by The Other Katherine Harris
Dec. 2, 2007
Quick — think of an armed child.
Bet you pictured one in Africa — they get most of the press — but plenty of other kids also serve in combat and as military auxiliaries in Asia, Eurasia, the Middle East and war-torn bits of South America. They number between 250,000 and 500,000, depending on whose numbers you like, most of them victims of abduction or “volunteers” rendered dependent on warlords by the ruin of their communities.
No matter how their services are obtained, the young make shockingly good soldiers. In their utter vulnerability, they do exactly as they’re told, so no atrocity is past them. When you don’t have a fully formed moral code — or even a fully formed brain — shooting someone becomes “as easy as drinking a glass of water,” says Ishmael Beah, a former adolescent soldier turned author of A Long Way Gone.
Much harder is curtailing this perverse mutation of violence, once unleashed. It isn’t just a matter of resolving the local conflict and sending everybody home. As Beah advised delegates at a UNICEF conference this year, “You have to find a way so that they are able to go to school or feel strongly that they can provide for themselves. If not, they know how to use a gun. And there is a conflict next door that is offering $100 a day and all you can loot, and they will go back to that.”
From being made a warrior in Sierra Leone at 13, Beah should know and he warns us that, for a child raised to value violence, “It is the most difficult thing to regain your humanity. ”
So why the devil are we jeopardizing that of our own children, by militarizing our secondary schools?
Maybe you don’t realize how far the process has gone; I didn’t, until a recent Agence France Presse article inspired me to peek under the rock. That the AFP piece ran alongside news of the Shrub/Maliki Occupation Forever-After Pact supplied further impetus to research.
Despite official denials, of course it’s a conveyor-belt to enlistment; the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program long extant in some high schools reliably recruits 30-50 percent of kids enrolled (70 percent enlisting at the lowest rank, despite the misleading reference to “officer training” that suggests members will go on to college).
Now Pentagon tentacles are grasping even farther: expanding JROTC into more high schools and even middle schools, while also establishing full-time “military academies” that take over public high schools wholly or in part and, shielded from local oversight, alter their curricula to teach battle tactics, military history, supposed “leadership” (in the ass-backward form of dutifully following orders) and even marksmanship.
There used to be legislative limits on military intrusion into public education, but now virtually none exist. Just as “No Child Left Behind” came with an unheralded provision giving recruiters easy access to student information (unless parents specifically opt their kids out) and the right to roam campuses at will, the Defense Spending Authorization Act of 2003 sneaked in removal of a national cap on JROTC units (previously 3,500).
I haven’t yet been able to determine what Shrub-era law empowered armed forces to take direct control of schools, but compliant School Boards are letting them do it, with Chicago leading the charge. By next year, the Windy City will round out a full menu of armed forces-led high schools, by adding an Air Force “academy” to those under Army, Navy or Marine Corps aegis. Besides five academies operating there now, nearly three dozen high schools and 26 middle schools offer JROTC. More than 11,000 Chicago students get regular Pentagon indoctrination today; a near-term goal of 15,000 has been set; and Mayor Richard Daley has been quoted as saying he’d like to see military influence in every classroom.
Nationwide, about 500,000 public school kids are already enrolled in military programs, thanks largely to Colin Powell, who as a general heading the Joint Chiefs of Staff sold Congress on a hurry-up plan to expand JROTC units from about 1,600 to 3,500 between 1992 and 1997. The Los Angeles riots are said to have sparked the idea, but those may have merely provided a convenient pretext. With the Cold War over, the Pentagon empire faced downsizing and potential irrelevance. As they cast about for a timely mission, they must’ve found JROTC ideal: capable of supplying cheap grunts, while also absorbing “downsized” officers of middle rank into cushy jobs funded by others and even juicing military PR. Nobody seemed to notice that reanimating in a time of peace a program devised during a world war was, in essence, absurd. ROTC and JROTC got their start under the National Defense Act of 1916, as a reasonable enough means of improving the readiness of college and high school boys facing likely conscription, so revisionists who allege that it was always about developing “citizenship” in teens are misinformed or lying.
Either to inject JROTC or to make an outright school grab, at least one military branch probably has on its “target” list a campus near you — although perhaps not quite near enough to affect your kids, since they specialize in colonizing the wrong side of the tracks. They want low-income minority recruits and claim to provide needed discipline and purpose for “at-risk” students, but in fact they carefully cull out those who might pose problems, academic or behavioral. ” Junior cadets” have to be basically good kids with average or better grades. Usually they’re so fed up with the anarchy permitted in their neighborhood schools that the relative tranquility afforded by martial law seems like a breath of fresh air. The teens are also lured by whiz-bang inducements like laptops — this while many students in regular schools still have to share books.
Yes, our normal school systems are being robbed to fund this takeover. School districts receive initial Pentagon subsidies (also paid from our pockets, of course), but are saddled with ongoing costs for facilities, maintenance, insurance, employee benefits and taxes, as well as inflated salaries to retired military personnel often deemed qualified to teach only by the military. Because each JROTC unit, including just 100-150 members, requires an average annual outlay of close to $80,000 — enough to pay two or three full-time certified teachers — some traditional electives typically drop off the schedule. Loss of choices like music, art or perhaps an extra foreign language or sports team impoverishes the educational experience for everyone. JROTC, mind you, is accredited only as a substitute for gym class, and yet localities across the country picked up a tab of more than $220 million for the program last year. That money represents an equal-sized hole in real educational opportunities.
And, when an entire school falls under Pentagon control, the expense grows to staggering size: up to a million dollars yearly for a single facility.
So what about results?Are schools and taxpayers getting anything worthwhile for these enormous sacrifices?
Admittedly, some teachers appreciate the effect of martial law on schoolhouse order,given that their own ability to impose discipline was taken from them decades ago in the often-misguided cause of “children’s rights”. Most educators, however, are appalled by the discrimination inherent in these programs (which bar the disabled, homosexuals and non-citizens) and by their glorification of robotic obedience, ultra-nationalism and violence. They point out that JROTC makes a mockery of attempts to create safe, weapons-free schools by bringing guns and mock-guns onto the premises, and that JROTC-connected murders, gang activities and serious hazing incidents have occurred.
Most families and students oppose school militarization on the same grounds cited by teachers. Those who favor it are pretty much what you’d expect:extreme conservatives and/or people gullible enough still to believe the lies about valuable job training and financial aid for college. As many Iraq vets are finding now to their surprise and chagrin, very few skills associated with military service transfer into the civilian world and shaking any college funds out of the Pentagon piggybank is well-nigh impossible these days. Uncle Sam doesn’t even want to take responsibility for soldiers who’ve had their legs blown off or their brains rearranged.
Well, what about academic achievement?Enhancing this is supposed to be the big draw, but gains are both rare and as fairly attributable to selective enrollment as to any other factor. When your institution operates as a “magnet school” free to decline applications from kids with poor grades, health problems and behavior issues, you do start ahead of the herd. Even so, none of Chicago’s “military academies” met Shrub’s No Child Left Behind testing standards last year. One posted the lowest pass rate in the city.
So what’s really going on? After researching the matter off and on for a week, I can’t find any merit in school militarization except for those who value producing eager cannon-fodder and docile workers with a pro-military bias.
In the course of my study, I took a close look at Chicago politics, too, trying to understand why a seemingly Democratic city would be the first to betray its neediest students and the egalitarian ideals of American schooling. With apologies to you who could answer the question in a heartbeat — and no doubt you’re legion — I’ll briefly explain what I found: namely that, with Democrats like Daley, who needs Republicans? Crony capitalism is his family game. It all fell into place for me, when I saw that he has a plan to privatize as much public education as he can possibly get away with, over the next few years, and that his brother was Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce and a key architect of the NAFTA debacle. It’s cute how close the Daleys are to Dennis Hastert, too, and how the wretch Rahm Emmanuel — DLC scourge of all Democrats who aspire to progressive policies — joined their stable after his stint as a top Clinton aide. Moreover, my prior piece about “The Gilding of Obama” didn’t half tell it and Dick Durbin has entered the Hypocrites’ Pantheon in my mind, for introducing the “Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2007” in the Senate, but lacking a clue that most people opposed a “naval academy” at Chicago’s Senn High School, until after he’d lent lavish praise at its heavily stage-managed dedication.