By Col. Chuck Bowes
Best Defense guest
challenge your premise that low-cost high school graduate
conscription is a better way of staffing our military services.
Today's high school
graduates suffer from systemically deficient abilities in science, technology,
engineering, and math (STEM) that poses considerable challenges to our increasingly
technological military force. Research findings reported by the United States
Mission to the Organization for Economic and Co-operation Development (OECD)
reveals that U.S. middle school and high school students are habitually
under-performing their international peers in STEM achievement measures.
Secretary of Education Duncan, and Bill Gates also express concern that too few
young people are acquiring the knowledge they need to use technology in
creative and innovative ways. As U.S. student STEM achievement continues to race
to the bottom of all industrialized competitors, adding non-volunteer recruits
worsens the problem.
Today's graduates may
quickly master the user-interface on commercial technologies, but if one of
those competitors becomes a future adversary then our military recruits must be
competent in the underlying STEM areas in order to adapt specialized military
technologies to gain a competitive edge in cross-dimensional domains. A
competitive edge is increasingly dependent on America's innovative edge. Absent
another "Sputnik moment" that generates self-inspired reform for STEM
achievement, the U.S. requires new concepts, new organizations, and new
long-term strategies to develop agile young minds in order to retain our
dominant military position.
For the U.S. to maintain
its competitive edge it must carefully develop children with high IQs to
achieve high levels of creative productivity. Intellectually gifted (IQs above
130) people have an above average innate ability to learn significantly faster
than their cohorts. The National Science Board also recognizes that gifted
students will form the next generation of STEM innovators.
Instead of reinstating a draft, I propose that
our Defense Department train all of its officer candidates in ROTC programs and
transform its military academies to become prep-schools that offer 3,000
intellectually gifted old youth a no-cost in-residence opportunity to
specialize in STEM subjects during their early education. Further, we could
provide many more free non-resident academies at public universities across the
U.S. for just the cost of President Obama's $1.35 billion Race to the Top
An operating budget of
$1.35 billion equates to $11,000 per pupil yearly, which is 9 percent less than the
2010 national high school average of $12,018 per pupil, and 59 percent less than the
District of Columbia school system spends per pupil. These opportunities
should be specifically reserved for the students with the highest cognitive
potential, just as varsity teams are reserved for athletes with the highest
This proposal would provide the opportunity for
the estimated 120,000 highly gifted students to participate in a highly
challenging ability-based curriculum that accelerates their learning
commensurate with their higher intellectual aptitude. Similar to the National
Security Education Program and the CIA's Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholarship,
graduates merit a "priority placement" hiring status and are excepted from
competitive service under law as an incentive for long-term employment in the
armed services and military industrial complex.
Since this proposal is an additive intervention,
not a voucher system, it relieves pressures to provide special accommodations
for gifted students without stripping money from public schools.
Accordingly, the more gifted students in attendance, the more that public
schools can fully focus their resources on educating the ‘vulnerable' students
whom they commendably target now. Most colleges eagerly accept gifted
students and leveraging their existing underutilized infrastructure benefits
the college and offers a shrewd dividend to taxpayers created by decades of
investments from many federal sources.
Colonel Chuck Bowes is an Air National Guard
aviator and graduate of the U.S. Army War College. He is currently serving on
active duty at Headquarters 18th Air Force, Scott AFB.