Paper bemoans lack of qualified cannon fodder | Wis.Community

Paper bemoans lack of qualified cannon fodder

As the debate rages over how to fix what's wrong with Milwaukee public schools, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has found a new cause for alarm: Our schools leave our kids so ill-prepared that they can't even make the grade as cannon fodder any more.

It seems an unusually high percentage of Milwaukee's young people are failing to clear the basic hurdles to enter the military because they have dropped out of school, have criminal records, or are too out of shape physically. This has the newspaper so concerned that it devoted both an editorial and an op ed column by one of its editorial board members last week.

First came the editorial, headlined Not fit enough to serve:

A recent report says 75% of young people ages 17 to 24 are unable to join to the military because they are either too unfit, fail to graduate from high school or have a criminal record.

... These statistics argue for a greater emphasis on physical and academic education and illustrate the severity of a health crisis in America.

Military officials say the numbers are a threat to the military, because they are choosing from a smaller pool of qualified candidates. And, no, the military will not - nor should it - lower its standards just to fill its military ranks, even after President Barack Obama announced plans to send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Like most other statistics, it's worse in Milwaukee than statewide, of course, and worse yet among the minority population.

The newspaper finds that really distressing, and ends its ediitorial by asking readers for their ideas, inviting letters to the editor on this subject:

What can be done to ensure that more young people are able to join the military if they choose?

Is that really the question? Not how we're failing to prepare young people for any kind of decent life, for gainful employment, or to give them the skills and knowledge they need to make it in life? Our worry is that they can't go to Afghanistan?

Here's the second shoe, by James Causey, a member of the editorial board and no doubt the author of the editorial as well as his Sunday column, in which a military recruiter bemoans the lack of qualified recruits. Says Causey:

I've sounded like a broken record, I know, on how improving academic and physical education is key. But if economic development and good health don't move you, how about national security? A shortage of recruits threatens that, not to mention saying something dreadful about the state of our educational system and the health of our youth...

If you ever needed a reason for ensuring that MPS improves, look no further than these statistics. The military used to be the option for learning a trade while earning money for school. But with 11% of its students statewide not graduating on time, those options are limited. And I'm betting that MPS contributes heavily to those figures...

As our country increases its forces in Afghanistan and expands the war, it's a reminder that there's another war to win: the one in the classroom and the one to reclaim the health of our youth.

The column and the editorial both oppose lowering standards, something that was done during the Vietnam war with a disastrous impact on military performance and morale.

But there's something fundamentally wrong with the idea that the reason we need to do a better job of educating our children is because of national security, so we can send them off to war.

We do need better educated, well-rounded young people who have high school diplomas, are in decent physical condition and are not in legal trouble.

The reason we need them is so they can take their rightful places in society and in the workforce -- and, in the military if they so choose. Fitness for the mililtary may be one measure of how we're failing. But to suggest that the reason to improve our academic and physical training is to help recruiters fill their quotas has it entirely backward. That might beĀ one result of improving the state of our young people, but it certainly should not be the priority.

How about some letters to the editor on the topic of what can be done to ensure that more young people are able to find jobs that pay a living wage or can support a family "if they so choose?" That's the real question.


December 8, 2009 - 6:10pm