We’re in the midst of a national security crisis of epic proportions. It’s not due to the economy, although it will impact the economy. It has little to do with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, although it bears on America’s ability to foresee, deter, and manage such conflicts in the future. And it’s not been occasioned by the late public health crisis, although it may indeed have been exacerbated by it. The national security crisis in question is one of education.
In August 2022, the National Center for Educational Statistics released what it calls “the nation’s report card,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). 2022 was a landmark year for the NAEP. For the first time since it began tracking the achievement of American students in 1969, the results were uniformly, stunningly, and perhaps worst of all, unsurprisingly, dismal. Decades of progress in math and reading were wiped out.
This isn’t an urban vs. suburban issue, or a rich vs. poor issue, or an ethnicity or racial issue. Declines spanned the spectrum of American students. And, while America’s best students faltered by only a few percentage points, for the majority of students, those in the middle and the bottom of the academic scale, the bottom fell out. And to cut off the visceral urge to cry out “but the pandemic!” it’s worth noting that the pandemics of 1957 and 1968 evidenced no such educational regression.
This is not to point fingers at any one group. Instead, I’m going to channel my inner John Donne and urge all of us to “send not to know, for whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.” If this sounds dramatic, it’s not. If anything, it probably understates the problem faced by the American technology community writ large and the cybersecurity community in particular.
To make it perfectly clear, America is failing to create an environment designed to nurture the next generations of technical leaders whose vision and innovation will enable the United States to meet the evolving challenges of an increasingly hostile cyberspace and an increasingly competitive global economy. And by tacitly accepting the conditions that create and permit this level of performance by the American educational enterprise, we are all complicit, accomplices in the demise of a great nation.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We have a choice. By getting involved in education at all levels, from state and local elections to volunteering at local schools, we can demand excellence and accountability. And by doing so, we can chart the course for the next century of American greatness. Or, we can continue to throw education over the fence and keep making it somebody else’s problem. Because that’s worked out so well.
The choice is stark. But, the choice is ours to make.
Build it right, America.