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It’s A Big Deal: An Officer Grades The Army Staff College And Its Leadership
Tom note: Here is the 10th entry in our 10 Long March posts for 2018, the most-read item of the year, which originally ran on June 15, 2018. These posts are selected based on what's called 'total engaged minutes' (the total number of time spent reading and commenting on an article) rather than page views, which the T&P editors see as a better reflection of Long March reader interest and community. Thanks to all of you for reading, and for commenting–which is an important part of this column.
I have spent the past year being graded, evaluated, and assessed as a student at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC). After graduating and reflecting over the past year, I will now grade, evaluate, and assess CGSC.
You will find that I am extremely candid and pride myself in speaking my mind. If you are offended by this, then I recommend you stop reading now.
So, how did CGSC do? Let's take a look.
Core and Advanced Operations Course
The reliance on MDMP to solve every problem was mind-boggling to me. The use of this methodology and outdated tools and programs severely limited our ability to gain value-added knowledge. MDMP is a linear and rigid step-by-step method for solving simple and complicated problems. It's too bad we live in a complex world. While CGSC attempted to make sense of information during the end of our core curriculum through a cumulative exam and oral presentation, it did not lead to knowledge.
Critical thinking instruction was a short but did introduce us to some worthwhile information. However, after writing "What's wrong with FM 3-0? Lots," I was informed that leadership was extremely angry at my writing. They want critical thinkers as long as it's not directed at them.
The failing grade is due in large part to ethical failings in multiple areas – primarily the school's policy regarding the dismissal of pregnant servicemembers.
Overall, the leadership curriculum provided some value-added information and introduced us to some good models and frameworks. The overall discussion was well-received by most. It was the lack of actual mission command by CGSC that demonstrated to us that they do not practice what they teach.
This was one of the rare cases where we actually looked at war from different perspectives, but we should have examined more. The American Way of War is not the only way of war, and I personally feel we missed an opportunity here. We should have looked to more theorists outside of Clausewitz, Jomini, and Napoleon. Why not Genghis Khan, John Boyd, or T.E. Lawrence? Overall, I was pleased with our history instruction and our instructor. If anything, history exceeded my expectations.
I will be the first to admit, I do not have much experience in this subject. However, I was not impressed with the education provided. We were solely provided information – no thinking was required. As long as you knew the “what" and “where" of placing symbols, you were good to go. It was not important to know “why" you placed a symbol in a specific location at a specific time.
This is a subjective assessment, as it depends on the electives you choose to take. Personally, the absolute best course I have ever taken while in the military came during this time: Red Team Members Course. For those of you unfamiliar with it, or questioning if you should take it or not… you absolutely should! You will not regret it. The University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies (UFMC) Center for Applied Critical Thinking is not part of CGSC. So, the best course I completed came from an organization outside of CGSC.
This may seem harsh, but hear me out. The curriculum offered faculty members zero flexibility. Outside of the Red Team school, an instructor's best bet was to stick to the slides. At times, they were forced to teach outdated and useless information.
Another glaring negative here is the use of PowerPoint for everything. I am reminded of a famous quote by Steve Jobs, “People who know what they're talking about don't need PowerPoint." The only exception here was the Red Team Member Course, where the use of PowerPoint is banned.
Although I did not participate in the Master of Military Arts and Science (MMAS) program, I did attempt to start it. As a student entering the college with a doctorate, I thought I had quite a bit to offer. I soon came to realize CGSC did not think students with advanced degrees had anything to offer. Apparently, you have to be a big deal before you can add value.
It's too bad CGSC doesn't use students to conduct actual research for actual problems within the U.S. Army. That would provide a huge benefit to the military and provide valuable learning for students at the same time. Overall, I am glad I didn't complete the program, as I sent a version of my research to AUSA, where it was published and people actually read it. I may have been the first student ever to write an entire thesis in the first month of school (in all actuality, it took me only a few days), only to drop the program immediately after submitting it.
Grading and Evaluation: A lesson in throwing darts
CGSC does publish standards for grading and evaluation, but I do not believe they are followed. At times it felt grades were determined by throwing darts. A personal complaint of mine was the lack of assessment outside of graded work.
Overall, two things stand out from my time at CGSC:
- I was thankful for much-needed family time, and
- I developed great relationships with other students. If I miss one thing about my time at CGSC, it will be the relationships developed over the past year.
Faculty at CGSC receive a bad reputation, for which some rightfully deserve it, while the majority are actually pretty good. From my perspective, they were extremely limited in what they could teach as the curriculum limited their instruction. I personally enjoyed my staff group, but interaction with other faculty members dropped this grade significantly.
There are some glaring problems within CGSC that should receive a closer examination. CGSC is confused on its purpose and identity. On one hand, they are trying to be a command focused on training and command and control of students. They use a dictatorial approach (complete lack of Mission Command) and rely on an overly redundant attendance tracking system. For example, I could be physically present in class, but if I forgot to check a box online so someone can track my attendance, then I was not present for duty. I am curious if this is an OER bullet for someone.
On the other hand, they are trying to act like an accredited institution.
CGSC Final Grade
Holistically, CGSC did not meet the standards of a contemporary academic institution looking toward the future. If anything, the school is looking to the past. This course would have been a perfect fit if we were preparing for war in the 1950s. Until we acknowledge that the future of war should be looked at by those of us who will actually bring it about, we will never innovate or move forward as an organization.
I recommend the following changes to improve CGSC:
- Adopt the teaching methodology of the UFMC Center for Applied Critical Thinking (Red Team school).
- Eliminate discriminatory policies.
- Stop using the online student accountability tracking system. If we are physically in class, we should not need to check-in online.
- Stop relying on MDMP. Teach and apply more complex problem-solving methodologies more regularly, such as the Army Design Methodology (ADM).
- Revise the history curriculum and add theorists and historical leaders such as Genghis Khan, John Boyd, and T.E. Lawrence.
- Sequence classes so that they intertwine in order to analyze and synthesize knowledge. For example, we could use a history or leadership lesson in Guerilla Warfare from Mao and apply it in tactics.
- Use the MMAS as a bridge between the Army Staff (or a CCMD Staff) and CGSC students in order to work on and research actual problems in the military.
- Empower faculty to change and adapt the curriculum throughout the year based on student feedback in order to provide value-added knowledge students can immediately apply. If something should be eliminated, empower them to eliminate it.
Maj. Jamie Schwandt, USAR, is a student at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is a logistics officer and has served as an operations officer, planner and commander. He is certified as a Department of the Army Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, certified Red Team Member, and holds a doctorate from Kansas State University. This article represents his own personal views, which are not necessarily those of the Command and General Staff College or the Department of the Army.
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