The scathing report released Friday by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee provides an interesting backdrop for discussions taking place in the Kansas State Board of Education.
At the same time the Senate committee is reporting that a "global intelligence failure" contributed to erroneous assumptions used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq, state school board members are debating whether the Kansas social studies standard should emphasize an understanding of global issues.
The social studies issue once again focuses attention on the division on the state school board between conservative and moderate members that triggered the embarrassing 1999 debate over inclusion of evolution in the state's science standards. Now board members are split between a proposal by conservative members that would put more emphasis on lessons concerning Kansas and the United States. Moderate members contend that the new wording would take attention away from world issues and the relationship of Kansas and the United States with the rest of the world.
So which is more important? The obvious answer is "both." Why are we fighting over this? It's important for Kansas students to have a good understanding of local and state government structures so they know how to access and have an impact on the governments that most directly affect their lives. But it would be wrong to focus on local, state and national issues to the exclusion of important issues concerning America's relationship with the rest of the world.
A general lack of knowledge about other cultures may not be specifically to blame for the intelligence failures outlined by the Senate committee, but it's hard to imagine that such a complete breakdown could have occurred if more Americans had a more detailed understanding of the forces at work in countries around the world. Kansas schoolchildren need a strong knowledge of their immediate surroundings, but the world has become too small for them to assume they can isolate themselves from the effects of foreign cultures and governmental structures.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and also the key proponent of a new "Intelligence Scholars Program" that will provide scholarships for students to immerse themselves in the culture and politics of particular areas of the world. They then would work with the Central Intelligence Agency to help analyze various situations in those areas.
The need for this program, which was the brain child of Kansas University professor Felix Moos, is just one indication of the need for all Americans to have a better understanding of the world around them. Given current tensions around the world, it seems exactly the wrong time for students at any level of their education to pull back from subjects that would provide that understanding.
Members of the state board of education should consider that as they quibble over the social science standards that will guide the education of Kansas children.