In this issue of Forum—an occasional publication of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW)—twelve prominent authors reflect on a recent study by the Council on Foreign Relations entitled “U.S. Education Reform and National Security.” The CFR study claims that “America’s educational failures pose five distinct threats to national security: threats to economic growth and competitiveness, U.S. physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion.” As a consequence, it proposes: 1) severe changes to the curriculum to emphasize “subjects vital to protecting national security;” 2) expanded support for alternative schools, whether charters or through voucher programs; and 3) a “‘national security audit’ to hold schools and policymakers accountable for results.” The CFR study may be downloaded here.
The CFR study raises fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of education, citizenship, individual personhood, and the character of the United States. The ALSCW, as an organization, takes no position on this report or on any other. But since we are a group of teachers, scholars, and writers dedicated to literary studies, our members take a lively interest in the debate about how (or whether) to reform education in the United States. The contributors to this issue of Forum represent divergent views, and are university professors (including faculty from Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Harvard, West Point, and Yale), scholars, and high school teachers from both public and private schools. The issue is edited by Lee Oser of the College of the Holy Cross, and by Rosanna Warren of the University of Chicago. Common themes do emerge. Our authors note the severely utilitarian view of education in the CFR report; the subordination of all cultural goals to the aims of national security; and controversial assumptions about human nature and about democracy in the United States.
Forum 5 sets the CFR report in a wider context of the history of educational reform in this country and should provoke further debate about these urgent questions. We hope you will help to publicize both the CFR report and the responses collected by the ALSCW. Now available as a PDF.