Gen. Colin Powell on Ending the ‘Moral Catastrophe’ of Increasing Dropouts

The BP Gulf Coast oil disaster continues unabated. The gushing oil and gas are poisoning the gulf waters and polluting Louisiana’s coastal beaches in the most horrendous environmental catastrophe of the 21st century. This appears to be America’s Chernobyl. However, this incredible fouling of our nation’s waters and beaches pales in comparison to the degradation of our nation through the declining American educational system.

A startling fact is 1.3 million American youth will not participate in the traditional June high school graduation ceremonies in 2010. An average of 7,200 students every school day this year dropped out of school.

General Colin Powell, speaking on Sunday about the BP calamity, told Jake Tapper on ABC’s This Week that the U.S. government needs “to move quickly and move in with, to use my favorite expression, decisive force to demonstrate that it’s doing everything that it can.” Unfortunately, that is not the case for the Gulf oil disaster. Nor is it the case for dropout rates, as Colin Powell states in his work on this “moral catastrophe.”

I think one can assume once the oil gusher in the Gulf is stopped—perhaps we must await the relief wells’ completion in August—the ongoing clean-up will lead to a Gulf rebound in a decade or so. I am wondering if we have time to recover as a nation from the educational decline we continue to experience in America.

In scores of California districts, the school year is being reduced by up to five days due to our economic crisis. At the same time many other countries are investing heavily in their youth. Thank goodness for efforts like Gen. Powell’s Grad Nation, a multi-year campaign to encourage all Americans to contribute to the effort of increasing graduation rates to 90 percent in ten years, using this year’s 4th graders as the target class.

Right after the Powell’s launch of Grad Nation at the White House on March 1, the general told Good Morning America’s George Stephanopoulos that the dropout rate is not only a moral catastrophe, “it’s an economic problem…It’s a security problem.” To combat this trend the U.S. needs to muster all of its resources.

In Sunday’s interview, Powell reminded the viewers that 30 percent of all American youth do not graduate, and that 50 percent of Latino and African-American youth drop out of high school.

I have not heard yet how SJ2020 is positioned to be a partner with Grad Nation, but I will find out. To learn more on how you can help in increasing the graduation rates in our community go to

As I write this post on Memorial Day, I hope that all current high school students understand the importance of this day in our history. Formerly known as “Decoration Day,” it commemorates those who gave “the last full measure of devotion” to this country. I thank them for their courageous service. And, especially to the family of one of my favorite former middle school students, SPC Michael Mihalakis, who died in Baghdad, Iraq on Dec. 26, 2003 at age 18.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. > The gushing oil and gas are poisoning the gulf waters and polluting Louisiana’s coastal beaches in the most horrendous environmental catastrophe of the 21st century.

    It’s exasperating to be exposed to all the ignorant catastrophist hyperbole about the Gulf Oil spill.

    It’s disgusting that so much of the clueless, lemming-like public accepts the hyperbole as “truth”.

    It’s criminal malfeasance when supposedly educated and knowledgeable public officials purportedly capable of “critical thinking” enthusiastically get behind the catastrophist bandwagon and push.

    The gulf oil spill is NOT “the most horrendous environmental catastrophe of the 21st century”.

    > “The 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull are a sequence of volcanic events at Eyjafjöll in Iceland which, although relatively small for volcanic eruptions, caused enormous disruption to air travel across western and northern Europe over an initial period of six days in April 2010.”

    > “The second phase of the eruption started on 14 April 2010 and resulted in an estimated 250 million cubic metres (330,000,000 cu yd) of ejected tephra. The ash plume rose to a height of approximately 9 kilometres (30,000 ft), . . .”

    And Eyjafjallajökull is a “relatively small” volcanic eruption.  Volcanos are erupting ALL OF THE TIME!

    The Mercury News recently reported that the amount of oil leaked by the Gulf oil spill would fill “37 swimming pools”. 

    Gee!  That might be a few tens of thousands of cubic meters.

    The oceans and the seas are exceedingly vast.  A jet plane can fly for ten hours at five hundred miles an hour over the Pacific Ocean and see only water.

    “37 swimming pools of oil” in the vastness of the earth’s seas is NOT EVEN a drop in the bucked.  It is an atom in a bucket.

    The hysteria of the politically correct class over the oil spill is NOT objectively warranted by the seriousness of the consquences of the spill. It ONLY indicates how large and important the politically correct class IMAGINES themselves to be in the scale of planetary reality.

    There have been other oil spills that have been far, far larger than the BP spill:

    > Gulf War Oil spill (Iraq)

    > The Ixtoc I Gulf of Mexico oil spill (Mexico)

    > The Nigerian Delta on-going oil leakage (Nigeria)

    > The Amoco Cadiz (France)

    etc., etc., etc.

    The combined volume of oil leakage into the environment from NATURAL sources far exceeds man caused spillages. (Ever hear of the La Brea Tar Pits in the center of Los Angeles).  Is pious Joe fulminating about “poisoning the LA’s waters and polluting California’s coastal beaches”?

    Plus, Nature can deal with oil spills.  What is the enduring “environmental damage” of the really tiny Santa Barbara Channel oil spill? There really is none.

    What is the enduring “environmental damage” from the Exxon Valdez spill?  Nature has recovered.  And it was Nature that did the recovery and NOT all of the earnest, politically correct volunteers from the Sierra Club wiping oil off of beach rocks with paper towels.  (And what did they do with the oil soaked paper towels)?

    Oil spills are neither nice nor desirable.  But they happen.  And mankind can deal with it.  And Nature can deal with it.

    But irresponsible public officials who exaggerate and sensationalize crises (“the most horrendous environmental catastrophe of the 21st century”) are not part of the solution.  They are obstructive and destructive influences who ultimately make things worse for everyone.

    I’m hopeful that the day of reckoning for the envirnomental charlatans and global warming con men is inching ever closer.  I think Joe will have some serious ‘splainen to do.

    • Do you work for BP? Sure sounds like the kind of spin they have been trying to foist off on the public. You can try and justify this mess but for a corporation to be so unprepared to deal with a massive spill like this is likely criminal. If, as you say, spills happen, then corporations should be prepared to clean them up—clearly BP had no plans to deal with a disaster of this type. They should be held fully accountable and stop making excuses.

      • > Do you work for BP? Sure sounds like the kind of spin they have been trying to foist off on the public.

        You cheapskate!  Why don’t you shell out some money and get some real talking points.

        The free ones you get from the moonbat websites are really lame and worn out.

        I don’t work for BP, but I do like oil.

        Nice companies like BP and Chevron get it out of the ground (when the government allows them to) and then make it into gasoline, which I put into the gas tank of my Prius.

        What do you put into the gas tank of your Prius?

        If you’ve been trying to put electricity in the tank, it might explain why the darn thing doesn’t run.  It needs GASOLINE.

        • Can’t even keep your phony names straight? Nice duck, by the way. Feel free to respond with something resembling substance any time. If by substance you think I mean keep up the insults you are wrong.

  2. Is this the same Colin Powell who demonstrated such astute judgement when he made the case for invading Iraq?
    Oh yeah. I trust his opinion.

  3. Dear Oil Ranter – The media can’t blow this thing out of proportion.  This catastrophe is literally larger then anyone imagined.  The worst case scenarios have turned out to be too conservative.  Every day the news gets worst, with no end in sight.  Even if BP caps the gusher today, the impact on our environment, lives and economy will be felt for decades.  To say that this is not the largest catastrophe in history, does not diminish the fact that that this is very, very bad.  Should we say that the Rowandas are whining because only their genocide only lasted 1 month and only 1 million people were butchered? 

    Joe is right.  Knowing is half the battle. We are short changing this generation of students by repeating the mistakes of the 80’s.  Instead of putting money into schools, that generation got tough of crime and put money into prisons.  Today there the prison budget is larger then UC budgets and prisoner costs more then a college student. There’s enough money to enforce 3 strikes, but not enough money to pay for the social safety net.  There’s something wrong with this picture.

    • > Dear Oil Ranter – The media can’t blow this thing out of proportion.  This catastrophe is literally larger then anyone imagined.

      > Every day the news gets worst, with no end in sight.

      Dear Tony:

      I suggest you change channels, and spend some time absorbing some sunny, positive, optimistic news.

      You’ll feel better and be a nicer person.

      On the other hand, if you really believe that there is “no end in sight”, could you do a calculation for me and tell me when the rising oil level will reach the ground floor of San Jose City Hall.  That will give me a good indication of when I will need to move to higher ground.