By Nicholas Murray
Best Defense department of remedial PME
"It is just not
learning with your partners and your peers and your partners and peers from
other nations. It is also about spending a little time with your family. I
think that is incredibly important."-- General
Raymond Odierno speaking to the graduating class of 2013 at the Army War
College, Carlisle, PA
All of the talk of
the effect of the furlough on the military has missed one important factor.
What is going to happen to our military schools? Well, it's not looking good:
at least, not from the perspective of the Army's Command and General Staff
College at Fort Leavenworth. A curriculum that has already been roundly criticized
as overwhelmingly bloated and far too focused on teaching information the
officers should already know is about to get compressed into less time. It is
often claimed that the college is modeled on a good quality graduate school or
should resemble one. Indeed, Gen. Robert Cone (commanding general of U.S. Army
Training and Doctrine Command) wrote in a recent article in Military Review: "There is no reason not
to demand the equivalent of Harvard on the Missouri at Leavenworth...."
That's great, and I agree. However, there is a huge roadblock in the way: the
If CGSC was Harvard
the students (officers) would expect to spend nine or so hours a week in class
(about 270 hours in class time for a school year) and the rest of the time
reading and researching. At CGSC the officers currently spend around 900 hours
in the classroom. Yes, nine-hundred hours! That total does not include the
large number of guest speakers who are compulsory viewing (many of whom are a
waste of time and money according to the students, but that is another story).
Typically, this means another 60-70 hours on top of the 900 (let's say 950).
Add to that number time for assignments, reading, researching, and thinking. A
typical rule of thumb used in grad school is three hours of study/work time for
every classroom hour. This brings us to more than 3,800 hours for the year.
That is more than 12 hours per day for every single day the officers are at
CGSC, including weekends and holidays. Do we really think they are going to do
that? Of course we already know they don't, and can't. If we only include the
number of actual work days it gets even more ridiculous. There will be roughly
180 work days next school year. Do we really expect our officers to work more
than 21 hours a day? I hope not.
To show the reader
what this means, at 12:30 PM on October 21, 2013, students at CGSC will already
have completed 270 hours of contact time. At that point, they will still have
more than seven months to go before the school year ends!
What could be
different? CGSC could have taken the opportunity presented by the furloughs to
drastically cut back on the number of hours. This would have enabled the
college more closely to match up with the demands of much of the criticism of
PME. Of course, one might ask why is this particular issue important? All
credible research shows that trying to stuff too much information into the
heads of students has the opposite effect to the desired outcome. Typically,
students actually end up learning less than if they had been introduced to a
smaller amount of material in the first place. This is not good for U.S.
servicemembers who are required to think. Furthermore, it is not good for their
safety, or U.S. national security, if they don't do it well. And they are less
likely to do it well if they are not taught properly.
Is this even
necessary? According to Gen. Robert Cone, it is not. He sent a letter regarding
the furloughs to Army education staff and faculty (Memorandum for TRADOC
Civilian Workforce, dated June 28, 2013) which stated that "leaders have been
given authorities to minimize adverse mission effects and to limit the harm to
morale and productivity." If leaders have been given the authority to fix
things, why have they not done so? It must be said that the curriculum was
reviewed. However, the number of hours actually increased with the inclusion of
in-class written exams (nothing wrong with that, one might think, except for
the fact that not enough was cut to provide the additional time required).
Again, why is this important? The ridiculously long hours mean enormous and
unnecessary stress will be placed on servicemen and women, large numbers of
whom have spent a great deal of time (over the last 10 years) deployed overseas
serving our nation. It is also a lot more stressful for the faculty who have
virtually no time at all to properly prepare for classes. This affects the
mission. Less well prepared instructors, and stressed faculty and students will
not provide or receive the educational experience our national security needs.
How does this get
fixed? Whilst recognizing key differences, the curriculum and schedule could be
revamped to match that of a good quality graduate degree program. Of course,
time must be set aside for the necessary practicums and exercises: Placing them
at the end of the main school year after the classes would allow students to
apply the knowledge they had gained. If they are to remain compulsory, the number
of guest speakers should be limited. With a reduction in scheduled hours to
normal graduate school levels, CGSC could then reasonably expect its officers
to study for an average of 20 to 30 hours per week in addition to class time.
After all, the School of Advanced Military Studies manages to function
(relatively well) with roughly 16 hours of class time per week. The advantages
of a change to fewer hours in the classroom would be improved student and
faculty morale, and more (not less) learning. Additionally, there would
be improved productivity and quality. Plus, the faculty would actually have
time to research and write, which is something the Army claims to value. It is
also something that will have to happen if CGSC is to mirror Harvard as Gen.
Cone wants. Finally, it would also allow students to get the time with their
families that Gen. Odierno thinks is so important.
Nicholas Murray is an associate professor in the Department of Military History
at the U.S. Army Command and Staff College. His book The Rocky
Road to the Great War
(Potomac Books) came out this year. He recently published "To fix critical thinking within PME, start at the ground floor with the
Education: What Lessons Does the French Defeat in 1871 Have for the US Army
in the Small
Wars Journal. His views are his own. They are not yours.