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Gingrich cozies up to tech industry

The former House Speaker, who is trying to paint himself as a friend of tech, is calling the nation's education system the United States' largest security threat.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is trying to paint himself as a friend of tech.

Gingrich, who has been dropping into Silicon Valley about every six weeks, denounced the nation's troubled math and science education system Wednesday night at a meeting of the Commonwealth Club in Palo Alto, Calif. He called education woes the United States' largest security threat and said the nation turns out workers unprepared for technology jobs and unable to compete with other countries.

"Math and science education is in a deep crisis in the U.S.," Gingrich told the audience of about 250 people. "If we do not produce young people who can do the work, the system will not survive."

The father of the "Contract with America" has dropped off many political radar screens and is taking a more behind-the-scenes role than he did during his days as the contentious leader of the 1994 Republican revolution to take back Congress. Now a fellow at the Hoover Institute, a Stanford University-based think tank, Gingrich has been visiting Silicon Valley to meet with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and researchers in attempts to further bridge the gap between the beltway and the hi-tech world.

Aides say he hopes to use his newly gained knowledge to shape technology policy in the future, though he doesn't have immediate plans to run for public office again.

Gingrich, who runs the consulting firm The Gingrich Group, said the Hart-Rudman Commission would release a study next week that found inadequate education was a bigger danger to national security than nearly every other imaginable threat.

The Hart-Rudman Commission, a Washington, D.C.-based panel charged by Congress with studying national security issues, will release a report containing a chapter on why revamping the math and science education system is critical to national defense, according to a commission source.

During his speech, Gingrich reiterated his belief that every child over the age of four should have access to a computer, though he didn't offer concrete plans to achieve that goal during the hour-long speech and question-and-answer session.

"Unless more kids are tied into the Internet, we cannot bridge the gap," he said. Gingrich also criticized President George W. Bush's education plan, saying he worries that throwing money at schools won't be enough to fix the system.

Asked by an audience member about whether he thinks we're entering a recession, Gingrich said no. Instead, he called it a "slowdown" and predicted it would last four to six months.