David Boren’s education plan

July 8, 2008

ELIZABETH SCHULTE'S review of Barack Obama's war cabinet is extremely useful in helping make sense of the candidate's shift to the right now that he has the nomination wrapped up ("Obama's war room"). There are a couple more details about David Boren that I thought might be useful.

In the wake of the first Gulf War in 1991, Boren was a key sponsor of the National Security Education Act (NSEA). The act modeled itself after the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958, which was a panicked response to the Soviet Union successfully launching the Sputnik satellites a year earlier. The NDEA funneled huge amounts of federal money into education at all levels K-16.

The point behind the NSEA in 1991 was similar--i.e., to take advantage of the "new openings" in a world without the Berlin Wall and in which the U.S. could bomb a country back to the Dark Ages with so much ease. The bill aimed to provide a newly assertive U.S. imperialism with a cadre of area studies and language experts to aid the expansion of U.S. power. It is still in place today and, in relative terms, receives lots of funding.

The NSEA funnels lots of money to higher education, primarily through the Flagship language programs and the Boren fellowships. The Flagship programs focus on specific "critical" or "strategic" languages, like Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi-Urdu, etc. Boren fellowships exist for undergraduate and graduate students to study these languages.

In both cases, students are almost always expected to give back a certain number of years of service to the government to use their language skills for "national security" purposes.

The key difference between these two bills is that the NSEA, Boren's bill, is effectively run by the Defense Department, where the NDEA of 1958 was run by the forerunner to the Department of Education--which means that the Pentagon is basically paying you to learn the language so you can work for them later on.

There is still some controversy on college campuses about these programs, especially the Flagships. But what Boren's programs mean to me at least is that there isn't all that much difference after all between "soft" and "hard" U.S. power--it's still about the U.S. trying to call the shots around the world.
Jeff Bale, Lansing, Mich.

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