Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Kroesen strikes out again: Are diversity and political correctness really what’s hurting the Army’s educational system?

Diversity, along with more rigorous academic standards, would greatly improve military education.

Frederick_Kroesen_VCSA
Frederick_Kroesen_VCSA

I respect Gen. Frederick Kroesen and learned a lot from his writings, so when I saw an article by him in the August issue of Army magazine headlined, “It’s Time to Restore the Army School System,” I dove right in. After all, one of the lessons of history is that in peacetime, it is crucial to not just train officers but to educate them. This is key in part because the military is the only profession in which a practitioner might go decades without actually engaging in the key tasks of their profession.

But I was disappointed. I’ve criticized Kroesen’s commentary before, and I find I must do so again. His suggested remedies for the woes of the Army’s approach to professional military education include “eliminating political correctness” and de-emphasizing diversity. I actually think diversity in thought is a strength in professional military education — you can learn a lot by having to argue with people who have different views of the world and assumptions about how it works.

There’s a saying that if you’re not crying, you’re not making strategy. Similarly, if you are not squirming a bit in the classroom, you probably are not learning as much as you could. (The same issue of Army actually has a good article by Lt. Col. Pete Kilner on a topic that should make you squirm a bit: How do you advise a foreign military partner who has a different moral code than you do?)

I respect Gen. Frederick Kroesen and learned a lot from his writings, so when I saw an article by him in the August issue of Army magazine headlined, “It’s Time to Restore the Army School System,” I dove right in. After all, one of the lessons of history is that in peacetime, it is crucial to not just train officers but to educate them. This is key in part because the military is the only profession in which a practitioner might go decades without actually engaging in the key tasks of their profession.

But I was disappointed. I’ve criticized Kroesen’s commentary before, and I find I must do so again. His suggested remedies for the woes of the Army’s approach to professional military education include “eliminating political correctness” and de-emphasizing diversity. I actually think diversity in thought is a strength in professional military education — you can learn a lot by having to argue with people who have different views of the world and assumptions about how it works.

There’s a saying that if you’re not crying, you’re not making strategy. Similarly, if you are not squirming a bit in the classroom, you probably are not learning as much as you could. (The same issue of Army actually has a good article by Lt. Col. Pete Kilner on a topic that should make you squirm a bit: How do you advise a foreign military partner who has a different moral code than you do?)

If I had to list the top 25 problems of Army schools, I don’t think Kroesen’s two gripes would make the list. Here is my own list of remedies. Basically, you need a system of academic rigor:

  • that teaches clear thinking,
  • that requires clear writing, and lots of it,
  • that has class rankings,
  • that probably gives preferential treatment to the top 10 percent and warns the bottom 10 percent that they are on thin ice,
  • that ejects students for plagiarism, and makes it public,
  • and that perhaps fails the bottom 5 percent of the class, giving them no credit for the year of any sort.

Btw, if you’re keeping track of bad writing by retired generals, here’s a keeper.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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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