We have problems in our country. That's no secret. But we also have solutions. We've exported American ingenuity and changed the world throughout our relatively short history as a nation. We’ve also imported many of our commodities from the lands of impoverished people at artificially low prices - consuming and generating waste disproportionate to the global population. As we approach the Thanksgiving Holiday in the United States, it seems appropriate to sincerely contemplate what it means to be thankful for what we have. Most of the rest of the world is still “the 99%” compared to the U.S. Nearly all of the more than 60 million children who don’t have the opportunity to attend school live in the developing world. In the great American tradition of sharing our ideas, ensuring a basic education for the world’s least privileged people can be a way of paying our dues.
It would serve every American well to at least entertain the notion that occasionally our government's foreign and domestic policies may have contributed to problems like poverty, corrupt governance, and precipitous environmental change. And we should certainly consider that if we didn't spend a single dime on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we might not have a federal deficit today.
How much has war cost us? The U.S. budget for defense was nearly 1/4th of our total federal budget in 2010. The entire education budget was roughly 1/6th of that amount. And the entire amount of money spent on all foreign affairs operations was less than 1/3rd of the tiny amount we spent on education. What could have prevented our engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan? Ensuring that the people of those nations had the tools they needed to not be exploited and suppressed by terrorists and tyrants in the first place. Chief among these tools is an education.
Funding education for the poor isn't pouring tax dollars down a rat hole. There is a definite national interest in promoting basic education in the darkest corners of the world. Part of the plan is to help struggling nations use internal resources to establish and sustain their own education infrastructure. This is what the federal government does for state governments. But some states lean quite heavily on federal support in order to keep state taxes and services at a minimum. The result of this tactic is no surprise. Regardless, these are separate (yet analogous) issues that need to be solved at different levels of government. And we need to hold the appropriate leaders accountable for tackling both problems with action, rather than finger-pointing and rhetoric.
The cost to provide basic education for a brain in the developing and emerging world is a fraction of the cost of an education in our own country. With a mere $375 million (equal to about 1/400th of the 2010 U.S. education budget) pledge from the U.S, the multilateral Global Partnership for Education aims to halve illiteracy among school age children in 20 countries over five years and enroll 25 million more children in primary school. The payoff will be long-term stability in global regions of American economic interest and the possibility of having a generation of Americans that knows nothing of war. The less we spend on standing armies sent to die on foreign soil, the more we'll have to support the next generation of thriving innovators at home. We could be on the verge of a modern American renaissance. All we need to do is invest in human potential. It will inevitably restore and provide security and distinction to our nation as the premier supporter of an intelligent global economy and chief steward of worldwide peace.