United States

What’s Happening to our
Public Schools?

By Bonnie Weinstein

President Obama named Arne Duncan, an old time friend and former Superintendent of Chicago’s Public Schools since 2001, as U.S. Secretary of Education.

Duncan’s responsible for Chicago leading the country in Public Military Schools and other Charter Schools. Chicago has six public military academies and is the only district with schools representing all four branches of the military. In fact, according to an AP article that appeared June 4, 2009 by Dorie Turner, “Duncan sees the schools as another option for kids who don’t fit well in a traditional educational setting…‘For the right child, these schools are a lifesaver,’ says Duncan.”

The article also points out, “Between five percent and ten percent of graduating seniors from the nation’s public military schools end up enlisting, according to an Associated Press review of the majority of the schools’ records. About three percent of all new high school graduates join the military, according to the U.S. Department of Education.”

All Charter schools receive public money but have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools in exchange for some type of academic achievement accountability set forth in each school’s charter. In some states, districts can allow corporations to open for-profit charter schools.

Basically, Charter schools can get rid of students that don’t do well and fire teachers at will. They can also be fully militarized.

According to a November 2, 2007 AP article by Sophia Tareen entitled, “Chicago Leads in Public Military Schools,”

The Chicago district runs the academies [public military schools], and the curriculum is similar to that of regular high schools. But the students are required to enroll in Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, operated by the Pentagon, and
the regimen includes uniform
inspections, drills, and lessons in military history.

School and military officials tout the academies’ emphasis on college preparation, discipline and character building.

“These are positive learning environments. I love the sense of leadership. I love the sense of discipline,” said Arne Duncan, chief executive of the Chicago school system.

At Rickover [Naval Academy], named for the admiral considered the father of the nuclear submarine, a student “watch” is posted at the entrance, standing attention when the principal passes. Students wear military-style JROTC uniforms and are called “recruits” until they earn the title “cadet.” Each class starts with a roll call in which students answer “On board, sir!”

The article continues,

…the military is deliberately trying to recruit poor blacks and Hispanics by setting up academies in a 435,000-student district that is more than 90 percent minority.

According to a June 29, 2009 truthout article entitled, “The Chicago Model of Militarizing Schools,” by teacher Brian Roa,

For the past four years, I have observed the military occupation of the high school where I teach science. Currently, Chicago’s Senn High School houses Rickover Naval Academy (RNA). I use the term “occupation” because part of our building was taken away despite student, parent, teacher and community opposition to RNAs opening.

Senn students are made to feel like second-class citizens inside their own school, due to inequalities. The facilities and resources are better on the RNA side. RNA students are allowed to walk on the Senn side, while Senn students cannot walk on the RNA side. RNA “disenrolls” students and we accept those students who get kicked out if they live within our attendance boundaries. This practice is against Chicago policy, but goes unchecked. All of these things maintain a two-tiered system within the same school building…Chicago has more military academies and more students in JROTC than any other city in the U.S.

Roa points out, “A favorite lie used to defend the expansion of military academies is that they are not used to recruit for the military.”

But, as Roa explains,

…military academies receive money from the Department of Defense (DoD). The DoD would be derelict in its responsibilities were that money not spent as an investment in future soldiers…Moreover, since military academies are staffed with ex-service members (many don’t even require valid teaching certificates), students are likely to receive career advice that favors a military path.

There are more blatant examples of recruiting at RNA. The cadets…have taken a school-sponsored field trip to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Furthermore, last year the school hosted Admiral Michael Mullen, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mullen told the cadets that the Navy was a “great career choice.” RNA has hosted ten admirals in their short four-year history.

In addition to these direct tactics, the academies use more insidious approaches. A military culture permeates these schools. Students dress in uniform, receive demerits, and are introduced to the military hierarchy and way of life. For example, I have witnessed students marching with fake rifles. This cultivation of a militarized mind is the best explanation for why 40 percent of all Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program graduates wind up entering military service [my emphasis]. This statistic is especially telling, considering that less than one percent of the population has served in the military at any given moment since 1975.

In short, Charter Schools are not only a direct attack on public education; they are designed to expand the role of the military in our schools.

Obama increases school

The militarization is not only increasing in our elementary and secondary schools. There’s a new twist on military recruitment in the colleges. In an article entitled “Son of PRISP, Obama’s Classroom Spies,” by David Price that appeared in Counterpunch on June 23, 2009,

…at its core, the new administration remains committed to staying the course of American militarization. Now we have an articulate, nuanced president who supports elements of progressive domestic policies, can even comfortably say the phrase LGBT in public speeches, while funding military programs at alarming levels and continuing the Bush administration’s military and intelligence invasion of what used to be civilian life.

The latest manifestation of this continuity came last week when Dennis C. Blair, Director of National Intelligence, announced plans to transform the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program (PRISP) from a pilot project into a permanent budget item. Blair also announced plans to establish a “Reserve Officers’ Training Corps” to train unidentified [my emphasis] future intelligence officers in U.S. college classrooms. Like students receiving PRISP funds, the identities of students participating in these programs would not be known to professors, university administrators or fellow students—in effect, these future intelligence analysts and agents would conduct their first covert missions in our university classrooms… PRISP links undergraduate and graduate students with U.S. security and intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA) or CIA, and unannounced to universities, professors or fellow-students. PRISP-students enter American university campuses, classrooms, laboratories and professor’s offices without disclosing links to these agencies… President Obama’s ability to bring a new liberal credibility to this warmed-over Bush era project will induce many faculty and students to seriously consider participating in these programs. Times are hard and as funds get scarce it will be increasingly difficult for many to say no.

This development is just the latest installment in ongoing efforts to increase the militarization of American higher education. None of this should be surprising in a nation that alone spends about 48 percent of the planet’s military budget.

What “military thinking”
does to our kids

As publisher of the Bay Area United Against War (BAUAW) newsletter and blog (, I sometimes get letters from readers not in the movement. One such letter was from a veteran of the first Gulf War and was delivered to me in person after a Board of Education meeting in March 2005.

This young man, in his mid-thirties, suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He had come to the Board of Education meeting to read the letter to the Board members that evening because they were considering arguments for and against the continuation of Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (JROTC) in the San Francisco Schools. He wanted to give his reasons for opposing JROTC and military recruiters in schools.

We had been encouraging people to come to the Board meetings and speak out against JROTC and many people from the antiwar movement came to speak. When he approached the microphone we had no idea what he was going to say. He began to read his letter.

Here’s an excerpt:

I refer to these recruiters as gang members and animals because in 1987 a Marine gang member approached me. He also sold me on a better way of life. He sold me on how I can be high speed and low drag by enlisting and taking Recon indoct. He also told me of these benefits I would be eligible for after I’m done servicing his machine. It’s his machine that has left me with horrors I still cannot comprehend. What lives inside me is a screaming white-hot anger that has made me a social recluse. I’m afraid of the anger that lives inside. Fifteen years later I still deal with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the inability to sleep through the night.

But what he didn’t highlight was how I will give up everything I know and what is good in this world to trade it in for a violent and very mean view of life. I’m not going to preach to you today about the lies they weave to hit quota. No, what I am asking you for today is to consider this... imagine your child, grandson, daughter, neighbor’s kids—children. See the mold of clay waiting to become a work of art.

They’re good kids, kids you love, kids who love you, kids with such promise, kids who just need a better understanding of what’s out there. A kid who could be the next doctor to come up with the answer for cancer...O.K., ya got that...?

Now imagine this kid goes and joins the military. Let’s use the United States Marine Corps (U.S.MC). What is it that you think they teach them? They first teach them how to defend the constitution from aggressors both foreign and domestic. Not how to work on seven tons...or build radar systems, or how to rebuild Harrier jet turbines. Things they are promised by the recruiter. No! The job of the military personal—’ya know, the good kid—is to defend the constitution and our way of life 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. That means job one is to kill until the killin’ is done. How do you think they teach a good kid to kill? Good kids don’t know the first thing about killing. It’s why they’re good kids. So what do you do...brainwash them to do it. That’s what boot camp is for. That son and daughter will become a sanctioned government 03 killer at the end of 12 weeks of boot camp. Have you ever lived with a killer? Probably not. But my wife and parents have.

To this day my mom doesn’t recognize me as the same person who left in 1987. Her words, “What happened to you over there? You left me a happy and carefree kid who loved being around people. And now you come back as a mean, hateful, angry animal who hates people. Where is my child?”

“I don’t know mom, you need to ask the recruiter.”

And the beast came to feed on my innocence. When he was done he left me with anger and memories of horror.

Then, he was cut off.

War is not healthy for children and other living things

The military has a powerful influence over our children. One of the functions of the JROTC as a self-described “community service” student group is to perform marching drills at elementary schools and middle and high school sporting events and graduations. They were the honor guard in this year’s Memorial Day celebration in San Francisco’s Presidio. They view the military as a viable career option; as a way to get a college education; a way to become a citizen; or as a way to “stay out of trouble.” They have a strong sense of “brotherhood” towards one-another, but not toward their fellow non-military students; and they learn to obey the chain of command and idolize their military superiors.

Meanwhile, the economy is plunging massive numbers of people into poverty with no prospect of getting a job that will support them, let alone, a family. Obama’s stimulus package claims that 3,657,000 jobs will be either created or retained by 2010. But in the last six months, lay-offs were at twice that rate. And in the planned 16-month span until 2010, six million teenagers will turn 18!1

In a July 2, 2009 article in Times by Peter S. Goodman and Jack Healy entitled, “U.S. Job Losses Rise in June as Unemployment Reaches 9.5 Percent,” “The American economy lost 467,000 jobs in June…”

The public schools are being shuttered at an alarming rate. In San Francisco they call it “school consolidation.” It sounds better than saying, “we’re going to merge two schools into one whenever and wherever possible; enlarge class size; lay off teachers and school support staff; cut after-school programs for students; and even cut off meals programs that so many students depend on for their daily nourishment—such as it is.

While the government is spending trillions of dollars on corporate bailouts and the military, our schools are being decimated. Healthcare is more unavailable than ever before. Social service safety nets—clinics, food banks, shelters—are starved of resources and completely inadequate to meet the growing needs.

So, lets take stock of things as they stand. What would a rational society
—a society designed to solve problems—do, faced with a situation like we have today?

Logic would dictate that instead of pouring money into the pockets of the wealthy few; and investing it in war, plunder, occupation, death and destruction (to benefit the wealthy few); we should pour it into the things most people in the world need like housing, healthcare, education. Expanding, building and supplying these would create jobs and produce real benefits in the living conditions of all working people.

What do our children need?

Our children must inherit a healthy world. No child should have to worry where their next meal will come from or whether their parents will return home safely to them. No child should have to survive bombs or famine. No child should see their parents broken and sick and unable to care for even themselves. No child’s “career choice” should be to kill other children.

1 2001 Statistical Abstract of the United States