Education has been a topic of heated debate in American politics for quite some time. We’ve heard the same arguments over and over again. Schools are underfunded and teachers are overwhelmed. College is too expensive. And now, the coronavirus pandemic presents new challenges related to remote learning, technology, and accessibility. Despite endless policy discussions about these reasonable concerns, we seem to have reached a stalemate. America’s economic and military power has permitted a complacent stance on education. As a result, there has been no unified vision or sense of urgency in regards to a long term strategy for our educational system. Coupled with increasing political polarization, we have a recipe for disaster. The fabric of our shared national identity is eroding. We need a radical paradigm shift in how we view learning. Education isn’t a luxury. It is essential to our survival as a nation.
The pragmatic functionality of education manifests in our ability to innovate and compete in a global economy, to combat the various existential crises we face, and to build a common foundation of truth and understanding. We must view education as the backbone of a holistic plan safeguarding our democracy.
Education is also central to our nation’s defense. We live in a world with a new kind of warfare, and the battles are fought virtually within the confines of our minds. Open-source software and advanced algorithms paired with a distrust for media create a ripe environment for hackers and adversaries. As technology and artificial intelligence rise in processing power, it will be increasingly difficult to determine what is real. Look no further than the deep fake phenomena to get a glimpse of what’s on the horizon.
The minds of the future will lead us into the kind of highly advanced technological era that would be unfathomable to even the great science fiction writers of our recent past. Creativity, curiosity, and independent thinking will be essential to our success. These are the skills we will need to solve the existential problems of the future that we don’t even yet know exist. We can foster these skills through the encouragement of a culture that celebrates and cherishes scholarship.
Education is so much more than checkmarks and accolades. It is America’s greatest weapon, and our future depends upon our ability to harness the human continuum of knowledge. It is time for our political and cultural leaders to utilize this weapon with the urgency and resources of a national emergency.
Like all crises, the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for our fragile nation. It is a chance to reshape our culture and unite our country by preserving and celebrating the things we have in common rather than the things that divide us. Since America’s inception, it’s citizens have never hesitated to accept a call to arms when the times demanded it. This moment demands more than a call to arms. This is a call to minds.