From Syria to Head Start

“War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography,” Ambrose Bierce wrote more than a century ago.

As Americans gird for a punitive strike against Syria (north of Jordan, west of Iraq, contiguous with Turkey) the painful need for more of an historical grounding — including more locally grown international scholars — comes into focus.

A windfall of the trillions of dollars thrown around during the Cold War was investment in international studies and science education. Title VI funding for international and foreign language studies, originally part of the National Defense Education Act of 1958, was in response to the former Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957.

In an unfair, zero-sum comparison, each Tomahawk missile that the United States launches against Syria costs $1.4 million (here’s wagering U.S. forces launch at least 50 over a two-day period.) Then consider the Congressional sequester that has decimated federal education funding, from Head Start to Title VI. The U.S. government won’t beat its swords into plowshares.

Try to weigh the education of future Northwesterners and disregard zero-sum sermonizing. A mushrooming crisis overseas and the closure of a Head Start preschool program in north Everett hitch together, just not in real time. As The Herald’s Gale Fiege reported Thursday, 40 low-income children will be denied a boost this fall. They’re less likely to excel in school and continue on to college, to study a foreign language or to join the diplomatic corps. A generation-plus from now, these children won’t be the deciders on critical global issues.

“Head Start is really more than a preschool,” said Dana Connolly, executive director of Head Start in Snohomish County. “When poor children without preschool enter elementary, it puts a lot more pressure on those teachers in the primary grades.”

On Monday, the superintendant of public instruction, Randy Dorn, announced that the achievement gap between students of different ethnic backgrounds hasn’t improved. It keeps him up at night, Dorn told the Associated Press. As well it should. Diversity is this nation’s wellspring, just as the educational divide is its greatest shame.

As The Herald Editorial Board noted Wednesday regarding Syria, preventing the future use of chemical weapons, of crimes against humanity, is a moral imperative. So, too, is the education and well-being of America’s next generation.

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