By Denise Wydra

Water in the desert is a precious resource. As with any such resource, it makes sense to guard it carefully and spend it frugally, using as little as possible.

But that’s the kind of thinking that gets people killed.

Before 1959, the Israeli army had a water ration of 1 liter per soldier per day. But doctors demonstrated that soldiers fighting in the desert need much more and had the ration increased to 1 liter per soldier per hour.

When the 6-Day War came in 1967, the two sides squaring off had very different rates of water consumption, the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian armies maintaining the more traditional water rationing and the Israeli army using its new “water discipline.”

The result? While the other armies lost thousands of soldiers to heat stroke and dehydration, these causes of death were negligible on the Israeli side.

Water in the desert is still a precious resource, but the change in mindset was hugely beneficial. Israeli leaders began to see increased water consumption not as a luxury or a way of coddling their troops, but as an investment in future health and strength—the very qualities needed to win a stunning victory on the battlefield.

We have to think about education the same way.

Our policies and practices are often built on the unstated assumption that education is a little like the Wild West: there will be good schools and bad ones, good and bad students—and the race will be won by those who are motivated enough to get to the right school and smart enough to do well.  There will be winners and there will be losers.

College education is seen as a privilege, or at least as something that rightfully requires sacrifice on the part of families. A school voucher system pulls us away from a commitment to make every student succeed, in every school and every classroom. Workforce development and life-long learning are the icing on the cake, not a part of everyone’s balanced diet.

But isn’t this like giving sufficient water only to the most informed and motivated? Only to the soldiers who understand the medical benefits and get up early to stand in line?

The Israeli Army doesn’t just make water available, and it doesn’t give soldiers any choice in the matter. It requires a medically determined rate of water consumption, because the health of the army depends on it.

Good education is a scarce resource, and traditional gate-keeping was an attempt to distribute it fairly in a meritocratic society. But we must move beyond thinking of ourselves as a meritocracy when it comes to education. It’s not a matter of what individuals “deserve,” it’s a matter of what our society and economy need.

Our success in the future will rely on every person being as productive as possible, and good education fuels productivity.  Let’s make sure everyone gets enough.