heavy breather on the call?” wrote a participant, whose name was redacted. “Normally, I’d ask them to mute their phone but I don’t want to alienate any donors.”

“Some overweight billionaire,” Mr. Klein replied.

Go to the source. The emails provide concrete verification of the nefarious activities of political, corporate, and financial powerbrokers, and the gendering of the struggle that is taking place in the U.S. for the health and well being of American children as well as their academic development. The email exchange is grossly disparaging of the women scholars and educators who are vocal in protecting the rights of children.

Public schools by definition belong to the people, and cannot be owned by private sector. The extremely rich cannot own the extremely poor, nor can they use the poor to increase corporate profits. In Wilkinson’s international research on equality the U.S. is an outlier, but that descriptor does not come close to describing the scorched earth policies of the business elites working with billionaires and the Federal and state governments, destroying any hope that children in U.S. public schools might have of responding to the challenges they will face on a planetary scale. A hundred years of solid empirical research on child development has been trashed, and research on human learning in the fields of anthropology, linguistics, medicine, psychology, and sociology has been thrown out.

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3 Comments »

  • The Best Posts & Articles On The Education & National Security Report | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day… said:

    [...] Is Education a National Security Issue: A Critique of the Rice-Klein Report is by Yong Zhao. [...]

  • monika hardy said:

    Public schools by definition belong to the people, and cannot be owned by private sector. The extremely rich cannot own the extremely poor, nor can they use the poor to increase corporate profits.

    spot on.

    a people agenda.
    time to wake up.

  • Jargon and the English Language Learner… | nickaieta said:

    [...] should we not improve – alternative points of view believe that the security risk notion is severely overstated.  The scores on international testing that have emerged since Shatz and Wilkinson published this [...]

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