[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #6 in June 2008]
At recent forum on educational policy that we organized in November 2007, former and current Chicago Public School (CPS) employees that advocate public military schools appeared to backpedal from the raw ugliness of the image, and the reality, of Chicago’s youth of color being disciplined in public military-run schools. With folksy, generous voices, and attempts at a lot of laughs, they worked double-time to assure the audience that military schools were “just like regular CPS schools,” and that the military focus was simply a “hook” to keep students in schools. After the forum, an attendee (and a smart pal), commented, “if pole dancing brought in the students, and increased graduation rates, would CPS offer pole dancing classes?” While perhaps an ungenerous analogy that would chafe military personnel and sex workers alike, the lack of direct responsibility that CPS and the city are taking for making a radical public policy decision, unsupported by evidence, is startling but hardly unpredictable.
In 2001 Chicago’s Mayor, Richard M. Daley explained his reasons for creating public military schools in Chicago:
We started these academies because of the success of our Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program, the nation’s largest. JROTC provides students with the order and discipline that is too often lacking at home. It teaches them time management, responsibility, goal setting, and teamwork, and it builds leadership and self-confidence.
Today, Chicago has the most militarized public school system in the nation, with Cadet Corps for students in middle-school, over 10,000 students participating in JROTC programs, over 1,000 students enrolled in one of the five, soon-to-be six autonomous military high schools, and hundreds more attending one of the nine military high schools that are called “schools within a school.” Chicago now has a Marine Military Academy, a Naval Academy, and three army high schools. When an air force high school opens next year, Chicago will be the only city in the nation to have academies representing all of these branches of the military. But Chicago is not the only city moving in this direction: The public school systems of other urban centers with largely Black and brown low income students of color, including Philadelphia, Atlanta and Oakland, are being similarly reshaped.
Despite the party-line echoed throughout CPS that these schools are a “choice” and only one of the many “boutique” schooling options open to youth, this shift is not accidental. As military recruiters nationwide have fallen short of their enlistment goals—a decade-long trend—and the number of African Americans enlisting has dropped by 41% over the last several years, the Department of the Defense has partnered with the Department of Education and city governments, to sell its “brand” to increasing numbers of youth. In addition, the No Child Left Behind Act requires that schools receiving federal aid provide student information to the Army; JROTC programs replace physical education courses in many schools; and in Chicago, trading on the legacy of exclusivity in military institutions, public military schools and programs are sold to families as “choices” in a market of niche schools. But the bottom-line is this—JROTC and public military schools are recruitment strategies, and successful ones. In 2005, for example, about 42% of JROTC graduates enlisted, entered a military service academy, or entered a college-level ROTC program, according to Army reports.
We—two educators working and living in Chicago—offer these reasons that everyone should oppose public military schools and programs, and why educators across the nation should join TAME—Teachers Against Militarized Education:
1. Public education is a civilian, not military, system. Public education should not be allowed to become a soft arm of the Department of the Defense with the narrow aim of preparing students to “choose” a military career. The unelected Chicago Board of Education imposed militarized public education on Chicago without a public dialogue about its consequences. This is unacceptable. While adults may elect to join the military, as many must do for educational and career opportunities, children should not have to do so to secure a safe and vibrant learning environment.
2. Military programs and schools are targeted at low-income youth of color. This is a Defense Department strategy—target schools where students are perceived more likely to enlist and then recruit them intensively, with tactics including gifts, home visits, mailings, surprise in school visit when guardians are not present, and even free video games promoting the glories of war and offering chances to “kill” and more. Indeed, the Defense Department spends as much as $2.6 billion each year on recruiting. Mayor Daley supports this push by starving neighborhood schools in low income communities of funds and other resources, creating resource-rich selective admission schools in higher income areas, and a mid-tier of military schools that look like the only chance for a safe and strong education for many Chicago families.
3. Military schools and programs promote obedience and conformity. A 16 year-old student attending the naval academy in Chicago said, “When people see that we went to a military school, they know we’re obedient, we follow directions, we’re disciplined.” She understands the qualities her school aims to develop—obedience and direction-following. Prioritizing youth development would mean providing all students with what children of the wealthy routinely receive—art education, sports and physical education, drama clubs and science labs, after-school activities, study trips, and more.
4. Military schools and programs promote and practice discrimination. Although the Chicago Board of Education, City of Chicago, Cook County, and the State of Illinois all prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, the United States Military condones discrimination against lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men. Promoters of these schools and programs are ignoring the fact that queer students attending these schools can’t access military college benefits or employment possibilities, and that queer teachers can’t be hired to serve as JROTC instructors in these schools; this double standard should not be tolerated.
Many local (and national) groups, alarmed by military recruitment happening in our public schools, are countering this push: American Friends Service Committee, Save Senn, CAMi (Comite Anti-Militarizacion). In addition to working with and supporting these groups, TAME aims to organize the attention, resources and policy muscles of academics in education, as well as teachers and teacher educators nationally and locally— to get, and keep, the military out of our public, and civilian, schools. ♦
For more information on TAME,