Poverty, Militarism and the Public Schools
Robert C. Koehler | Originally published in CommonDreams -
What’s the difference between education and obedience? If you see very little, you probably have no problem with the militarization of the American school system — or rather, the militarization of the impoverished schools . . . the ones that can’t afford new textbooks or functional plumbing, much less art supplies or band equipment.
The Pentagon has been eyeing these schools — broken and gang-ridden — for a decade now, and seeing its future there. It comes in like a cammy-clad Santa, bringing money and discipline. In return it gets young minds to shape, to (I fear) possess: to turn into the next generation of soldiers, available for the coming wars.
The United States no longer has a draft because the nation no longer believes in war, except abstractly, as background noise. But it has an economic draft: It claims recruits largely from the neighborhoods of hopelessness. Joining the U.S. military is the only opportunity to escape poverty available to millions of young Americans. We have no government programs to build the infrastructure of peace and environmental sustainability — we can’t afford that, so it has to happen on its own (or not at all) — but our military marches on, funded at more than half a trillion dollars a year, into ever more pointless wars of aggression.
Glory, glory hallelujah. I’d never been to a Memorial Day parade in my life, but I went to this year’s parade in downtown Chicago because members of the Chicago chapter of Veterans for Peace were going to be there, protesting the militarization of the city’s schools.
Thanks for Your Service, but Don't Tell the Kids About It (We Need Them to Enlist)
Emily Yates | Originally published in Truthout -
The question came over my right shoulder, from a well-dressed woman whose nametag proclaimed her to be a member of the Chamber of Commerce in Pittsburg, California. We were in the Pittsburg High School gymnasium, the location of an end-of-year career fair for graduating seniors. Two other veterans and I, along with a civilian friend, were tabling there with the Full Picture Coalition, a network of individuals dedicated to bringing students the truth about military recruitment, and we'd been conversing with students for nearly two hours before the woman interrupted us to demand, with eyes narrowed, what kind of negativity we might be spreading. Alex, one of the veterans in our group (and a former Army recruiter himself), smiled at her.
"We're just telling the students about our experience, ma'am," he said. "We're veterans."
I was one of the lucky ones -- my recruiter never promised me I wouldn't see combat. Yet that was a common tactic, as others I met would tell me.
Another woman, also from the Pittsburg Chamber, approached. I recognized her as the one who'd shown us where to set up our table that morning.
"I thought you were here to tell students about corporate jobs they could get after the military," she snapped, glaring at our display of colorful pamphlets and flyers, including one titled "Questions to Ask Your Military Recruiter." "I think you need to leave."
These Grannies Are Helping to Plug the School-to-Military Pipeline at Its Source
Joyce Chu -
When teachers are underpaid and schools are underserved, why do we pay veterans to encourage young students to join the military?
On a Wednesday afternoon last month, a group of gray-haired women with canes and Styrofoam guns lined the streets outside the New York City Department of Education’s headquarters in Brooklyn. “Get the military out of our schools!” they shouted, capturing pedestrians’ attention. “No more JROTC!” These were the courageous women of the Granny Peace Brigade, and they were there to protest what they see as the militarization of the city’s public schools.
In his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Mayor Bill de Blasio allocates some $1.6 million to fund Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs in high schools across the city. Under the program, schools pay retired veterans to teach a military-oriented curriculum approved by the Department of Defense (DOD). If a student decides to enroll, the JROTC class fills a period just like any other; it is incorporated into her daily schedule, and the student receives credit upon successful completion. Instruction may vary by school, but activities often include inspections, physical exercises, discussion of military-approved textbooks, exams, and lessons prepared by the instructor. Some programs may also require students to dedicate their after-school hours to practice marching and shooting—activities that often occur on the school’s grounds.
Nationwide, the costs of JROTC are even more startling. A 2004 study by the American Friends Service Committee found that schools across the United States were spending $222 million annually on JROTC instructor salaries alone. The DOD funds the rest of the program’s expenses: In 2013, that amounted to another $365 million.
Ever since the elimination of the draft in 1973, the presence of military recruiters and JROTC programs has increased in high schools all across the United States. Because the government could no longer compel service, it became necessary to find other ways to persuade young men and women to sign up. And what more opportune place to influence kids than in schools? In 1970, 54 years after the program’s inception under the administration of President Woodrow Wilson, the Army had 585 units operating nationwide. Now there are over 1,700 chapters of the Army’s JROTC branch established in schools across the country—and about the same number operated by other branches of the military. This escalation of the program was necessary for the military “to ensure they can continue recruiting some 200,000 new members that need to be added every year,” says Seth Kershner, a researcher who writes about the counter-recruitment movement. “It’s a huge undertaking.”
This Ex–Army Ranger Goes on Missions to High Schools—but Not to Recruit
Rory Fanning -
For a decade, Afghanistan vet Rory Fanning has been battling the desire to inflict pain on himself. Instead, he visits schools.
Early each New Year’s Day I head for Lake Michigan with a handful of friends. We look for a quiet stretch of what, only six months earlier, was warm Chicago beach. Then we trudge through knee-deep snow in bathing suits and boots, fighting wind gusts and hangovers. Sooner or later, we arrive where the snowpack meets the shore and boot through a thick crust of lake ice, yelling and swearing as we dive into near-freezing water.
It took me a while to begin to understand why I do this every year, or for that matter why for the last decade since I left the military I’ve continued to inflict other types of pain on myself with such unnerving regularity. Most days, for instance, I lift weights at the gym to the point of crippling exhaustion. On summer nights, I sometimes swim out alone as far as I can through mats of hairy algae into the black water of Lake Michigan in search of what I can only describe as a feeling of falling.
A few years ago, I walked across the United States with 50 pounds on my back for the Pat Tillman Foundation in an obsessive attempt to rid myself of “my” war. On the weekends, I clean my house similarly obsessively. And it’s true, sometimes I drink too much.
In part, it seems, I’ve been in search of creative ways to frighten myself, apparently to relive the moments in the military I said I never wanted to go through again—or so a psychiatrist told me anyway. According to that doctor (and often I think I’d be the last to know), I’m desperately trying to recreate adrenalizing moments like the one when, as an Army Ranger, I jumped out of an airplane at night into an area I had never before seen, not sure if I was going to be shot at as I hit the ground. Or I’m trying to recreate the energy I felt leaping from a Blackhawk helicopter, night vision goggles on, and storming my way into some nameless Afghan family’s home, where I would proceed to throw a sandbag over someone’s head and lead him off to an American-controlled, Guantánamo-like prison in his own country.
Education Action: Reining in Military Recruiting
Seth Kershner -
In 2012, Kate Connell—a photographer with two children in the Santa Barbara public schools—learned that her son’s freshman seminar had a Marine recruiter as a guest speaker. Her son had challenged the recruiter, saying he didn’t like the way the U.S. military was always bombing other countries. At first, Connell thought, “Oh, it’s great you spoke up for yourself and spoke up for peace.”
Her second reaction was: “Oh, my gosh! The Marines were in his freshman class!”
Connell had a long, but dormant, history as an anti-war activist. When the Gulf War started in 1991, she was living in New York City, and she volunteered with the War Resisters League (WRL). Her main job with WRL was helping active-duty military file for conscientious objector status. Later, she relocated to Austin, Texas, where whe worked with Sustainable Options for Youth, visiting local high schools to stimulate discussions with students about “military myths.”
The shock she felt about the Marines targeting her 14-year-old and his classmates spurred her into resuming the activism she had left behind in Austin. The following summer, Connell started campaigning for stronger military recruiter access policies in the 14,000-student school district.