Chicago's public military academies draw controversy
In a controversial new program, the city of Chicago has opened five public schools since 1999 based on a military academy model. Over 10,000 students attend the schools, which offer college preparatory courses combined with a military curriculum.
According to the Chicago Tribune, "military personnel work at the schools as teachers and administrators, and all academy students must enlist in the Junior ROTC, wear a military uniform and take a daily ROTC course that includes lessons on leadership, character development, drug prevention and military history."
Former army officer Paul Stroh, now principal of the Marine Military Academy, told PBS that the school's aim is to produce graduates who will become leaders of their communities. Parents interviewed by PBS agreed that the school gives their children special opportunities to succeed, while the students described the chance to take on leadership roles as "really cool."
However, Pauline Lipman, a professor at the University of Illinois, is disturbed by the almost exclusively minority and inner-city focus of the program. "Why are they good schools for low-income, African-American and Latino students and not good school for affluent white kids?" she asks. "Are we saying that those students need a different kind of discipline?"
Lipman and Darlene Gramigna of the American Friends Service Committee are both concerned about the militarization of the school system and suspect that the program is intended as a tool for military recruitment. "It would be really naive to think that the military would, in fact, be expanding these schools and these programs if the schools were not about recruiting students," said Lipman.
However, those running the program insist that its focus is on college prep, not on recruitment, and students agree that they feel absolutely no pressure to enlist. Statistics at a Junior ROTC website indicate that in 2007, only 4% of graduates went into the military, while 78% went on to college.
Academic performance is also an issue, with critics noting that students at the military academies still perform below average on state-wide tests, but supporters of the program say that scores are rising.
Perhaps most important, the level of violence in these schools is dramatically down, and demand among students to attend is far outstripping the number of places available.
A transcript of the PBS Newshour report is here.
This video is from PBS's Newshour, broadcast on December 26, 2007.