Erin O’Connor’s wonderful edu-blog Critical Mass cites this New York Times story (registration required) about the soaring growth of public military academies, especially in poor city neighborhoods with large populations of blacks and Hispanics. Turns out both students and their parents are thrilled with the order, discipline, and emphasis on academic excellence that are the schools’ hallmark. Erin writes:

“Chicago has led the way in establishing such schools, and Philadelphia is now following: The Philadelphia Military Academy opened last September, and two more such schools will open in the next two years; there are already over 2000 applicants for the 125 spots that these academies will be opening to students in the fall.”

And here’s a big chunk of the New York Times story quoted by Erin:

“Chicago now has three public Army-oriented high schools with more than 1,600 students, and officials plan to open a public naval academy in September. The city also has eight military academies within regular high schools.

“‘I’m the biggest fan of small schools everywhere, and the military academy option is very attractive,’ said Arne Duncan, chief executive officer of the Chicago public schools. ‘It helps to define a culture, and many students thrive in that culture.’

“In recent years public and charter military academies have also opened in California, Minnesota, Maryland and Florida, and officials say there is interest elsewhere.

“‘We get phone calls all the time from schools – I’ve had visits from Alabama, Texas, Atlanta,’ said Col. Rick Mills, director of the Department of Military Schools and the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps for Chicago public schools. ‘I’ve even received a call from London.’

“Current interest in public military schools is a marked contrast to the public’s cool attitude toward private military academies, many of them boarding schools, after the Vietnam War. There were more than 270 private military secondary schools and colleges 40 years ago, but there are fewer than 40 today. The decline in the number of private academies has stabilized in recent years, but the growth is occurring in the public sector.

“Those gains are fueled by the urgent desire of many parents and students for an orderly, safe academic environment, and by some funds from the Department of Defense.

“‘Most people take a look at today’s political situation – Iraq and all – and don’t want to come,’ said Louis Adams, 14, a student at the Philadelphia Military Academy who was hesitant when he first heard about the school. ‘They don’t know this isn’t a boot camp but a controlled environment, where you don’t worry about the kid next to you pulling a knife on you.'”

It’s fascinating, isn’t it, that while our elite pooh-pooh military schools as breeding grounds for right-wing politics, youngsters from poor neighborhoods crave the experience. And naturally, as the New York Times reports, critics hate the fact that such schools actually make military life look attractive–and we can’t have that:

“But if supporters look at public military schools in Philadelphia and elsewhere and see islands of stability in chaotic urban seas, critics view them — and the Pentagon’s material support for them — as little more than a means to market the military to poor and working-class minority children.”


Meanwhile, while the military academies train youngsters to be little fascists (that is, to study and behave themselves), let’s see what some of the regular public schools are doing (courtesy of another of our edu-blog faves, Kimberly Swygert of Number 2 Pencil)

Looking the other way and refusing to call the police when a 16-year-old disabled high school girl is punched in the face and forced to perform videotaped sexual acts with male students in the school auditorium while other students look on. (An assistant prinicipal at Mifflin High School in Columbus, Ohio, even asked the girl’s father not to dial 911 for fear of alerting the media after the girl was found bleeding from the mouth–advice the father promptly ignored.)
Planning to sue the federal government (as the state of Connecticut is doing) to avoid having to comply with student-testing requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act while still collecting the federal funding that is supposed to be contingent on complying with the act. State officials said they already know that minority children perform worse than whites as a whole in school–so why bother testing them? Why not just collect the boodle and spend it on something else? And of course we know that the hated George W. Bush is behind the testing requirements! When U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings accused the Connecticut school officials of engaging in “the soft bigotry of lowered expectations” (Bush’s famous phrase), Connecticut Education Secretary Betty J. Sternberg, who is Jewish, played the Holocaust card and demanded an apology from Spellings on the ground that it was “outrageous” to accuse her of bigotry because her family had suffered in the past from anti-Semitic violence.

Forbidding teachers to use red ink in marking up student papers because the color makes the little darlings feel traumatized. The Other Charlotte has a terrific post on this one, too (see her Seeing Red, April 12).

No wonder the kids and their parents are flocking to military academies as a sane alternative