Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Sure, introduce more rigor into the professional military education system — but not by imitating civilian schools

By Robert Goldich Best Defense department of military education I’d suggest that letter grading is inappropriate for institutions like the war colleges, but that more systematic evaluation is not.   Letter grades were not given at the interwar Command and General Staff School, but class rankings based on percentages were, and I think something like ...

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By Robert Goldich

Best Defense department of military education

I'd suggest that letter grading is inappropriate for institutions like the war colleges, but that more systematic evaluation is not.  

By Robert Goldich

Best Defense department of military education

I’d suggest that letter grading is inappropriate for institutions like the war colleges, but that more systematic evaluation is not.  

Letter grades were not given at the interwar Command and General Staff School, but class rankings based on percentages were, and I think something like that might be more appropriate. I do know that there was a distinct but very visible minority of students, military and civilian, at the National War College when I was a student who just skated by, including contributing nothing to group projects and letting others take up the slack. Some sort of more rigorous evaluation seems to me to be indicated.

One thing I think that any war college evaluation system needs to be very careful about is the application of civilian academic standards and concepts to military students. There is a fundamental and decisive difference between mid-career military officers in a military institution and civilian graduate students. While I am a big proponent of more civilian graduate education for military officers, there are also a fair number of officers who might not excel in a formal educational milieu who are nonetheless consummate military professionals.

As Bob Killebrew has pointed out numerous times, military knowledge is a distinct and separate component of human disciplines of study, and should be able to stand on its own.  We should not shoehorn military officers into civilian shoes which do not fit.

Robert L. Goldich retired from the Congressional Research Service in 2005 as its senior military manpower analyst. Currently he is consulting and drafting a book on the history of conscription.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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