William McRaven is a retired US Navy admiral and former US Navy SEAL. He currently works at the US Special Operations Command, and up until 2018 he worked as the chancellor of the University of Texas System.
He has spoken fondly of his time in education, saying that he is “the biggest fan” of the younger generations of Americans who are now moving through the world.
However, while speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he shared that he has often been asked one big question: “What’s your No. 1 national security issue?”
The answer he gives might surprise you: He believes that the K-12 education system in the United States is the No. 1 threat to the nation’s security.
He explained that this is because without an adequate education that really teaches children how to critically analyze and understand the world around them, we can’t hope to have thinkers and leaders who really engage with that world as adults.
He said, “It was because I recognized that unless we are giving opportunity and a quality education to the young men and women in the United States, then we won’t have the right people to be able to make the right decisions about our national security. They won’t have an understanding of different cultures. They won’t have an understand[ing] of different ideas. They won’t be critical thinkers.”
“So we have got to have an education system within the United States that really does teach and educate young men and women to think critically, to look outside their kind of small microcosm because if we don’t develop those great folks, then our national security in the long run may be in jeopardy.”
He went on to add that the United States needs to nurture a “culture of education” in all communities, and especially in communities where people may feel they cannot afford a quality education, or that their children and families are not “smart enough” for school.
“There is a school out there for every man and woman in the United States — I don’t care what your educational capacity is, what you think it is. There is a school that will help you matriculate to the point of getting a degree.”
The retired admiral is not the first US official to voice these concerns. In 2013, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice also said that the “crisis in K-12 education is our greatest national security crisis today.” At the time, Rice asserted that she could still look at zip codes and would immediately know which children were receiving a quality education and which ones were not.
Rice further explained that the reason she could tell who received what kind of education based on zip codes is that she believes wealthy families will typically move their children to neighborhoods that offer better schooling options, whereas many other families don’t have that option.
Admiral McRaven has also previously stated that he is “the biggest fan of the millennials you’ll ever meet.” He said that many people he speaks with are often surprised by this, owing to stereotypes that millennials are “entitled” and “little snowflakes.”
“Well, I’m always quick to point out then you’ve never seen them in a firefight in Afghanistan, or you’ve never seen them try to make a better life for themselves going to one of our great schools in the state of Texas.” He also added, “This is a remarkable generation. They’re not a lot like my generation — in many ways, they are better. They care so much about their friends, they care about the issues, they question things in a way that I’m not sure we baby boomers questioned. They will take a stand on issues.”
“And so whenever … I get a little bit concerned about the direction of the country, I just have to reflect back … and know that we’re going to be okay.”
The millennial generation generally includes anyone who was born between 1981 and 1996. They were preceded by Gen X, who were born between 1965 and 1980.
These two are hardly the only prominent voices who are concerned about education in the United States. They both bring up an excellent point: Teaching our children to critically evaluate the world around them is a huge boost in terms of helping our children learn how to navigate an increasingly multicultural, interconnected planet.