All conscientious parents worry about their children’s educations, even when children attend excellent schools with dedicated and caring teachers. When the Dicksons’ Precious Jewels were of school age, we referred to each new school year as “an adventure in education,” because even top-notch schools have not-so-top-notch teachers and terrifi c teachers can be found in less well-regarded schools. Then, of course, there are the occasional personality clashes between teachers and students and the expected emotional moments that occur among students in every school setting.

I remember the start of each school year as a nerveracking few weeks until routine settled in, and I remember some entire grades as being perfectly wonderful and others as simply lost time.

 For some parents, adventures in education end when their own children leave school, but this really is not true. Public education should be a concern for all of us, because its quality affects our nation and everyone in it whether or not we have current students.

Almost lost in the holiday rush was a troubling news story late last month about American education. Associated Press writers Christine Armario and Dorie Turner reported that almost a fourth of young Americans seeking to join the U.S. Army and other branches of our military service fail to meet minimum educational requirements. 01-19-11-margaret-dickson.gif

Ponder that for a moment. 

What that says is that we are not preparing our young people well enough to defend their own nation.

Here are the dismal numbers from The Education Trust, a children’s advocacy group, using data released for the fi rst time by the Army. Of all Americans aged 17 to 24 — those most likely to seek military service — a whopping 75 percent do not qualify to take the enlistment exam at all because they are physically unfi t, often because they are overweight, they have a criminal record or they did not graduate from high school.

Of those who are eligible, 23 percent do not achieve the minimum score required by the Army on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, in military speak. The other services have higher requirements, meaning still fewer students are eligible for service in the Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. The Army requires recruits to score at least 31 out of 99 in the initial section of the three-hour test. The test includes basic questions such as “If 2 plus x equals 4, what is the value of x?” There are achievement gaps between whites and minority students just as there are on other nonmilitary standardized tests. North Carolina is average in that somewhere between 21 and 25 percent of our high school graduates do not pass the test.

The Department of Defense says our military services are meeting their current recruitment targets, but there is concern for the future as our economy improves and jobs are added in the private sector and perhaps in some areas of government, giving people more options than in the current recession economy. Retired Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett with Mission Readiness, a group of retired military leaders concerned about this issue, says “If you can’t get the people that you need, there’s a potential for a decline in your readiness.” Even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan acknowledges the problem. “I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America’s underperforming education system.”

Like many of you, I have been in the military community a long time, and I am both impressed by and proud of our active duty military. They have chosen to serve and protect the rest of us in our nation, and the soldiers I encounter at all ranks are both fi t and smart. I join my fellow citizens in gratitude for their devoted service and the sacrifi ces freely given by both them and their families. The issue, though, is not our present military, but our future military. Will we have enough educated people ready and willing to perform the increasingly demanding and technologically challenging jobs required of active-duty personnel? This is the question we should all be asking ourselves and if the answer seems to be “no,” then we must ask ourselves what we can do about it.

This is not just a question for the educational establishment in school systems throughout our nation or for the parents of students now moving through our schools. It is a question for all of us who care about the strength of our nation and the defense of our way of life.

It is why we should all care about “adventures in education.”

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