Best Defense

Finally, official recognition that the Army’s CGSC is broken: A follow up

Since I reported last week, CGSC has gone ahead and cut hours in the middle of the Common Core of classes, the ones required for JPME Phase I certification.

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By Nicholas Murray
Best Defense guest columnist

Since I reported last week, CGSC has gone ahead and cut hours in the middle of the Common Core of classes, the ones required for JPME Phase I certification.

It will be interesting to see if the Military Education Coordination Committee that accredits JPME has anything to say about this, and if so, what. Furthermore, that the cuts took place in the middle of the school year is problematic, for all kinds of obvious reasons. For example pulling a class out of the middle or end of a block of instruction means either that particular class was never necessary or that it was necessary but the officers will have to do without. If the class was unnecessary why was it being taught, given the already well-documented problems with curriculum bloat, and if it was necessary what type of formal review of the curriculum as a whole was carried out to identify the axed classes?

The classes removed from the curriculum, at about a week’s notice, amount to 14 hours of classroom time, and two in-class exams were changed to become take-home exams. Now, as was mentioned last week, the cuts to hours are welcome, but I am not sure that cutting 14 classroom hours from a grand total of 907.5 classroom hours (the nearest PME peer equivalent requires roughly 200 hours less contact time, and a couple of the schools even less contact hours, for essentially the same outcome) is going to make much of a dent. After all, this is a schedule that has changed little (despite some moving around and renaming of classes) since an internal report, the Command and General Staff School Campaign Plan of 2014, found the schedule “unpredictable, poorly synchronized, and overtaxes students while under-challenging them.”

The reason this is important is that overtaxing people typically has the opposite effect to the desired outcome. That is, the more students are overtaxed the less they will actually learn. This is not good for officers who are required to think as part of their job. Furthermore, it is not good for their safety, or U.S. national security. The reason this is so, is that in a world of increasing complexity it is our officers’ ability to think that will maximize their ability to win the nation’s wars.

The education officers receive at CGSC is as important as that at top-tier schools where many of the Republic’s senior civilian leaders go to receive an education, and it is important that CGSC gets things right. That things are often described as ‘fine’ or ‘good enough’, simply doesn’t cut it. As the Army University concept points out, the civilian education “system produces high-quality critical and creative thinkers at a pace that makes them the envy of the world. Our goal is to blend the best of this proven civilian model with military education to produce the agile and adaptive leaders required by the Army Operating Concept.” So, it is very important to ask the question of why does CGSC differ so greatly from its PME peers and even more so from its civilian ones. How does it allocate hours to education and training. This author awaits a clear answer.

In defense of the decision for the recent cuts, it is only fair to point out that the director of CGSC is new to the post, having arrived this summer, and has acted promptly to deal with an issue that is unlikely to be of his making. That he took action is, in many ways, to be commended. After all, the active duty officers who come to CGSC are there only for a short time and have little long-term control over what goes on. That he felt obliged to act so soon after arriving and in the middle of the school year indicates the problems lie deeper within the school. Repeated internal and external criticisms of the school over the last several years have focused on the issues raised above. Thus the question that should be asked is why, if there has been so much criticism of CGSC, including in its own internal report on the matter, has CGSC seemingly not done anything to deal with the underlying problems? After all, under the leadership of the last two Deputy Commandants, there was a real push to improve things, and the Army University concept calls for “both a symbolic and substantive change to the Army’s approach to education.” This certainly promises to move education in the right direction, yet CGSC seems again to be back at square one.

Of course, there will be those who defend the institution and claim that things fine as they are. Or that somehow the author is a disgruntled former employee with an axe to grind. Or that he is disloyal for wanting change. Or that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he no longer works at CGSC. Or simply because he’s a civilian.

Such attacks typically follows the simple questioning of something. They are problematic as they indicate a lack of critical thinking, a deficit the Army University concept seeks to avoid. Finally, for those who counter the criticisms herein with the argument that CGSC is there to train officers, it must be remembered that the Skelton Report declared that in PME the mission of “the colleges is education, not training.”

Dr. Nicholas Murray is an associate professor in the Department of Strategy and Policy U.S. Naval War College. Previously he taught for five years at the U.S. Army Command and Staff College. For his work there, he received the Department of the Army Commander’s Award for Civilian Service, the Army’s Superior Civilian Service Award, and he was named Educator of the Year for History in 2013. He has written on professional military education and on the evolution of warfare up to 1918. His views are his own, and they do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

 Photo credit: Air Force Historical Research Agency

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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