FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
T.J. Coles
The Battle for Latin America: How the U.S. Helped Destroy the “Pink Tide”
Ron Jacobs
Ho Chi Minh City: Nguyen Thai Binh Street
Dean Baker
Fun Fictions in Economics
David Rosen
Trump’s One-Dimensional Gender Identity
Kenn Orphan
Notre Dame: We Have Always Belonged to Her
Robert Hunziker
The Blue Ocean Event and Collapsing Ecosystems
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Paddy Wagon
Brett Wilkins
Jimmy Carter: US ‘Most Warlike Nation in History of the World’
John W. Whitehead
From Jesus Christ to Julian Assange: When Dissidents Become Enemies of the State
Nick Pemberton
To Never Forget or Never Remember
Stephen Cooper
My Unforgettable College Stabbings
Louis Proyect
A Leftist Rejoinder to the “Capitalist Miracle”
Louisa Willcox
Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic and the Need for a New Approach to Managing Wildlife
Brian Cloughley
Britain Shakes a Futile Fist and Germany Behaves Sensibly
Jessicah Pierre
A Revolutionary Idea to Close the Racial Wealth Divide
George Burchett
Revolutionary Journalism
Dan Bacher
U.S. Senate Confirms Oil Lobbyist David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary
Nicky Reid
The Strange Success of Russiagate
Chris Gilbert
Defending Venezuela: Two Approaches
Todd Larsen
The Planetary Cost of Amazon’s Convenience
Kelly Martin
How the White House is Spinning Earth Day
Nino Pagliccia
Cuba and Venezuela: Killing Two Birds With a Stone
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Guadalcanal and Bloody Ridge, Solomon Islands
David Kattenburg
Trudeau’s Long Winter
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
Ellen Lindeen
What Does it Mean to Teach Peace?
Adewale Maye and Eileen Appelbaum
Paid Family and Medical Leave: a Bargain Even Low-Wage Workers Can Afford
Ramzy Baroud
War Versus Peace: Israel Has Decided and So Should We
Ann Garrison
Vets for Peace to Barbara Lee: Support Manning and Assange
Thomas Knapp
The Mueller Report Changed my Mind on Term Limits
Jill Richardson
Why is Going Green So Hard? Because the System Isn’t
Mallika Khanna
The Greenwashing of Earth Day
Arshad Khan
Do the Harmless Pangolins Have to Become Extinct?
Paul Armentano
Pushing Marijuana Legalization Across the Finish Line
B. R. Gowani
Surreal Realities: Pelosi, Maneka Gandhi, Pompeo, Trump
Paul Buhle
Using the Law to Build a Socialist Society
David Yearsley
Call Saul
Elliot Sperber
Ecology Over Economy 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail