Six Strategies for Trump to Make Education Great Again and Woo Back Suburban Voters
America stands in crisis today with urban rioting and political division. The crisis in America is at root a crisis in our educational system. As President Abraham Lincoln once said, "the philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next." Taking Lincoln's quote forward 150 years, the theories of structural racism, critical race theory, Marxism, gender theory, revisionist history, queer theory, etc., are rapidly coming to bear in America's streets and the halls of government.
The crisis in education has two facets: a crisis in civics and a crisis in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Each is rooted in the postmodern denial of objectivity and truth and the postmodern obsession with identities, which are together corrupting our education. These obsessions are bringing down civics and STEM with it. When our students are taught that America is fundamentally flawed, they are often done so at the expense of learning about our system of government or history. For example, half of students do not know when the Civil War was fought. When educators start talking nonsense about "white math," then some students are in essence being told they are not capable of learning it. The less time spent on real civics and math, the more time may be spent building grievances.
Ours is a crisis in civics as well as a national security disaster waiting to happen. We are falling perilously behind our foremost geopolitical competitor, the Communist People's Republic of China, in STEM. The U.S. National Military Strategy since 2018 has acknowledged that we are in an era of "Great Power Competition," and so should our schools be.
As Arthur Herman observed in American Affairs Journal entitled America's STEM crisis Threatens our National Security:
Today China is the world leader in number of STEM graduates. The World Economic Forum reported that China had 4.7 million recent STEM graduates in 2016, and India had 2.6 million new STEM graduates, while the United States had only 568,000. China's president Xi Jinping has repeatedly declared that his aim is to transform the country into a "science and technology superpower." This is an essential part of his "Made in China 2025" program announced late last year, and China's larger agenda of displacing the United States as the world's dominant superpower. Fortunately for Xi's dream, China has the educational tools to achieve that aim.
Republican politicians do not seem to often discuss education relative to other issues other than to espouse school choice. To be sure, breaking the public school monopoly is a key part of the solution to ensure that students, particularly urban ones, are not trapped in failing schools. But school choice is not the whole of the solution to our educational problems. For example, in suburban and rural communities, there may not be charter or private school options, or at least ones that are better than the public ones.
While respecting federalism and local control, Republicans especially should begin to confront our education crisis by proposing the following:
First, we ought to remove education licensure requirements for STEM. To teach in public schools, teachers are almost always required to be licensed, having taken numerous educational courses and continuing education courses. We cannot afford this luxury when students are not learning civics or math. Selected retired military veterans should be given the opportunity to teach civics at public schools without a professional license. Schools should be able to hire or bring in as adjuncts engineers and other professionals who are highly skilled in math to teach approved STEM curricula in the schools. This should be a critical emergency priority, with the federal government playing a coordinating and facilitating role.
Second, we ought to mandate civics proficiency in order for students to graduate high school. In our Country, thanks to the 26th Amendment, to the Constitution, adults can vote at age 18 on the rationale that they are old enough to fight and die in wars. This is also the age of most high school graduates. But with this right comes a responsibility to know and understand our system of government. They ought to be able to take and pass the same citizenship test as is required for immigrants. They should understand the separation of powers, federalism, our bicameral legislature, the expansion of the franchise, the Electoral College, and other functions of government. If they cannot, they should not be awarded a high school diploma. Our schools may fail them, but having a mandatory test can serve as a backstop for the failure.
Third, we ought to create a special visa for STEM teachers from other countries to teach at U.S. schools, with even a path to citizenship for those who are a successful teachers. We desperately need all the talent we can obtain. A similar program can be extended for critical language instructors, including those proficient in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.
Fourth, high school juniors and seniors nationwide should be offered full course credit and tuition to attend vocational college during these last two years of high school for at least half of their education hours. Rather than take Ferris Bueller–like days off and play hooky from the moribund halls of the schoolhouse, or learning how to be vigilantes or protesters, these students can be learning trades and professions that are useful to society. Society needs electricians, plumbers, welders, and other professionals just as much as professors and community organizers.
Unfortunately, even the best K–12 education does not address that our colleges and universities have become largely bastions of socialism that undermine our society and system of government. Based on film images, many of the rioters in Minnesota and Wisconsin are not simply aggrieved black Americans, but those who appear to be college-educated agitators. Special considerations should be made to reform colleges and universities. Therefore:
Fifth, at the university level, all federal financial aid should be withheld unless students sign a written commitment to give back to their country in one of the following ways: (1) a four-year commitment in the U.S. military at the end of their education or as part of the ROTC program; (2) the U.S. Peace Corps; (3) AmeriCorps; (4) teaching at a public, private, or charter school; (5) tutoring; (6) doing mission work for a church or non-profit. This will also encourage Americans to work together in a time of division. If they do not so agree, that is their choice, but they can find a way to finance their education without the aid of the federal government.
Sixth, enhanced federal financial aid benefits should be provided to those who complete STEM majors. We need to incentives students to gain these critical skills instead of majoring in anthropology, women's studies, and other non-critical fields. Say an automatic grant of $30,000 for each student who completes an undergraduate major in a designated STEM field. This has the added benefit of steering students away from being indoctrinated in Marxism. To make this reform budget neutral, federal financial aid for non-STEM majors such as Pell Grants and Stafford loans should be reduced or eliminated. Society no longer has a great enough relative need for non-STEM majors to justify underwriting their education or backstopping their student loans.
None of these reforms taken individually is a silver bullet to solving our problems, but they are a good start. Learning marketable skills helps create self-worth and ownership in society, which in turn contributes to good civics and geopolitical competitiveness. These reforms should be bipartisan. President Trump could immediately pivot to these reforms as part of a second-term educational agenda, which would appeal to suburban voters, including women, who want the best education for their children. The future of our nation depends on it.
Chad Bayse is a Minnesota native; Navy judge advocate; and former assistant professor of law at the U.S. Naval Academy, counselor to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and attorney at the National Security Agency. The views expressed in this article are his own.