Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Basic Training

Can our military get the quality of recruits it needs, given this failing of the education system overall?

The report by The Education Trust found that 23 percent of recent high school graduates don't get the minimum score needed on the enlistment test to join any branch of the military. Questions are often basic, such as: "If 2 plus x equals 4, what is the value of x?"

The military exam results are also worrisome because the test is given to a limited pool of people: Pentagon data shows that 75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don't even qualify to take the test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn't graduate high school.

Educators expressed dismay that so many high school graduates are unable to pass a test of basic skills.

Educators will no doubt push for shoveling federal money at the problem. But we've been doing that, and this is what we have. I'm happy with my local schools and teachers, having had good experiences so far with my kids (but I was lucky that my parents paid to send me to Catholic schools for everything but kindergarten, thus avoiding the Detroit public school system), but clearly the overall system has problems if these study results are an accurate reflection of reality.

Given that 75% of the pool of young peopl can't join for reasons other than test results, it seems a stretch to say that funneling money broadly at the problem so that we can decrease the 23% failure rate of the portion of the remaining 25% that takes the military's entry exam is the wisest use of our money.

I'd say that the best way to fight it is to do what the military does for those who can't quite muster the initial PT test in basic training--they are sent to a physical conditioning pre-basic training program. I remember one big, strong guy who couldn't do the minimum number of push-ups, and he was sent off to that unit instead of going with the rest of us to basic.

Why couldn't the military offer skills courses that put the best prospects of the failed test takers into a setting of military discipline to learn the basics they should have learned in high school? Isn't this getting more bang for the buck?

I worry about the effects of a large federal program given that we now worry about school lunches being too fattening and some complain this is hurting these kids' chances of getting into the military by encouraging weight gain. This school lunch program following World War II, you'll recall, was initially touted as a national security measure!

The legislation was identified as the "National School Lunch Act," and Section 2 of the Act defines its purposes: "It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation's children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food, by assisting the States, through grants-in aid and other means, in providing an adequate supply of food and other facilities for the establishment, maintenance, operation and expansion of nonprofit school lunch programs.”
I'm sure it did good things initially. But like many things, evolving reality passed the solution by and created new problems. So no, I'm not automatically moved by the appeal to military readiness for broad efforts to fix the problem.

UPDATE: Now I understand why our public schools fail to educate so many children well enough to pass the military's entry exams--they teach our kids that 2-inch candy canes are weapons. Why are they weapons?

 "They said the candy canes are weapons because you can sharpen them with your mouth and stab people with them."

Although I have to admit that the soldier is the real weapon, and a good soldier will use whaterver is at hand as a weapon, I'm not sure even a bad ass special forces operator could kill with a sharpened mini candy cane.

Excuse me. I'm going to go bang my head into a wall. Repeatedly.