Language Education Cuts Compromise National Security

by Kristal Bivona

A new report by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) links U.S. education reform to national security, placing emphasis on the troubling dearth of students proficient in foreign languages and how it will affect the future of the nation in the global economy. Independent Task Force Report No. 68, written by co-chairs Joel I. Klein (an executive vice president at News Corporation and former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education) and Condoleezza Rice, argues that education cuts are causing a national security crisis. The authors claim that the current situation, exacerbated by economic factors such as budget cuts, enrollment freezes, furlough days, and inaccessibility, is leaving students poorly educated and semi-skilled.

Linking education to national security and global economic success will help it become a top legislative priority. By stressing the role that foreign languages play in both national security and global economic success, the Task Force advocates the study of foreign languages, especially non-European languages, in public schools. Essentially, the CFR is coming out against the recent trend of cutting education funding at large and shrinking foreign language departments in particular. The damage could be irreversible.

The report cites evidence from the foreign policy realm to show the extent to which our education system is failing. For example, today only one out of every four Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 is eligible for the military. This means that only 25 percent are in adequate physical shape, educated enough, and have no criminal record. The military, which for years was an excellent option for students who didn’t think their grades were good enough for college, is now turning away high school graduates because they are not intellectually eligible. In addition, the number of applicants eligible for the Foreign Service has also shrunk, in part because of a lack of foreign language skills.

In an interview, Klein marveled over the lack of progress in making education innovative and dynamic despite investment. The Task Force addressed this by urging full adoption of the Common Core Standards to ensure that all students receive comparable educational experiences around the country while simultaneously advocating for school choice, which can be manifested through the creation of more open enrollment charter schools and magnet schools, or through private school vouchers. Klein went on to support the President’s Race to the Top Grants as tools for fostering school choice by rewarding
the best programs.
The Task Force took into account the growing disparity between economic classes in the U.S. — their findings indicate that the wealthiest Americans go to the best universities, while for many lower income students post-secondary education is an inaccessible luxury.

Language education plays a crucial role in national security endeavors. Unfortunately, not enough Americans learn other languages.

“The lack of language skills and civic and global awareness among American citizens increasingly jeopardizes their ability to interact with local and global peers or participate meaningfully in business, diplomatic, and military situations,” Klein explained. “The United States is not producing enough foreign-language speakers to staff important posts in the U.S. Foreign Service, the intelligence community, and American companies.”

Along with a lack of language instruction follows insufficient knowledge about other cultures. Klein wrote, “Too many Americans are also deficient in both global awareness and knowledge of their own country’s history and values. An understanding of history, politics, culture, and traditions is important to citizenship and is essential for understanding America’s allies and its adversaries.”

Klein explains that a shortage of language speakers “leaves the United States crippled in its ability to communicate effectively with others in diplomatic, military, intelligence, and business contexts.”