By now, cuts to public education aren’t a shocker. In fact, they’re expected. Whether it’s public universities or K-12 schools, by this point almost everything has been on the budgetary chopping block — multiple times, especially in Michigan, as of late.

You can only say one thing over and over again until it gets tiring. Every time there are cuts to education, it’s the same cycle of opposition. Arguments are made about valuing teachers, building a solid foundation for future generations and becoming globally competitive in the job market. But it’s all in vain, because in spite of all the rhetoric, cuts to education are still passed year after year after year.

It’s a simple fact: Cutting educational funding isn’t good. Somewhere deep down, I’m sure everyone — politicians included — knows this. It’s one of those no-brainers. Regardless of how you feel about government involvement in public education, it’s easy to logically see how taking money away from educating the next generation might not be the best idea. Yet, education is always the first to go. Not because it’s the least useful, but because it’s the easiest target, the simplest way to enact short-term relief without having to face immediate political consequences. But it’ll add up. It already has.

As I mentioned, the arguments against education cuts are overworn. They’ve been repeated to the point where saying them again seems pointless. Still, I’m going to make the argument one more time. This time I’ll say it with a different spin in the hopes that maybe it’ll persuade someone to value education a little bit more.

In addition to negative implications for the future economic growth and the competitiveness of our labor force, a recent report by an independent task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations found that educational discrepancies would have a significant effect on national security. In fact, the report goes as far as calling the U.S. educational system a “national security crisis.” Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was one of the co-chairs on this task force.

The main idea of the report is that if the education system stays as is — an educational foundation severely lacking science, history and foreign languages — it will be difficult to find competent applicants for high-profile national security agencies such as the CIA, the Defense Department and the State Department. For example, the State Department is currently having trouble finding students who speak necessary foreign languages proficiently. Generals in the armed forces have expressed concern over their recruits’ ability to read complicated training manuals for high-tech equipment. And a report by the XVIII Airborne Corps in Iraq concluded that very few intelligence personnel were able to synthesize different pieces of information to reach a conclusion. When the matters at stake are huge national security or diplomacy issues, this information is unsettling, to say the least.

Some may argue that this shouldn’t even be an issue, that these agencies are so competitive and have such a large number of applicants that they should have no problem choosing the best and the brightest. But if education continues to be a low priority — regardless of how competitive a field is — the quality of the applicant pool will continue to decline.

The United States is currently the leader when it comes to maintaining a military and diplomatic presence around the world. But if we continue to deemphasize education, we will soon lose this position. We need a comprehensive focus on subjects such as history and foreign language proficiency (and no, a four-semester graduation requirement doesn’t count). We need to emphasize critical thinking and analysis over simple memorization. We need to prioritize education in our budgets. The prestigious institutions and sectors we have didn’t gain their reputations overnight and won’t keep them if we don’t work to keep them.

That’s where the real danger is. Discounting education or making higher education so inaccessible to such a large amount of the population will create an unskilled population in the future. The issue isn’t even how this will affect people’s ability to find a job and sustain themselves, but rather how this will affect our ability to sustain ourselves as a nation.

The rest of the world is moving, and it’s moving fast. If we don’t move with it, not only will we get left behind, but we may endanger ourselves in the process.

Harsha Nahata can be reached at

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