Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

One Bush Left Behind by Greg Palast

January 29, 2008

One Bush Left Behind by Greg Palast

Dandelion Salad

by Greg Palast
January 29th, 2008

Here’s your question, class:

In his State of the Union, the President asked Congress for $300 million for poor kids in the inner city. As there are, officially, 15 million children in America living in poverty, how much is that per child? Correct! $20.

Here’s your second question. The President also demanded that Congress extend his tax cuts. The cost: $4.3 trillion over ten years. The big recipients are millionaires. And the number of millionaires happens, not coincidentally, to equal the number of poor kids, roughly 15 million of them. OK class: what is the cost of the tax cut per millionaire? That’s right, Richie, $287,000 apiece.

Mr. Bush said, “In neighborhoods across our country, there are boys and girls with dreams. And a decent education is their only hope of achieving them.”

So how much educational dreaming will $20 buy?

-George Bush’s alma mater, Phillips Andover Academy, tells us their annual tuition is $37,200. The $20 “Pell Grant for Kids,” as the White House calls it, will buy a poor kid about 35 minutes of this educational dream. So they’ll have to wake up quickly.

-$20 won’t cover the cost of the final book in the Harry Potter series.

If you can’t buy a book nor pay tuition with a sawbuck, what exactly can a poor kid buy with $20 in urban America? The Palast Investigative Team donned baseball caps and big pants and discovered we could obtain what local citizens call a “rock” of crack cocaine. For $20, we were guaranteed we could fulfill any kid’s dream for at least 15 minutes.

Now we could see the incontrovertible logic in what appeared to be quixotic ravings by the President about free trade with Colombia, Pell Grant for Kids and the surge in Iraq. In Iraq, General Petraeus tells us we must continue to feed in troops for another ten years. There is no way the military can recruit these freedom fighters unless our lower income youth are high, hooked and desperate. Don’t say, ‘crack vials,’ they’re, ‘Democracy Rocks’!

The plan would have been clearer if Mr. Bush had kept in his speech the line from his original draft which read, “I have ordered 30,000 additional troops to Iraq this year – and I am proud to say my military-age kids are not among them.”

Of course, there’s an effective alternative to Mr. Bush’s plan – which won’t cost a penny more. Simply turn it upside down. Let’s give each millionaire in America a $20 bill, and every poor child $287,000.

And, there’s an added benefit to this alternative. Had we turned Mr. Bush and his plan upside down, he could have spoken to Congress from his heart.

-For more on Bush and education read “No Child’s Behind Left” in Armed Madhouse excerpted here.

-Also read Palast’s take on the 2007 State of the Union here.

Greg Palast is the author of the NY Times best-sellers, Armed Madhouse and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. View Palast’s investigative reports for BBC Television on our YouTube Channel.

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Testing expert deplores ‘teaching to the test’

August 2, 2007

Testing expert deplores ‘teaching to the test’

By Beverly Akerman

Louis Volante

Louis Volante
Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj


Animated, dynamic, passionate about his subject, Louis Volante comes across as the kind of teacher one remembers warmly years after graduation.

He arrived at Concordia last summer as an assistant professor of education. He has taught at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, where he obtained his PhD, and also at Ryerson University and the University of Hawaii.

His research is focused on educational evaluation and assessment, and he talks about it in everyday language, avoiding jargon.

“I try, even in my academic writing, to use the clearest, most accessible language possible,” he said in an interview. “I want my work to be read not just by academic colleagues but by those affected in practice: teachers, legislators and the public.”

Volante’s most recent article outlines his ideas on the use and abuse of standardized tests. “Teaching to the test: What every educator and policy-maker should know” was published in the Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy.

He describes the corrupting effect of what he calls “high-stakes” standardized testing. There are jurisdictions in the United States where schools receive merit-based financing. If their students do well, as measured by standardized tests, the schools benefit monetarily.

The result sometimes is “teaching to the test,” where teachers spend too much time preparing students for the test rather than simply covering the curriculum. Volante also reports instances where teachers or administrators have given students the answers to boost scores because so much depends on them.

The use of such tests is a growing phenomenon in Canada as well. Standardized test results are snapshots, but they can distract public attention from a three-dimensional view of a student’s performance.

For example, in language arts, reading and writing are typically measured, “but a well-rounded literacy program also includes speaking and listening components, which are usually not part of these tests.” To design, administer and evaluate tests measuring all four parameters would substantially increase their cost, and duplicate the ongoing evaluation of students by teachers.

Volante developed assessment guidelines for the Grade 10 Literacy Test, now a graduation requirement for secondary students in Ontario. Unfortunately, many students fail the test despite repeated attempts.

“Ontario may be forced to issue special diplomas for those who have met all other graduation requirements but just can’t pass these tests, because without a high school diploma, students cannot continue their education” even in trade and technical schools.

There are two models for standardized tests. Norm-referenced tests create bell curve distributions of the scores of those writing them, against which each student is ranked. This competitive model results in many failures by definition, since half the students will always be below average.

Volante much prefers criterion-referenced tests, where student performance is measured against pre-set standard for success; using this model, it is at least possible for each student to pass.

Testing may help identify student strengths and weaknesses, but it is frequently misused to track school performance. Volante deplores the annual “report cards” published by the Fraser Institute because schools are ranked against one another, meaning there will always be lots of “failures.”

“Since we know that the single greatest predictor of student performance is the student’s socio-economic background, how does it help a poor family on one side of the city to be told that the ‘best school’ is located at the other end?”

What standardized tests usually “reveal” is the superior performance of “private” schools.

In Quebec, nearly all private schools actually receive large government subsidies. Volante subscribes to the notion that every dollar taken from the public system weakens it. “Why, as a society, if we won’t support two-tier health care, do we support two-tier education?”

Miller Outlines Proposed Changes for NCLB

August 1, 2007

Miller Outlines Proposed Changes for NCLB

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The chairman of the House education committee said today that the No Child Left Behind Act is not working as well as it should, and that there was no support among lawmakers for continuing the law without significant revisions.

“Throughout our schools and communities, the American people have a very strong sense that the No Child Left Behind Act is not fair, not flexible, and is not funded. And they are not wrong,” Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said in remarks at the National Press Club to outline his priorities for reauthorizing the law.

Rep. Miller said that both Democrats and Republicans on the Education and Labor Committee had listened closely to various critiques of the law and were working toward ironing out a bipartisan reauthorization bill that he hopes the House could pass early this fall.

“I can tell you that there are no votes in the U.S. House of Representatives for continuing the No Child Left Behind Act without making serious changes to it,” Mr. Miller said. “It is my intention as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee to pass a bill in September, both in committee and on the floor of the House.”

The NCLB act passed Congress with broad bipartisan support and was signed into law in early 2002 by President Bush as a five-year reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Its centerpiece is a requirement that schools test students annually in reading and math in grades 3-8, and once in high school. Schools that fail to meet performance benchmarks face a series of consequences.

Adjusting Accountability

Rep. Miller said his first goal for the next version of the law will be to provide schools with more flexibility and fairness. His bill will introduce so-called growth models, accountability approaches that give schools credit for the progress that students make over time instead of just comparing one cohort of a grade of students with its predecessor.

The U.S. Department of Education is conducting a growth-model pilot program in which 12 states have been approved to use the method for complying with the NCLB law.

See Also

For more discussion on this topic, see our blog NCLB: Act II.

Mr. Miller said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings deserved credit for her leadership on making the law more flexible and for the growth-model pilot.

Meanwhile, another change in the law’s accountability framework that Rep. Miller plans to propose is the use of so-called multiple measures to determine whether a school is achieving adequate yearly progress under the law. He said the law would continue to include annual tests of reading and mathematics in most grades.

“We will allow the use of additional valid and reliable measures to assess student learning and school performance more fairly, comprehensive, and accurately,” Mr. Miller said. “One such measure for high schools must be graduation rates.”

Pressed about the extent of relief from test scores that such other measures might provide schools, Mr. Miller said students would have to be close to scoring proficient on math and reading tests for such measures to play a role.

“This is not an escape hatch,” he said.

Performance Pay

Rep. Miller said his bill would provide for performance pay for principals and teachers “based on fair and proven models.”

Joel Packer, the director of education policy and practice for the National Education Association, said the teachers’ union would oppose the inclusion of performance pay as a requirement for schools and districts to receive funding under the reauthorized NCLB.

“We are opposed to, in this bill, for the federal government to tell schools and school districts that if you take this pot of money you must include test scores as one of the measures of evaluating or compensating teachers,” Mr. Packer said. “The other thing with linking evaluations to test scores is that there is not much of a track record to see where it works. So if it is relatively unproven, why would the federal government require it?”

Mr. Miller’s bill will also include more emphasis on improving U.S. high schools.

“The bill will include comprehensive steps to turn around low-performing high schools,” he said, including uniform standards for measuring graduation rates.

Rep. Miller declined to put a specific price tag on his bill, but he called for “a greater and sustained investment in American education.”

Warning on Veto

He swung a minor political jab at President Bush by saying that the president’s legacy on education “cannot be established if he vetoes the education funding in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill.”

The White House has threatened a veto for the fiscal year 2008 bill that covers Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education department programs. The measure has passed the House with a nearly 8 percent increase in Education Department spending.

But Rep. Miller praised the administration’s input on reauthorizing the law and stressed that his committee had a tradition of bipartisanship.

“There are differences between us,” he said, in reference to Democrats and Republicans on the education committee. “We’re trying to iron them out. We’re trying to not let any of them be a deal breaker.”

Steve Forde, a spokesman for Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, the ranking Republican on the House education committee, agreed in a phone interview that Rep. Miller has included Republicans in the process.

“It’s been a bipartisan process,” Mr. Forde said. “Will it be a bipartisan product? That’s debatable. The devil is in the details.”

A statement by Rep. McKeon said he was “disappointed by the pace of negotiations” over the reauthorization.

“The content of the legislation is far more important than the calendar,” Rep. McKeon said, “and any attempts to weaken the law will be met with stiff resistance from House Republicans who have already joined with the civil rights community and business leaders in expressing concerns that some of the Democrat proposals will undermine transparency for parents and the ability to hold schools accountable for student performance.”

Change of Outlook?

William L. Taylor, the chairman of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, a Washington watchdog group that has been a strong supporter of the NCLB law’s accountability measures, praised Mr. Miller’s priorities for reauthorization.

“It’s clear that whatever adjustments are made” to the law, “we’re going to have accountability remain the key,” said Mr. Taylor, who attended the National Press Club event.

Mr. Packer of the NEA, who was also present, said he noticed a change in tone on Rep. Miller’s part with regard to reauthorization of the school law.

“He has been much more of a defender of the existing law,” said Mr. Packer, who is the NEA’s chief lobbyist on NCLB. “But I think he is changing his view based on what he is hearing from educators, and based on what he is hearing from his fellow members, especially House freshmen.”

Back to the Real Basics

July 24, 2007

Back to the Real Basics
Education reform and the
traditional curriculum
The human brain has a sophisticated system for
organizing and integrating knowledge. Making
deliberate use of that system would significantly
improve student intellectual performance.
This contention, and its implications, have been
extensively explored in my books, journal
articles, and newspaper columns. For links to
those sources, and for reaction from across
America and abroad, go to:
Marion Brady
Education Reform and the Curriculum
“Standards!” “Accountability!” “Raise the bar!” “Rigor!” “No excuses!”
The slogans and catchwords of would-be school reformers are exploited by
politicians, broadcast by radio talk-show hosts, plastered on car bumpers, underlined
by newspaper editorialists, elaborated in the popular press, and taken seriously by
much of the general public.
They’re also favorite themes of those leaders of business and industry who, in the
1980s, began to elbow professional educators aside and work through Congress to
take over education reform. There’s little or nothing wrong with American
education, these leaders are certain, which can’t be made right by tightening
institutional screws.
Notwithstanding the arguments of experienced professional educators, the
conventional wisdom insists that teachers and students deserve most of the blame for
poor school performance. The conventional wisdom also has it that market forces
are the key to improvement. Let Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” work the miracles in
education it sometimes works in the marketplace. Stiffen competition — student
against student, teacher against teacher, school against school, system against system,
state against state, nation against nation. Test. Rank. Reward. Push. Punish.
Publicize. Penalize.
And when this strategy fails, privatize.
All of which is ironic, for in the world of business, the most respected opinion leaders
long ago concluded that poor performance nearly always indicates not a “people
problem” but a system problem.
And a system problem there is. Unless that problem is recognized, unless it’s
accepted that market forces don’t address it, unless it’s realized that tightening the
screws on the status quo is reactionary and counterproductive, America’s schools —
public, private, parochial, charter, virtual, whatever — won’t just fail to improve.
They’ll eventually self-destruct.
The major source of problems
All complex social institutions have problems, the most serious of which usually
stem from the process of “institutionalization.” Newly created problem-solving
organizations tend to adopt highly effective problem-solving procedures to which,
understandably, they become devoted. When, as is always the case, social change
alters the nature of the problems the organization was created to address, solving
those problems may become less important than protecting the familiar, onceeffective
This process is well along in education. Every society’s first priority — its basic
reason for educating — is survival. Survival requires making sense of experience.
The attempt to make more sense of experience gave rise to the academic disciplines
and the school subjects based on those disciplines. Now, however, protecting and
polishing those subjects has become more important than solving the problems which
led to their creation. Yes, specialized studies are essential. (Indeed, many more
should be offered.) But they need to be continuously re-keyed to real-world
problems, and that isn’t happening. We teach the young to solve quadratic equations,
diagram sentences, name the state capitals, and much else, not in the pursuit of life,
liberty, happiness or sense-making, but because it’s what we did last year, and the
year before that, and the year before that.
Until we re-think and rework the curriculum devised by the Committee of Ten in
1893, education “reform” — standards and accountability, raising the bar, imposing
rigor, rewarding and punishing — will produce little but political noise, student
hoop-jumping, educator burnout, ever-escalating costs, and increasing societal
inability to meet the demands of an unknown future.
The challenge isn’t, as the conventional wisdom assumes, to master the content of a
random assortment of school subjects, but to produce citizens with a substantial
understanding of themselves and the societies which shaped them, able to anticipate
the probable and possible long-term consequences of their actions, aware of the
trends of the era and the implications of those trends, equipped to weigh costs against
benefits and connect effects with causes, sensitive to moral and ethical issues,
respectful of individual and societal differences and mindful of the myriad potential
benefits of those differences, proficient in specific fields but not at the cost of an
understanding of the whole of which those fields are parts, and aware and supportive
of the processes which create and expand these qualities and characteristics.
A curriculum is the reason there are schools. Everything else — staffs, schedules,
buildings, budgets, vision statements — is just support system.
It might be supposed, then, that if discipline is poor, if students are dropping out, if
good teachers are leaving the profession, if bond levies are being defeated, if test
scores over the long term are flat — the curriculum would get a great deal of
attention as a possible major cause of those symptoms of poor performance.
It doesn’t. In fact, a survey of current reform proposals makes it clear that the
curriculum is getting no serious attention at all. A bit of folk wisdom may explain
why. “A fish,” according to an old saying, “would be the last to discover water.”
Today’s education reformers, immersed in the traditional curriculum for their entire
school experience, literally can’t imagine alternatives to it.
If schools are to be saved from terminal inertia and inevitable failure, the myriad
problems with the curriculum must be admitted and directly addressed. Here are
some of those problems:
1. An acceptable curriculum will be guided by a clear, overarching aim. No
such aim is presently in place.
2. Reality is systemically integrated, and the brain perceives it seamlessly.
The curriculum — which is supposed to model reality — ignores its holistic nature.
3. Knowledge is exploding, but no criteria establish what new knowledge is
important, or what old knowledge should be dropped from the curriculum to make
room for the new.
4. Recent years have brought new and useful insights into how the brain
processes information, but the discoveries are largely ignored.
5. Research confirms a relationship between intellectual development and
physical activity, art, music, varied experience and so on, but the curriculum treats
these as “frills” rather than essential.
6. The present curriculum is shaped primarily by expert opinion in a handful
of disciplines. Intellectually, there’s little students can do with this secondhand
information except try to remember it. Thought processes other than recall —
classifying, hypothesizing, generalizing, synthesizing, valuing, and so on — are
largely neglected.
7. The curriculum is inefficient. Lip service is given to student differences,
but general education requirements are so time-consuming there’s little opportunity
to develop individual abilities and pursue individual interests.
8. The traditional curriculum casts students in passive roles, as absorbers of
existing knowledge rather than as active creators of new knowledge. The future,
unknowable, demands a curriculum that teaches how to construct knowledge.
9. No convincing case is being made for the relevance of the content of the
traditional curriculum. “You’ll need to know this next year,” “It’s in the book,” and
“This will be on the test,” aren’t arguments likely to convince students that school
work merits their time, effort, and emotional commitment. Problems with boredom,
disengagement, classroom discipline, attendance, dropouts, walkouts and so on, are
inevitable consequences of a dysfunctional curriculum.
10. All humans have and use a system for organizing knowledge shaped by
their society. To make sense, to be remembered, and to be useful, everything taught
must fit into this system. If it doesn’t, it goes into short-term memory and soon
disappears. This knowledge-organizing framework isn’t “surfaced” so students can
examine, refine, and make deliberate use of it.
11. The traditional curriculum neglects vast areas of knowledge of critical
importance in personal decision making and in drafting wise public policy.
12. Change is a fact of life and is everywhere apparent in the natural and
human-made worlds. The traditional curriculum has no built-in mechanisms forcing
it to adapt to current reality, anticipate probable and possible futures, and shape
preferable ones.
13. The desire to learn is one of the deepest of all human drives. However,
instead of cultivating and encouraging this intrinsic love of learning, present
curriculum-based instruction relies primarily on extrinsic motivators — the threat of
failure, fear of censure, humiliation, or the law, or the promise of praise, gold stars,
grades, certificates, diplomas, or future success.
14. Complex technology, pressure from business and industry, and faith in
the ability of science to solve all problems have elevated in the public mind the
importance of specialized studies, particularly in mathematics and science. As a
consequence, students considered “best” are channeled into narrow fields without
adequate exposure to other dimensions of life, particularly the complex moral and
ethical issues raised by developments in technical fields and their potentially
devastating impact on society.
15. Curricular emphasis on merely distributing information (“covering the
material”) has given rise to simplistic, superficial, destructive notions — instruction
that confuses “harder” with “better,” standards” that merely standardize, and
machine-scored tests incapable of evaluating the quality of complex thought
16. The traditional curriculum fails to lead students in a systematic way
through ever-increasing levels of intellectual sophistication. To the extent there’s
concern for coordinating what’s taught, it’s limited to efforts within fields of study
without concern for the whole.
17. The transition from the static, insular nature of school to the dynamic,
exposed nature of adult life is so abrupt many students can’t cope. The curriculum
should so thoroughly integrate education and life the transition is smooth.
18. How little most adults can recall of what they once “learned” in school
testifies to the inadequacy of the theory that “if you throw enough mud on the wall,
some of it is bound to stick.” The brain’s ability to cope with large amounts of
unorganized information dispensed at fire-hose velocity is extremely limited, a fact
routinely disregarded by the traditional curriculum.
19. The young learn at a phenomenal rate. Long before they start to school,
most can acquire two or more languages, internalize the complex rules governing
myriad social situations, master many technological devices, learn the rules of any
number of games, and much, much else. All this without being able to read or
compute. In school, however, the abilities which make such learning possible are
smothered by the assumption that learning comes primarily from interpreting and
manipulating symbols — literacy and numeracy.
20. Human variability makes civilization possible. The thrust of present
reform efforts — having all students achieve “minimum standards” rather than
develop their individual potential — will, if continued, destroy the institution and
undermine the society.
21. Finally, learning isn’t primarily a matter of transferring information from
those who know to those who don’t know, but of discovering relationships between
parts of reality not previously thought to be related. Because the present curriculum
erects awkward, arbitrary, artificial walls between the study of various aspects of
reality, fragmenting it into disciplines, subjects, courses, themes, and so on, the basic
process by means of which individual and collective knowledge expands —
relationship exploration — is blocked. Only if students have in place and know how
to use a framework of ideas that includes and logically relates everything they know,
is it possible for them to generate a full range of hypotheses about possible
relationships. Because humankind’s very survival hinges on the ability to construct
knowledge, it’s impossible to exaggerate the societal costs of a curriculum which
fails to provide students with the basic intellectual tool by means of which knowledge
is created.
Every one of these twenty-one problems deserves major, immediate attention.
None is getting it.
Socrates demonstrated the major way insight and understanding grow — causing
learners to question and evaluate their images of and assumptions about reality,
suggesting alternative assumptions and images for their consideration, and helping
them reconcile and accept the differences.
This is at odds with the conventional wisdom, which has it that that teaching and
learning simply move information from those who know to those who don’t know.
But the young don’t come to matters of importance with empty heads. They have
explanations and opinions about how the world works, are attached to those
explanations and opinions, and resist frontal assaults on them. That resistance is in
part emotional, and is best skirted by raising non-threatening questions which cause
learners themselves to reason their way to alternatives. In that effort, there’s a
powerful conceptual tool students can be helped to develop, a tool well-formed long
before formal schooling begins, but so familiar and so mundane-seeming that, like
gravity before 1666, it escapes notice.
1. Successful human functioning requires (a) ready access to the whole of
one’s knowledge via memory, (b) skill in identifying what one knows that’s
applicable to the situation at hand, (c) an understanding of the systemic relationships
between specific things one knows, and (d) the ability to predict or anticipate the
consequences of the interactions of those things.
2. Since humankind has survived for millennia with only a relatively few
individuals having been exposed to today’s standardized, discipline-based, “factory
model” approach to educating, it follows that, in turning information into knowledge
and knowledge into wisdom, the brain has an alternative to school subjects as
organizers of knowledge.
3. It does. In everyday life, sense is made of specific past, present, anticipated
and imagined experience by means of “stories” in the form of gossip, news, research
reports, histories, folk tales, battle plans, policy proposals, drama, novels, casual
conversation, and so on.
4. These “stories” elaborate and integrate five kinds of information. That
which is being thought about is pulled from the stream of consciousness and (a) given
a setting, (b) assigned time dimensions, (c) actors or participants are identified, (d)
action is described, and (e) the states of mind (beliefs, values, assumptions)
“explaining” the action are articulated or assumed. Woven together systemically,
these are the building blocks of meaning. Although the five are vastly (and
differently) elaborated by human societies, their use appears to be universal.
5. Academia’s disciplines, subjects, and courses elaborate and organize
various parts of these five kinds of information, but they neglect much of great
importance, and their differing vocabularies, conceptual structures, levels of
abstraction, and so on make it difficult or impossible for students to relate them
systemically. The brain’s “natural” approach to processing information, rooted in
everyday language, suffers from neither of these two problems.
6. The five kinds of information, with their supporting conceptual
substructures drawn from ordinary speech are a society’s “model of reality,” its
“master sense-making system.” Individuals adopt and adapt the model as a guide to
everyday behavior. On a larger scale, societies “acting out” their models of reality
shape human history.
7. Think of the five as distinct disciplines or conceptual tools, but tools
which, because of the integrated nature of the reality they model, are best used
8. Helped to raise this implicitly known, five-element knowledge-organizing
model of reality into consciousness and use it to guide thought, the young can
perform at intellectual levels beyond present expectations, including in the
specialized studies which make up the traditional curriculum. In short, the best way
to teach the young to think is to teach them to think about the organization of their
own thought.
9. Societies helped to raise this knowledge-organizing model into
consciousness, and use it to understand themselves and those societies with which
they interact, will significantly decrease intra- and inter-societal frictions and miscommunication.
10. Formal use of the brain’s “master” approach to selecting, organizing,
integrating, and creating knowledge will eliminate or radically reduce in severity
every one of the 21 problems with the general education curriculum identified earlier.
Note: Any difficulties encountered in understanding the above almost certainly stem
from an assumption that what’s being described is complex and esoteric. In fact, it’s
exceedingly simple, and is demonstrated constantly by every reader of these words.
We model reality with stories assembled from just five kinds of information: (E.g.
“Jack and I were bored last night so we went to the mall to hang out.” And we
expand our knowledge of reality by discovering relationships between our stories.
(E.g. “In the 1880s, the Ghost Dance movement among the Plains Indians suggests a
possible relationship between a sense of hopelessness and the appeal of otherworldliness.”)
The following brief overview touches on some major consequences of superimposing
on general education the knowledge-organizing conceptual framework we all
routinely use except in school.
A survey of current literature will identify 25 or 30 aims or purposes for general
education — instill a love of learning; improve problem-solving abilities; teach the
basics; enhance thinking skills; explore broad themes; keep the US economically
competitive; prepare students for democratic citizenship; transmit societal values;
develop character; prepare students for work; promote love of country, and so on.
Although most such aims are commendable, only rarely are they operative. Teachers,
understandably, generally ignore them, teaching instead to tests keyed to subject
matter standards legitimized primarily by custom rather than by critical thought.
Such tests unduly emphasize low-level thought processes, particularly the ability to
recall (at least temporarily) something read or heard. What students can actually do
with this information, or whether it’s likely to translate into desired personal
qualities, contribute to success in life, become wellsprings out of which flow
creativity and wise public policy, can’t be measured by machine-scored tests.
Success in pursuing any and every acceptable aim of general education hinges
primarily on the intellectual, emotion-laden resources students bring to the effort. It
follows, then, that the overarching aim of a general education should be to maximize
the student’s sense-making resources as means to the end of realizing all legitimate
aims of education. That requires lifting into consciousness and making deliberate use
of the individual’s whole way of looking at the world — her or his “mental model of
reality.” An overarching aim for general education could read something like this:
Each of us has acquired from our society a comprehensive conceptual
model of reality. The most important task of a general education is to
help us understand that model, the models of those with whom we
interact, and the range of alternative models from which we might
Adopting this or a similar aim moves the instructional emphasis from “covering the
material” in a few compartmentalized disciplines to concern for, and the practical use
of, all knowledge. Making deliberate use of our “natural” approach to organizing,
integrating, and creating knowledge is the most efficient means to this end.
Operationalizing the aim
Most of the members of every generation assume that what the next generation needs
to know is what “the elders” know. Lectures, textbooks, drill sheets, memorization
exercises, standards, and measures of accountability based on conceptions of
“minimum competencies” operationalize that assumption.
For much of human history, this “cloning” of successive generations worked well.
The rates of social, technological, and environmental change were gradual enough to
allow each generation to pass along to the next the knowledge and skills needed to
meet the challenges of survival.
That’s no longer true, but the institution hasn’t adapted to the new reality. The
general education curriculum has no overarching vision, is so compartmentalized
those who teach it communicate primarily with those within their own fields, is so
fragmented it leaves academia with no collective voice, and fails the most important
test of all — turning out students able to mesh the traditional curriculum’s random,
disconnected offerings into a coherent, systemically integrated, mutually reinforcing
tool for making sense of experience.
There is, of course, an enormous amount of accumulated, useful knowledge, and each
generation profits greatly from being able to “stand on the shoulders” of previous
ones. But spending classroom time internalizing that knowledge when advances in
technology make access to most of it nearly instantaneous is enormously wasteful of
time and money. What students need but aren’t getting is the ability to cope with the
present and an unknown future, the ability to generate for themselves answers to
questions not yet being asked, the ability to imagine, the ability, in short, to call on all
their mental resources to deal creatively with the complexities of modern life and an
unknown future.
Again, making deliberate use of our “natural” approach to organizing, integrating,
and creating knowledge is the most efficient means to these ends.
Instructional materials
“Textbooks won’t be in until the end of the week, so we’ll begin class Monday.”
The assumption that learning is primarily a matter of moving “expert” opinion from
those who know to those who don’t know is probably the single greatest obstacle to
significant education reform. Metaphors for teaching and learning reinforce the idea
that information presents itself in discrete bits and bytes, is almost tangible, and can
therefore be transferred more or less intact from mind to mind. Teachers and books
are “loaded” with information. Students are “empty headed” or “stuffed” with
knowledge. They “cram” for exams until “it comes out their ears.”
Library and Internet assignments, textbooks, note-taking, handouts, most PowerPoint
presentations, film and fictional portrayals of schooling — all reinforce the idea that
“it’s in the book,” in the teacher’s head, in a reference work or on the Internet, and
that education’s main role is to transfer it to students’ heads. Experts in a field are
assumed to be well-prepared to teach simply by virtue of their expertise.
Educating is far more complicated and difficult than that, as ancient, commonsense
principles of effective teaching recognize. Simplicity must come before complexity,
the concrete before the abstract, the familiar before the unfamiliar, ordinary
vocabulary before jargon, firsthand experience before secondhand experience,
emotional readiness before intellectual stimulation. Recognizing that effective
teaching involves altering the images and perceptions of reality in others’ minds — a
task inherently more complex than any other — would do much to temper the
proposals of legislators and other policymakers convinced that educating (in the
words of one high-profile business leader) is simply a matter of “distributing
The best “textbook,” then, is “right here, right now” — the real world. Tracing the
changes in a patch of sunlight on the classroom floor is a better initial introduction to
the study of the solar system than a diagram in a textbook. Analyzing seating
patterns in the school cafeteria is a better initial introduction to social dynamics than
reading about India’s castes. Following the paths of the school’s waste to its final
destinations is a better introduction to earth science than can be gotten from any
book, film, or the Internet.
There’s no general principle worth studying, in any discipline, which doesn’t
manifest itself in some instructionally useful way within immediate, direct
experience. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more powerful or productive primary
focus of study for students than the schools they attend, driven by a cooperative effort
to make that school a continuously improving learning organization.
Once students have a firm, working grasp of basic ideas and principles derived from
the study of immediate reality, the second level of useful instructional materials is the
“residue” of past reality. Unedited, unmediated, unexpurgated primary sources —
tire tracks in the snow, spent shell casings, recorded comments of participants, wills
and other legal documents, tombstone inscriptions, television commercials — these
kinds of things lie closest to immediate reality, and their description and analysis
teach most vividly and powerfully.
The third and least intellectually stimulating instructional materials are those which
now dominate instruction, cost the most, and teach the least — the textbooks and
other corporately produced materials which flood classrooms. They pass along
secondhand knowledge, often years out of date, watered down for student
consumption, and about as intellectually challenging as completed crossword
puzzles. These and other materials should come not first but last in the instructional
Making maximum use of the inherent richness of immediate experience requires a
comprehensive conceptual framework free of artificial, arbitrary categorizing
systems. Once again, making deliberate use of our “natural” approach to organizing,
integrating, and creating knowledge is the most efficient means to this end.
A single word summarizes the most-used instructional method in institutionalized
education: “Telling.” It comes in many forms — a university professor’s lecture, a
mentor’s prompt to a reciting student, a talking head on an educational television
channel, a reading assignment in a textbook, crib notes on a student’s shoe sole —
but “telling” it is.
Just as a single word can summarize the instructional method dominating American
education, so it is that a single word can summarize what ought to be the most-used
of all instructional methods. That word is “asking,” and the question some form of
which most challenges and stretches the intellect is some form of, “What’s going on
here?” Posed to groups small enough and comfortable enough to encourage “thinking
out loud,” and accompanied by encouragement to approach the question in an
organized, systematic fashion, the question brings to the surface constantly surprising
levels of understanding and wisdom.
Making deliberate use of our “natural,” comprehensive and seamless approach to
organizing, integrating, and creating knowledge maximizes individual input to
Thought processes
Because “telling” plays the major role in traditional instruction, “recalling” is the
major (sometimes the only) thought process in which students engage. But
instruction, like life, should routinely require the use of all known thought processes
— observing, recalling, comparing, classifying, translating, analyzing, inferring,
hypothesizing, generalizing, synthesizing, valuing, and so on, with the processes
taught not directly but as tools brought to bear on reality or its “residue.”
Our “natural” approach to organizing, integrating, and creating knowledge makes
constant use of every known thought process.
“Standards and accountability”
When teaching is assumed to mean primarily “telling,” and learning is assumed to
mean primarily “recalling,” setting standards and evaluating student performance is
relatively simple. The standards say what students are expected to remember, and
measures of accountability tally and compare what’s remembered and what’s
But when students are asked to demonstrate understanding of their mental models of
reality by applying them to their own experience, when they’re expected to bring
those models to bear on their society’s relationships with other societies, and when
they use them to speculate about probable, possible, and preferable futures, responses
are too idiosyncratic to be evaluated electronically. Notwithstanding America’s love
affair with standardized tests and the neat numbers they produce, if the point of
educating is to improve the quality of student intellectual performance, the inherent
complexity of the task necessitates evaluation by human judgment.
As the thrust of education “reform” at the turn of the 21st century amply
demonstrates, however, this is a problem. The opinions of those closest to students
— teachers and parents — aren’t trusted. As a practical matter, then, policymakers
and administrators might want to consider as the preferred arrangement the merit of
multi-teacher teams working for long periods of time with larger blocks of students
rather than individual teachers assigned a single class for a year or semester. It’s
likely that the team’s collective judgment would be more acceptable to those inclined
to be skeptical of the evaluation skills of the individual classroom teacher.
For students to actually demonstrate understanding, they need a comprehensive
conceptual framework to guide their descriptions and analyses. Their “natural”
approach to organizing, integrating, and creating knowledge is the most efficient
means to that end. That same approach gives educators attached to different fields of
study a common language of allusion.
1. The preceding may leave the impression that solving the myriad problems
with the traditional curriculum is difficult, or that it necessitates changes too radical
to implement. In fact, the traditional content of instruction need not change at all,
needs only to be put to slightly different use, as means to the end of illustrating the
systemic nature of the world and the processes by means of which sense is made of it.
Administrative organization, staffing, class schedules, student loads, grade cards,
grading procedures and so on, can remain the same.
Copernicus’ observations about the relationship of earth to sun required no
change in behavior. It merely changed perception of the commonplace, which in turn
had far-reaching consequences. Recognizing time, setting, actors, action, and states
of mind as “supradisciplinary” or “macro” organizers of knowledge requires no
change in the methods and materials already in use by teachers, merely puts them to
different, broader, more sophisticated use.
2. Cost: A paradigm shift — making use of the brain’s “natural” approach to
organizing knowledge — costs nothing. Indeed, the radical simplification of the
general education curriculum its use would allow offers great potential for lowering
education’s costs.
3. Routine: A seamless, thoroughly integrated approach to instruction is
consistent with perception and how the brain learns and is therefore more efficient.
Capitalizing on the systemic, mutually supportive nature of knowledge imbeds
what’s learned more firmly in understanding and memory. After the first few grades,
when emphasis switches from the development of basic skills to content, three hours
or less per day for general education is enough. This frees up time for students to
pursue specialized studies for which they show genuine aptitude or interest, or to
engage in apprenticeships and other learning activities not traditionally associated
with formal schooling. It facilitates the “magnet school” concept by streamlining the
general education component, and encourages development of activities which
smooth the transition to adulthood. Most importantly, its efficiency makes it possible
to end the appalling waste of student potential stemming from imposing the same
curriculum on all students regardless of ability, a practice which frustrates the less
able and holds back the gifted.
4. Integrated general study vastly simplifies the curriculum and the teacher’s
task, but because it’s perceived as unorthodox it may initially be intimidating.
Teaming teachers with differing academic backgrounds and strengths addresses the
problem, facilitates growth-producing dialog, and models the cooperative nature of
much adult work and other activity.
5. The present preoccupation with standardized test scores effectively kills
educational innovation. As long as that preoccupation persists, the only way to
introduce new programs may lie in their use with students considered either
academically hopeless, or so superior their performance on mandated tests is of no
6. Notwithstanding impressions based on observations of upscale suburban
schools, or those temporarily benefitting from extraordinary leadership, America’s
schools suffer from terminal inertia. It’s almost impossible to overestimate either the
dangers of failure to change, or institutional resistance to it. That resistance rarely
stems from careful investigation of new ideas and their rejection based on substantive
issues. Instead, it ordinarily takes the form of rationalizations: “We’re already doing
that.” “We have to meet next-level expectations.” “We tried that and it didn’t work.”
“Our teachers couldn’t handle it.” “We’ll get to that after we’ve covered the basics.”
“We have to teach to the standards.” “This isn’t what the tests will cover.” Of all
aspects of educating, the curriculum is the most resistant to change.
7. A “Catch-22″ underlies institutional paralysis: Educators won’t adopt new
ideas without political approval. Political approval won’t be granted without
policymaker understanding. Policymaker understanding requires demonstration.
Demonstration is impossible without political approval.
No body of theory, no coherent philosophy, no comprehensive research underlie and
support the traditional general education curriculum. Any one of the twenty-one
specific problems cited earlier is sufficiently serious to warrant calling a national
conference. We live with the current curriculum because we refuse to examine it.
But even if examined, the traditional curriculum is so deeply imbedded in
bureaucracy, educators have so much invested in making it work in spite of its
inadequacies, and the general public’s assumption that “how it is, is how it’s
supposed to be” is so firmly held, change seems all but impossible. Even those who
reject institutionalized education — homeschoolers, founders of alternative schools
and so on — assume that the traditional, knowledge-compartmentalizing curriculum
is sound. They may attempt to minimize the artificial fragmentation of knowledge
via interdisciplinarity, theme exploration, project or problem-based instruction and so
on, but the artificial and arbitrary walls between disciplines are nevertheless thought
to be real and necessary. Few see them as blocking the basic process by means of
which knowledge is constructed.
If even the appearance of change meets fierce resistance, school-related
bureaucracies must be left in place, educators must be allowed to continue teaching
the content with which they’re comfortable, and educational processes and
procedures observable by the public must remain unchanged. Neither must there be
any call for enabling legislation or additional school funding. Whatever’s undertaken
must simply appear to be, and actually be, a more effective way to pursue one or
more widely held American values.
Unquestionably, maximum development of individual potential is such a value.
Indeed, it’s almost certainly the preeminent American value, underpinning
democracy, credited with creating our historically vibrant economy, and bringing to
us far more than our share of patents and Pulitizers. And we’ve done this with an
educational system which, while giving lip service to developing individual potential,
is preoccupied with standardization. Our salvation has been a system which, until
recently, was “loose” enough to allow teachers to teach rather than read from a
corporately designed, Congressionally imposed script.
No bar we can set for students to clear, no test we can administer, no policy we can
adopt, would move us more surely and rapidly toward true individual and collective
greatness than instruction deliberately designed to help the young elevate into
consciousness their way of looking at the world, their mental model of reality, their
key to moving from mere “knowing,” to “knowing what they know.” We’ve always
had the right destination, just haven’t bothered to examine the curricular road thrown
together in 1893 to see if it’s taking us there.
If business and other special interest groups with self-serving agendas can be fended
off, if conspiracy theorists prone to see in every small change a sinister plot to
undermine the Republic can be held at bay, and if someone with real political clout
will realize that just “raising the bar,” just trying harder, just doing with greater
diligence that which brought us to our present condition, is a recipe for disaster and
step up and lead, we might have a chance.
They wouldn’t really have to do much other than grant permission for educators to
pick up where some of them left off in the 1980s. That’s when a few leaders of
business and industry and ideology-driven think tanks, working through politicians,
hijacked education reform, side-tracking exploration of the potential of the sensemaking
system humans have been using since the dawn of civilization.
That system, not reading, writing, and arithmetic, not the core curriculum adopted in
the 19th century, not any of the fads that re-emerge periodically with new names, is
the “real basics.” Millennia before western adoption of an industrial revolutioninspired,
fragmented view of educating, humans were making sense. Their tool for
doing so — locating that which was being thought about in physical space, assigning
it time dimensions, identifying the participating actors or objects, describing their
actions, speculating about the attendant states of mind, tying the five together
systemically, then steadily elaborating and refining the whole — made civilization
possible. If we make that system explicit and superimpose it on present practice,
student potential beyond all present expectation be released.
Marion Brady
4285 North Indian River Drive
Cocoa, Florida 32927
April 24, 2007
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(Please continue)
On the Present General Education Curriculum
Neil Postman: “There is no longer any principle that unifies the school curriculum and
furnishes it with meaning.” (Phi Delta Kappan, January 1983, p. 316)
John Goodlad: “The division into subjects and periods encourages a segmented rather than
an integrated view of knowledge. Consequently, what students are asked to relate to in
schooling becomes increasingly artificial, cut off from the human experiences subject matter
is supposed to reflect.” (A Place Called School, McGraw-Hill, 1984, p.266)
Harlan Cleveland: “It is a well-known scandal that our whole educational system is geared
more to categorizing and analyzing patches of knowledge than to threading them together.”
(Change, July/August 1985, p. 20)
Buckminster Fuller: “American education has evolved in such a way it will be the undoing
of the society.” (Quoted in Officer Review, March 1989, p.5)
Ernest Boyer: “All of our experience should have made it clear by now that faculty and
students will not derive from a list of disjointed courses a coherent curriculum revealing the
necessary interdependence of knowledge.” (Paraphrased by Daniel Tanner in his review of
Boyer’s book High School. Phi Delta Kappan, March 1984, p. 10)
Thomas Merton: “The world itself is no problem, but we are a problem to ourselves because
we are alienated from ourselves, and this alienation is due precisely to an inveterate habit of
division by which we break reality into pieces and then wonder why, after we have
manipulated the pieces until they fall apart, we find ourselves out of touch with life, with
reality, with the world, and most of all with ourselves.” (Contemplation In a World of Action,
Paulist Press, 1992, p.153)
Robert Stevens: “We have lost sight of our responsibility for synthesizing knowledge.”
(Liberal Education, Vol. 71, No. 2, 1985, p.163)
Jonathan Smith: “To dump on students the task of finding coherence in their education is
indefensible.” (Quoted in Time, April 20, 1981, p. 50)
John Kemeny: “The problems now faced by our society transcend the bounds of the
disciplines.” (Quoted by William Newell in : Liberal Education, Association of American
Colleges, 1983, Vol. 69, No. 3)
David W. Orr: “A second danger of formal schooling is that it will imprint a disciplinary
template onto impressionable minds and with it the belief that the world really is as
disconnected as the divisions, disciplines, and subdivisions of the typical curriculum.
Students come to believe that there is such a thing as politics separate from ecology or that
economics has nothing to do with physics.” (Earth In Mind, Island Press, 1994, p.23)
Arnold Thackray: “The world of our experience does not come to us in the pieces we have
been carving out.” (Quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 1987, p. A 14)
David Cohen: “Testing companies, textbook publishers, teacher specialists, associations
representing specific content areas, and other agencies all speak in different and often
inconsistent voices…The U.S. does not have a coherent system for deciding on and
articulating curriculum and instruction.” (Phi Delta Kappan, March 1990, p.522
Leon Botstein: “”We must fight the inappropriate fragmentation of the curriculum by
disciplines . . .” (The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 1, 1982, P. 28)
Frank Betts: “Learning begins as an integrated experience as a newborn child experiences the
world in its totality.” (ASCD 1993, 13.7)
Felix Frankfurter: “That our universities have grave shortcomings for the intellectual life of
this nation is by now a commonplace. The chief source of their inadequacy is probably the
curse of departmentalization.” Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead’s The Aims of
Education, Mentor 1948
Alfred North Whitehead: “[We must] eradicate the fatal disconnection of subjects which
kills the vitality of the modern curriculum.” (Presidential Address to the Mathematical
Association of England, 1916)
Philip Sabaratta: “Students rarely have an opportunity to discover what one set of ideas has
to do with another.” (Community College Review, Winter 1982-83, Vol. 10, #3)
Greg Stefanich and Charles Dedrick: “Learning is best when all of a student’s educational
experiences merge to form an integrated whole, thereby transforming information into a larger
network of personal knowledge.” (Science and Mathematics, 1985, Vol.58, p.275)
James Coomer: “Our educational systems . . . are now primarily designed to teach people
specialized knowledge — to enable students to divide and dissect knowledge. At the heart of
this pattern of teaching is . . . a view of the world that is quite simply false.” (Texas Tech
Journal of Education, 1982, p.166)
Paul DeHart Hurd: “There are neither philosophical nor psychological grounds for
compartmentalizing knowledge into islands of information as school subjects are currently
conceived.” (Middle School Journal, Vol. 20, No.5, p.22
James Moffett: “[It is essential to integrate] learning across subjects, media, and kinds of
discourse so that individuals may continuously synthesize their own thought structures.” Phi
Delta Kappan, September 1985, p. 55
Rene Descartes: “Hence we must believe that all the sciences are so interconnected, that it is
much easier to study them all together than to isolate one from all the others. If, therefore,
anyone wishes to search out the truth of things in serious earnest, he ought not select one
special science, for all the sciences are conjoined with each other and interdependent.”
Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: “Through their studies, children must be brought to that point of
awareness wherein . . . [they] get some sort of total picture of it all . . . In advancing level by
level through the curriculum, students should be internalizing an overall idea structure of
means and ends.” Education for Creative Living, 1989, p. 196
Carnegie Foundation For the Advancement of Teaching: “The disciplines have
fragmented themselves into smaller and smaller pieces, and undergraduates find it difficult to
see patterns in their courses and relate what they learn to life.” Prologue to “College: The
Undergraduate Experience In America,” November 1986
Association of American Colleges: “We do not believe that the road to a coherent education
can be constructed from a set of required subjects or academic disciplines.” (“Integrity In the
College Curriculum, A Report to the Academic Community,” Project On Redefining the
Meaning and Purpose of Baccalaureate Degrees, 1985)

The Militarization of American Youth

July 5, 2007

The Militarization of American Youth

Published by cyrano2 at 9:52 pm under Militarism, US Imperialism, Anti-War, War, Imperialism

NOTICE TO OUR READERS: The editors will be most grateful for your attention at the end of this feature. Thank you.

by Bryn Lloyd-Bollard


Across the country, the U.S. military is failing to meet its recruitment goals. To address this problem, the Pentagon has been rapidly expanding its programs designed to entice young people to enlist. It is now spending $3.4 billion dollars annually, an average of $14,000 per new recruit. Using flashy marketing campaigns, television spots, and even developing its own videogames, the Army is bombarding young people with images that glorify guns and violence. Recruiters use elaborate PR strategies: they set up shop at malls, movie theaters, sporting events, and concerts, and they cruise around town in decked-out Humvees that blast music popular among teenagers.

The military presence in our nation’s public schools is growing at an alarming rate. Educational institutions in working-class areas are prime targets of military recruiters, who particularly stalk the corridors of vocational schools. The military considers students to be easy targets who can be manipulated into signing up by promising them career training, money for college, free travel, and adventure. Recruiters are PR experts; like drug dealers and tobacco company representatives, they market a dangerous product with side effects they don’t want their potential customers to know about.

While recruiters tell students that they can receive $70,000 for college through the Montgomery GI Bill, the average payout to veterans is only $2,151. To be eligible for educational benefits, soldiers must commit to serving three years on active duty and must also pay a nonrefundable “deposit” to the military of $100 a month for a year. Considering that only 43% of the soldiers who sign up for the program receive any money, the majority who seek financial assistance through the GI Bill actually end up paying the military $1,200 and get nothing in return. And a soldier who does get the average payment of $2,151 actually receives only $951 beyond his or her own contribution. Only 15% of all recruits graduate with a four-year degree.

The skills learned in the military are often nontransferable to civilian employment, and many people find themselves in need of retraining after leaving the armed services. Veterans in the 20-34 age bracket have a higher unemployment rate than non-veterans and those who are employed typically earn 12% to 15% less. Most people would be surprised to learn that veterans make up one-third of all homeless people and half of all homeless men. While in the military, 65% of enlistees state that they are not satisfied with their current jobs.

There is a variety of other less-than-flattering statistics about the military that recruiters fail to mention. People of color represent 1/3 of all enlisted personnel but only 1/8 of the officers. Nearly 90% of women in the military report being sexually harassed, and 1/3 report being raped. In addition to the more than 3,500 US men and women who have died in the current war in Iraq, tens of thousands have been wounded and are returning home with traumatic brain injuries, loss of limbs, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and other serious illnesses related to exposure to the depleted uranium used in US munitions.

Recruiters are under enormous pressure to meet their quota of two recruits a month, which requires them to contact an average of 120 potential enlistees over that time. Since fewer than 10% of all recruits seek out military employment on their own, recruiters face the daunting task of finding the large majority of new military recruits. Thus it’s no surprise that a central recruiting tactic is a combination of deception and omission. One recruiter recently interviewed in The Boston Globe characterized his work: “You have to convince those little punks to do something…I figure if I can sell this, I can sell anything.” By the Army’s own count, there were 320 substantiated cases of what it calls recruitment improprieties in 2004, up from 199 in 1999, and 213 in 2002. The offenses varied from threats and coercion to false promises that applicants would not be sent to Iraq. The number of those investigated rose to 1,118 in 2004, or nearly one in five of all recruiters, up from 913 in 2002, or one in eight. A recruiter interviewed by the New York Times said it best, “The problem is that no one wants to join [and] we have to play fast and loose with the rules to get by.”


The military manual for the high school recruiters offers us a window into their strategies. It suggests that recruiters make themselves “indispensable” to schools and that, in addition to the wealth of student data currently given to recruiters by school administrations, recruiters should access informal sources of information such as school yearbooks. Also stating that it is “only natural for a potential enlistee to resist,” the manual suggests ways to turn aside objections and lists techniques for closing the deal, such as the Challenge Close. It advises that the Challenge Close works best with young men, and that “You must be careful how you use this one. You must be on friendly terms with your prospect, or this may backfire. When you find difficulty in closing, particularly when your prospect’s interest seems to be waning, challenge his ego by suggesting that basic training may be too difficult for him and he might not be able to pass it. Then, if he accepts your challenge, you will be a giant step closer to getting him to enlist.”

Despite the fact that the military is hazardous to young people’s education and their future careers—not to mention their lives—the No Child Left Behind Act makes it easier for the military to gain direct access to students. The Act contains a little known provision that threatens to take away federal funding if a school refuses to hand over to the Military personal information about its students, including names, addresses, and telephone numbers. Before the law went into effect, 1/3 of all high schools in the country felt it inappropriate to give out this information to recruiters. The law now coerces schools into giving the military unimpeded access. By law, parents may request that information about their child be kept private, yet there is no system in place that informs parents or students of these rights, so many remain unaware.

The Pentagon also gets information about students through administering its Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test (ASVAB). This test is offered to schools free of charge, and while it is marketed as a way to help students choose between a variety of military and civilian careers, the test is primarily designed to assess a person’s military qualifications. When a student takes the exam, their contact information and test scores are automatically sent to recruiters, who may use the information as they see fit.


Another major way in which the military attracts young people is through the Junior Reserves Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program, which the Pentagon has been enthusiastically expanding since early 1990s. There are currently 500,000 students, aged 14 and over, enrolled in JROTC programs throughout the country. The JROTC claims that its goal is “to motivate young people to be better citizens” by “teaching high school students the value of citizenship, leadership, service to the community, personal responsibility,and a sense of accomplishment, while instilling in them self-esteem, teamwork, and self-discipline.” In the program, teenagers are taught military-style drills and are given military-style discipline. All JROTC recruits drill with weapons and study military history, and 90% of them are trained to use guns. The US Army insists that the JROTC is not a recruiting tool or public relations ploy designed to give the military a better face, yet half of all JROTC graduates join the military. Of these, only one-third enter a higher education program. William Cohen, Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, bluntly told Congress in February 2000 that the JROTC is “one of the best recruiting devices we could have.”

The government initially set up JROTC as an elective high school class. However, many schools have begun to enroll students in the program automatically. Federal law mandates that at least 100 students or 10% of the student body must be enrolled in each JROTC unit in order to maintain the program in a school. Thus, school administrators can feel pressured to bend, if not break, the rules regarding the voluntary nature of the program by making it difficult for students to find alternative courses. A JROTC unit costs a school an average of $75,000, which drains resources from other school activities and vital programs.

School administrators often think of JROTC as a good alternative for students who do not excel at academics or who have behavioral problems, but the JROTC track record at helping at-risk youth is far from perfect. Since 1990, there have been numerous violent incidents involving JROTC recruits. Murders, gang activity, sexual assaults, and violent hazing have been linked JROTC instructors, members, and graduates. Rather than teaching students about peaceful alternatives, the JROTC promotes violence by teaching students to use guns and to take part in mindless drills that train them to follow orders without hesitation and without thought.


In response to the growing military presence in schools throughout the country, counter-recruitment efforts have also been growing. In 1986, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, schools creating a forum for proponents of the military must also provide equal access for those with opposing points of view. Counter recruitment programs help students understand the real implications of military service and educate them about alternatives to military enlistment and ways to get out once already signed up.

The majority of young people who join the military enlist through the Delayed Entry Program (DEP), which allows them up to a year before they must report for active duty training. Many of these recruits are unaware that they have the option of leaving the military during the time period before training begins. All they need to do is write a letter requesting separation that fully explains the reasons why the recruit is unable or unwilling to serve. While the military defines specific separation categories, almost any reason is acceptable so long as the recruit states clearly that he or she is no longer interested in serving in the military.


To reduce the chances of being selected during a draft, there are a couple things young people can do. When turning 18, all males are supposed to register with the Selective Service and join the draft-ready pool of their peers. However, they can actually wait until their 26th birthday before registering. While federal Government threatens a fine of $250,000 and a maximum of five years in prison for those who don’t register, there are no known recent cases of this being imposed. State penalties vary and include denial of admittance to public colleges and universities, denial of state employment and denial of student financial aid. States are also beginning to link drivers’ licenses to selective service registration.

When filling out the selective service form, the registrant has the option of registering as a conscientious objector (CO). A CO writes that he is totally opposed to war and cannot conceive of any situation where he would be willing or able to take the life of another human. This statement can be written on the margins of the selective service form and/or in a separate letter. He should make a copy for his records, place it in a sealed envelope, mail it to himself, and keep it, along with additional personal documentation that shows he is against war (for example, journal entries, articles, letters, poems, and the like).

In addition to having a complete understanding of the disparities between what recruiters say about military service and the reality, young people are advised to take some precautionary steps when meeting with recruiters. They should take along a family member and/or a trusted ally as a witness and advocate and have them read over the enlistment agreement. Potential recruits should always ask questions about parts of the agreement they don’t understand and should keep a copy for their records. They should be truthful about their police records and medical conditions and not allow recruiters to falsify documents on their behalf. They should know that everything about their service contract is negotiable but that the military can override any contract in a time of crisis (as is the case with Stop Loss orders). Enlistees should also be aware that spoken promises are worthless and should require the recruiter to put all of his or her promises in writing.


Militarism in our schools is an issue of serious and growing importance. Using a variety of clever tricks and persuasive tactics, the Pentagon takes advantage of our nation’s youth, especially the underprivileged, by marketing dead-end military jobs. With its vast budget and immense political power, the military is trying to sell itself as a cure for our country’s social and economic problems, even in the face of considerable evidence showing that a military career can cut short a student’s education and make it even harder to find a productive livelihood. Despite its best efforts, however, military recruitment rates continue to decline. This testifies to the fact that the real implications of military service are slowly gaining widespread attention and that counter-recruitment campaigns are succeeding. As the antiwar movement and all people concerned about the welfare of our nation’s youth continue to expose the military’s lies about enlistment, it will become more and more difficult for the Pentagon to continue fighting its wars abroad and to mislead and misuse the country’s young citizens at home.



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