FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Get the Military Out of Our High Schools

We first began to realize something was wrong when teams of teams of men with suits and clipboards began walking through the halls of our high school during the first week of classes. We had heard that the U.S. Navy was planning to open a “Naval Academy” on Chicago’s North Side, but it never occurred to us that they would try to put it in our building. After all, we were already using our building!

Nonetheless, it became clear that the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) was in fact targeting our school after we crashed a meeting at the 48th ward alderman’s office–and discovered that CPS was planning a “community forum” at Senn to sell the idea.

In some ways, Senn High School is a pretty typical “inner-city” school. Ninety-two percent of our students are poor. We don’t have lots of resources, our building needs paint, and our students are not the ones who test into the fancy magnet programs.

But in other ways, our school is a remarkable community resource, with plenty of morale. Our students come from 70 nationalities, speak 57 different languages and still maintain a sense of unity and mutual respect. Senn students have performed 70,000 hours of community service over the past five years and have been recognized with a national service award. Senn has also developed some of the city’s most successful academic programs for at-risk kids.

So instead of waiting for the ax to fall, we began to fight back. We researched the effect that the military takeover would have on our school and community, and wrote fact sheets. We made flyers about our concerns and put up 3,500 of them, with another 500 in Spanish. We reached out and met with community organizations, launched a Web site, wrote press releases and organized to get people out to support us. On October 5, we brought about 700 people out to the CPS forum at our school.

The mood in the room was electric. Students had been preparing all week–they had written speeches, drawn dozens of handmade signs and brought along many of their parents. When CPS officials tried to show us a slick promotional video about the Navy ROTC program, the room rebelled. The entire audience stood up and turned its back to the presentation.

David Pickens, the deputy chief of staff for schools CEO Arne Duncan, glared at the angry crowd for the next five minutes in a dramatic standoff, while the heckling grew louder. Then someone in the audience started to chant “We say no,” and soon, the whole crowd was booming its opposition.

Pickens and his team promptly ran from the auditorium and left the school, leaving us to conduct a real community meeting.

It’s clear that Pickens and his crew will be back. The plan for Senn High School is part of a much larger agenda–an agenda to militarize much more of the public education system. Chicago currently has some 10,600 students enrolled in Junior ROTC programs–and the military plans to increase that number to 15,000 by 2007, according to Col. Rick Mills, who earns $115,000 as CPS’s ROTC director.

Junior ROTC enrolls students as young as 11. Members wear uniforms, drill with fake rifles, learn about military history and are encouraged to continue with a military career.

This outcome isn’t left to chance. An Army memo directs JROTC staff to “actively assist cadets who want to enlist in the military [and] emphasize service in the U.S. Army; facilitate recruiter access to cadets in JROTC program and to the entire student body;…[and] work closely with high school guidance counselors to sell the Army story.”

At the exact time when the U.S. military is running short of troops for its bloody occupation for oil and empire in Iraq, they are targeting students at home–not, of course, students in the wealthy, predominantly white suburban schools outside Chicago, but inner-city students at schools like Senn.

Preying on high school students

IN THE fall of 2002, Garrett Jones was a high school junior, just coming off a difficult two years and feeling like he needed to turn his life around.

And the armed forces were right there to prey on him. “Military recruiters were always around, calling me, coming by my house,” Garrett told Socialist Worker. “They would call me and say, why don’t you come down [to the recruiting office]?”

Eventually, Jones did go by the recruiting office, located across the street from Chicago’s largest high school, Lane Tech. Once inside, Garrett received a high-pressure sales job. “There were like four guys there, and they were all telling me how great it was, what an opportunity it was,” Jones recounted. “They were saying, ‘Just sign it,’ but I asked what would happen if I wanted to go to college?” Garrett said the recruiter told him, “Oh yeah, you can get out of this.” So he signed.

A year-and-a-half later, Garrett had done a lot of growing up. He started on the Senn football team his senior year, improved his grades and been accepted into Southern Illinois University (SIU), where he had plans to attend in the fall.

Early in July, he woke up to a knock on his door. His parents were at work. Garrett says that he was greeted by an army recruiter and two police officers. “They had been calling me for weeks, saying I had to come enroll, but I kept telling them, ‘I’m going to school,'” he said. “Now they said, ‘If you don’t come with us right now, you are going to jail.'”

Garrett packed a few things and was taken to a hotel in the suburbs. The next morning, he was flown to basic training in Missouri, and it was only then that he was able to phone home.

Garrett found basic training to be hellish and full of racism. “One officer yelled at me, ‘You’re not in Chicago anymore, you’re not a drug dealer anymore,'” he recounted. Garrett also suffered a medical condition–severe migraines–that should have kept him out of the military. It wasn’t until he collapsed and spent five days in the hospital that he was released.

Garrett spent two months fighting to get out of the service, during which time he lost his job and his place in SIU’s freshman class. “It messed up the whole course of my life,” he said.

But he wants his story to serve as a warning to other young men and women who are thinking about signing up. “Read what you sign,” Garrett warns, “and don’t believe what they say.”

JESSE SHARKEY is a teacher at Senn High School, a Chicago Teachers Union delegate and a contributor to the Socialist Worker.

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail