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America's No. 1 priority 

All of us, from national leaders to SLO County citizens, are dropping the ball on education

To the residents of San Luis Obispo County, especially parents and adults who plan to have children:

The development of our nation's future is in your hands. All of us control the America of tomorrow.

Living in Atascadero for 19 years and being the parent of two children who are pursuing a college education, I have been a strong supporter of public education in SLO County schools, concentrating on academics and performing arts.

From this, and my experience as a volunteer public-outreach representative for Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA in taking the world of space exploration and the vital importance of education to our schools and communities, I have become very aware of the declining condition of our nation's system of public education, not being anywhere near the high-quality academic level that existed many years ago when I was in primary and secondary school.

In general, America's attention, interest, concern, and support of education have declined significantly over the past 40 years, taking our educational system for granted, believing that "someone else" will take care of it and improve it, that it can be placed on autopilot. That "someone" turns out to be all of us, every adult in our nation, whether you have children or not. The responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of all American citizens, including parents, businesses, and government, as a team effort.

There has been increasing news recently about the struggles in California and America in providing a quality education for all children. I wholeheartedly agree with their conclusions of a system in serious need of strong, supportive, and positive attention. Many excellent studies and reports over the past 10 years about our nation's declining educational system are presenting an extremely troubling picture of our nation's future. In reality, the situation is far more serious than many Americans are aware.

America is now quietly facing the biggest, most dramatic and critically important challenge since World War II and the Cold War. Since the 1960s, our nation's system of public education has been steadily losing ground.

Most troubling and damaging is that America has fallen dangerously behind in STEM education - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Children have not been receiving strong encouragement and support in STEM education from family, schools, or society. We have lost critical focus on an extremely vital part of our educational process. STEM education literally drives every aspect of our nation, providing us with the highest standard of living on Earth, providing the critical tools needed for our nation's forward economic progress, health, security, and survival.


Most troubling and damaging is that America has fallen dangerously behind in STEM
education - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.


We are facing a growing mountain of competition and future challenges from other countries that are quickly gaining on and passing the United States in their educational processes and expertise in STEM fields. Foreign countries are quickly learning the vital importance of a strong educational system, especially in STEM. They are no longer relying on the United States to lead the way, but are now starting to race past us to take the lead themselves, without concern for America's progress or future. They are not asking us, they are telling us. And we must listen to what this is saying about our nation's attention to its future.

Please pay close attention to education news and become an active, supportive participant in our schools, firmly promoting them and pushing them to increase their instruction, requirements, performance, and achievements in STEM education. Demand an increase in the number of teachers having formal math and science certification. And provide much needed support to all teachers in their critically important jobs.

For parents of young children, please pay continual attention to increasing your children's exposure to math and science in everyday life and school. Demand that elementary schools provide dramatically stronger instruction in math and science, including significantly increased hands-on math and science activities. Then forcefully follow that with strong support of secondary schools, with emphasis on encouraging students to move beyond high school into technical fields and college in STEM.

Monitor and confirm that schools are indeed doing everything they can to provide a high-quality education for our children. And, strongly urge the business community to provide increased support of our schools. We are all partners in life's grand adventure. Schools cannot succeed by going it alone.

This is absolutely vital to our nation's future. Action must be taken now, and forever, as America faces a dangerously challenging and threatening unknown future.

Our system of public education is the source of our nation's new lifeblood. Supporting our schoolchildren is supporting America's future advancement, protection, and well being.

Make America the perpetual leader in education around the world, second to none, with a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Be bold! Speak loudly and take firm action in favor of improving school instruction and facilities. Demand that governmental leaders support and enhance education, not pull the rug out from under it and destroy it, and then hold them accountable. Let's look at our schools as our nation's most important pride and joy, the envy of all other countries.

As I recently heard strongly voiced, emphasized, and demonstrated at this year's Cal Poly State University Open House events, their grand vision of "Investing in Greatness" and operational motto "Learn by Doing" are profoundly important statements about America's educational process.

It is critical to our nation's future that we employ these concepts as a rock-solid foundation for all of our schools, especially primary and secondary schools. Without question, first, last, and always, education is America's No. 1 priority. ³

Walter Reil is president of the Central Coast Astronomical Society. You can reach him at ccas@
ccastronomy.org.

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