Military education dates back to before written history. In the American context, military education is largely a form of private school education established in the nineteenth century. Most military schools are middle and high schools based upon the practices and principles at the United States Military Academy at West Point. They are designed to produce graduates who have both the education and culture of the ancient Athenian soldier, and the discipline and courage of the ancient Spartan soldier. Some military graduates continue on to be part of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) programs at America's colleges and universities, though nine out of ten military school graduates pursue a career in the civilian world and not the U.S. armed forces. Supporters of military education argue that it provides discipline and leadership skills to young people at the precise time in America's cultural evolution when such skills are most needed.
Keywords Athenian; Cadet; Greenbrier Military School; Military School; Private School; Public School; Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC); Spartan; United States Military Academy at West Point
Military education has existed for as long as there have been warriors taking up arms in battle. From a practical standpoint, military education has been a necessity in a world seemingly engulfed in wars since before recorded history. Some of this military education has been ad hoc, or otherwise conducted on the battlefield, while later training schools were highly organized centers where the values of self-discipline, leadership and courage were instilled in the hearts and minds of young men. In some cases, military training has amounted to military indoctrination and even brainwashing, as evidenced by recent examples of young children being kidnapped and trained for service to African guerrilla groups such as the Lord's Resistance Army. In today's China, 12-year-old children are sent away to four mandatory weeks of military summer camp, the highlights of which include "studying advanced weaponry, such as U.S. Black Hawk helicopters and aircraft carriers" (MacLeod, 2007, para. 6).
This article will cover the longstanding and honorable tradition of military education in the United States at the primary and secondary school level. According to its supporters, military education provides young people - first boys and now girls - with a strong foundation for the rest of their lives. A popular slogan in military school literature is helping young people realize their full potential. "Teaching leadership and teamwork is the real purpose of these schools," said David Bouton, the headmaster of Benedictine High school, a Richmond, Va.-based military day school, "despite the misconception [that we] play with guns and do war games" (cited in Gehr, 1999, p. 65).
Characteristics of Military Schools
Military schools are schools that, while not operated by the U.S. military, are run along military lines. Most are modeled after the United States Military Academy at West Point, a school that emphasizes the education of the whole person. This means that students are taught the importance of the group over the individual, as well as the value of tradition, character, discipline, honor, duty and country. Since military education can begin for some students in elementary or middle school, these lessons are instilled at an early age. Military academies in the United States have sought to strike a balance between what one scholar of military education described metaphorically as "Athens" and "Sparta" (Lovell, 1979). That is, they strive to produce graduates who have both the education and culture of the ancient Athenian soldier, and the discipline and courage of the ancient Spartan soldier.
Many military schools or academies are boarding schools in which most or all students live in dorms on the school campus. Some military schools are owned and operated by public entities. For example, the Chicago Public Schools operates the Chicago Military Academy High School. According to the Association of Military Colleges and Schools of the United States, 42 military schools have programs that meet both standards set by the Department of Defense and regional school accreditation boards.
In addition to their normal coursework, cadets (military school students) often are required to perform community service projects and participate in extracurricular activities ranging from sports to drama and music. Cadets are expected to wear a military style uniform; address others with respect befitting their age and rank; and to participate in drills, marches and other military exercises. Hard work and excellence are rewarded through a merit system, while disobedient and otherwise poorly performing students receive demerits. Cadets who demonstrate a persistent pattern of truculent behavior are asked to leave the school.
While many American military schools are nonsectarian, especially those run as public schools, a number offer on-campus religious services in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and others are Christian military schools that emphasize the inculcation of both academic and spiritual values.
It is not uncommon for military school graduates to matriculate to some of the nation's most prestigious colleges and universities. Many military school graduates become part of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program at their college or university of choice. ROTC is an elective program at many U.S. colleges and universities that is designed to turn out commissioned officers in the U.S. armed forces. It focuses on deepening the skills learned in military schools.
The Purpose of Military Schools
Military school educators are at pains to point out that their primary goal is not to train the next generation of soldiers -- only about five percent of military school graduates pursue a military career (Gehr, 1999, p. 65) - but to produce leaders in all fields. Discipline, these educators insist, is a creative tonic. To take one supporting example, some notable graduates of Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pa., are as diverse as General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of Allied forces in the First Gulf War; former New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman; Grammy-winning musician Jimmy Sturr; and J.D. Salinger, editor of the school's yearbook and later the famous author of The Catcher in the Rye (Gehr, 1999, p. 65).
Droste and Seyfert (1941) make a somewhat paradoxical argument that military schools are good at helping students understand the costs of war, thus making them even more pacifistic than the general public. A study conducted on the eve of World War II showed that military school graduates tended to be anything but militaristic:
…less than one in nine among the graduates of this military school showed any degree of militarism in their point of view and that even their militarism was of a very mild variety; that the other eight-ninths had either a neutral or a somewhat pacifistic outlook. Both the mean and the median scores fall in the category entitled "mildly pacifistic" (Droste & Seyfert, 1941, p. 591).
Why Send a Child to a Military School?
Parents send their children to military schools for two primary reasons: first, if there is a family history with the military or military schools; and second, if the children have had some degree of behavioral or disciplinary problems. As historian William Trousdale, author of Military High Schools in America, puts it, parents "use a military...
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