The Militarization of Our Children

As Labor Day draws near and children head back to school, much important attention is being focused on recruitment tactics (sanctioned by No Child Left Behind) in our country’s public secondary schools and colleges. However, this hounding and seduction is not just happening in our high schools. Rather, it reaches down to children as young as 8 years old. Here, though, it is packaged as leadership, character, and discipline development, or as top-secret motivational presentations by so-called medal of freedom recipients

On April 19, 2005 Tommy Franks visited Logan Street Elementary school in Los Angeles to do what was billed as a “motivational presentation” for the school’s students. The “non-profit, pro-military” organization that sponsored Franks’ secret (without family consent or knowledge) presentation to the school’s fifth graders was actually U.S. Trust, a private investment firm with $102 billion dollars in assets. Logan Street school is 89% Latino, and 93% of the students receive free or reduced lunch. This is exactly the population that is heavily targeted by NCLB-related recruitment efforts. I suppose that US Trust and Franks were there to encourage the students to be all they can be?

We don’t know what actually went on during Franks’ performance/presentation for the fifth grade students, because apparently the video of the event has been destroyed by the school district. However, one parent speculated: “Rumor is that he took pictures with our community youth to be used in a future run for office bid on the republican ticket.”

Or, perhaps, Franks was priming these ten year old students for the military programs that they may soon encounter in their middle schools: Middle School Cadet Corps, or Junior Officer Reserves Training Corps.

An article from In These Times describes how many of these programs have eleven year old students learning how to stand, march and salute in synchronization while carrying fake guns and doing push-ups for disobeying orders. Here’s a bit from the In These Times piece that puts this kind of militarization-in-the-name-of-education into perspective:

“Proponents of the programs tout leadership training and character development. But critics quote former Defense Secretary Gen. William Cohen, who described JROTC as ‘one of the best recruiting services that we could have.'”

In an effort to further deepen our understanding, here’s a bit of an interview with Nina Shokraii Rees, Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office of Innovation and Improvement, United States Department of Education:

Do you consider art and music “frills,” or would you say they are necessary to a good elementary education?

Nina Shokraii Rees: It depends. If a student is attending an affluent school that has the budget to invest in such things, then I see many benefits to adding art and music courses. What I object to is focusing the attention of poor school systems on these activities. Schools should be in the business of teaching students the basics. If they fail to teach students how to read and write, it makes no sense to ask them to offer music! In a perfect world, these are decisions that I wish parents could make and pay for.

So there you have it –affluent schools get art and music. Schools lower on the socio-economic ladder get military training (and top-secret visits from Tommy Franks). Countering the overt and more insidious recruitment tactics sanctioned by NCLB is certainly necessary. However, as both educators and humans, we must also be honest and upfront about ways in which our structures of schooling, and the system’s unmarked (default) language of control, also contribute to our militarized culture.

God forbid that we might focus the attention of poorer school systems on activities which might, as Paul Street wrote, help our children to evaluate and resist the endless reactionary propaganda that is foisted upon them. Nope, that kind of leadership and discipline development might, just might, wreck one of the best recruiting services we’ve got.

ELISA SALASIN is an educator in Berkeley, California, and can be contacted at Many of her writings can be found on her blog, Two Feet In (