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Our Failure with Kids Now Threatens Our National Security

National Security

If you know me—you know that I’m an optimistic person with a well-developed sense of humor. Over the last three years, however, I have been on a warpath to awaken adults to our dismal failure in developing today’s kids into healthy adults. That failure may now affect national security.

In addition to the statistics I share in my book, Generation iY—Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, I now submit a new report, provided by former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice and former Chancellor of NYC Schools, Joel Klein.

The report, obtained by The Associated Press, cautions that far too many schools fail to adequately prepare students. "The dominant power of the 21st century will depend on human capital," it said. "The failure to produce that capital will undermine American security."

Our problems go far beyond our kids failing in math or reading. The State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies now face critical shortfalls in the number of foreign language speakers, and that fields such as science, defense and aerospace are at particular risk because a shortage of skilled workers is expected to worsen as baby boomers retire.

Catch this.

A report published by Council on Foreign Relations notes that 75 percent of young adults don't qualify to serve in the military because they are physically unfit, have criminal records or inadequate levels of education. That's in part because 1 in 4 students fail to graduate from high school in four years, and a high school diploma or the equivalent is needed to join the military. But another 30 percent of high school graduates don't do well enough in math, science and English on an aptitude test to serve in the military.

And what about those who attend college? Well, most of them don’t graduate. In my home state, only 9% of students finish college in four years; just 27% finish in six years. Most don’t finish. When I wrote the Generation iY book, 60% of college students moved back home when they were done with college. According to the Baltimore Sun, today 80% plan to move back home after college. They are just not ready for the world.

"I don't think people have really thought about the national security implications and the inability to have people who speak the requisite languages who can staff a volunteer military, the kind of morale and human conviction you need to hold a country together. I don't think people have thought about it in those terms," Chancellor Joel Klein said.


May I weigh in?

Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice are spot on. We never thought about it in those terms. In fact, it seems many parents weren't thinking at all, as we raised our kids. We wanted them to be happy, be safe and have a good self-esteem. Those are understandable. Sadly, however, we forgot that we were raising future adults. Adults who will have to lead in a world where there are winners and losers, where others don’t care about your self-esteem and risks must be taken in order to maintain national security or make progress.

The panel that Rice and Klein headed made recommendations such as adopting and expanding the common core initiative to include skill sets critical to national security such as science, technology and foreign languages; structural changes to provide students with more choices in where they can go to school, so many students aren't stuck in underperforming schools; and a national security readiness audit, prepared by governors working with the federal government, that can be used to judge whether schools are meeting national expectations in education.

Allow me to share my recommendations to you, personally as a caring adult:

  1.  Become intentional about equipping your young people. Academics are important but employers aren’t asking about GPA when they hire. They want soft skills like emotional intelligence, relational skills, teamwork and communication.
  2. Let your young people fail and fight. By this I simply mean they need to struggle and even fall at times in order to have the strength they’ll need as adults. Don’t remove the fight. Love, encourage and coach them, but don’t do it for them.
  3. Mentor them to think like leaders. The people and nations who thrive in the 21st century will be those who perceive their world like a leader: they see the big picture, they recognize their strength/role, they possess a vision and will commit to a goal.

A coach recently told me he met with a student athlete who’d been a rebel for his first two years of college. The coach warned the athlete this was his last chance. He needed to be in uniform for every game, get his haircut, and learn the basic drills that all freshmen learn. Afterward, the coach completely expected the kid to get up and walk out of his office. Instead, the athlete looked him in the eye and replied, “Thanks coach. I’ve needed someone to tell me how to live for the last six years.”

It’s amazing what can happen we stop under-challenging kids and start expecting something from them.

Will you join me in this pursuit?

What effect do you think that our failure to lead students will have on national security?

With our national security at stake, it's more important than ever that we are growing leaders, not just graduates. On June 28-29, 2012 we will address this problem head-on at the National Leadership Forum.  We limit the forum to the first 250 registrants to intentionally create an intimate environment to interact and return with a specific game plan. Register now at www.nationalleadershipforum.org.

1 Comment

  1. Tammy Wagner on May 7, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    In the paragraph below the video clip, you wrote “many parents were thinking”–did you mean to write “weren’t thinking”? Just curious. Interesting thoughts here.

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Our Failure with Kids Now Threatens Our National Security