The presence of the military in our public schools.

William Ayers


Nota en español por OVE Editores: Para el Profesor William Ayers la educación pública en una democracia tiene como objetivo preparar ampliamente la juventud para la plena participación en la sociedad civil para que puedan tomar decisiones informadas sobre sus vidas y el futuro de la sociedad en su conjunto. El Departamento de Defensa tiene como objetivo limitar drásticamente esto en nuestras escuelas: influir en los estudiantes a “elegir” una carrera militar. El ejército exige sumisión y aceptación sumisa a la autoridad, mientras que una amplia educación para la vida democrática enfatiza la curiosidad, el escepticismo, la diversidad de opinión, investigación, iniciativa, coraje para tomar una posición impopular, y mucho más. Ayers aborda el tema en este artículo y señala que las anteriores generaciones enfrentaron los intentos del sistema para imponer una visión militarizada de la educación pública




 1. Public education is a civilian, not a military, system.

Public education in a democracy aims to broadly prepare youth for full participation in civil society so that they can make informed decisions about their lives and the future of society as a whole. The Department of the Defense has a dramatically more constrained  goal in our schools: influencing students to “choose” a military career. The military requires submissiveness and lock-step acquiescence to authority, while a broad education for democratic living emphasizes curiosity, skepticism, diversity of opinion, investigation, initiative, courage to take an unpopular stand, and more. This distinction—of a civilian, not a militarized, public education system—is one for which earlier generations fought.

During WW I, national debates took place over whether or not to include “military training” in secondary schools.  Dr. James Mackenzie, a school director, argued, in a remarkably resonant piece  published in the New York Times in 1916: “If American boys lack discipline, by all means, let us supply it, but not through a training whose avowed aim is human slaughter.” In 1917 a report issued by the Department of the Interior pointed out that “in no country in the world do educators regard military instruction in the schools as a successful substitute for the well-established systems of physical training and character building.” And in 1945 high school students in New York held public discussions about “universal military training” in schools, where some, an article noted, expressed “fears that universal military training would indicate to the world that we had a ‘chip on our shoulders.’”


  1. Military programs and schools are selectively targeted.

Professor Pauline Lipman of the University of Illinois at Chicago has documented that Chicago’s public military academies, along with other schools offering limited educational choices, are located overwhelmingly  in low income communities of color, while schools with rich curriculums including magnet schools, regional gifted centers, classical schools, IB programs and college prep schools are placed in whiter, wealthier communities, and in gentrifying areas. In other words, it’s no accident that Senn High School was forced to house a military school, while a nearby selective admission high school was not. This is a Defense Department strategy—target schools where students are squeezed out of the most robust opportunities, given fewer options, and  perceived, then, as more likely to enlist; recruit the most susceptible  intensively, with false promises and tactics that include bribes,  gifts, home visits, mailings, harassment,  free video games promoting the glories of war and offering chances to “kill,” and more. Indeed, the Defense Department spends as much as $2.6 billion each year on recruiting.


  1. Military schools and programs promote obedience and conformity.

Mayor Daley’s  claim that “[military programs] provide… students with the order and discipline that is too often lacking at home” taps into and fuels racialized perceptions and fears of unruly black and brown families and youth. They must be controlled., regulated, and made docile for their own good and for ours. An authentic commitment to the futures of these kids would involve, for a start, offering exactly what the most privileged youngsters have: art education, including dance, music instruction, theater and performance, and the visual arts,  sports and physical education, clubs and games, after-school opportunities, science and math labs, lower teacher-student ratios, smaller schools, and more. . Instead, to take one important example, a recent study by the Illinois Arts Council reports that in the city of Chicago, arts programs are distributed in the same way as the other rich educational offerings —white, wealthy communities have them, while low income communities of color have few or none.

A 16 year old student attending the naval academy in Chicago said in an interview in the Chicago Tribune: “When people see that we went to a military school, they know we’re obedient, we follow directions, we’re disciplined.”  She understood and accurately described the qualities her school aims to develop—unquestioning  rule-following.


  1. Military schools and programs promote and practice discrimination.

Although the Chicago Board of Education, City of Chicago, Cook County, and the State of Illinois all prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, the United States Military condones discrimination against lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men. Promoters of these schools and programs are willfully ignoring the fact that queer students attending these schools can’t access military college benefits or employment possibilities, and that queer teachers can’t be hired to serve as JROTC instructors in these schools. This double standard should not be tolerated. Following the courageous examples of San Francisco and Portland, Chicago should refuse to do business with organizations that discriminate against its citizens.

Military schools and programs  depend on logics of racism, conquest,  misogyny and homophobia. Military schools need unruly youth of color to turn into soldiers, and they need queers and girls as the shaming contrasts against which those soldiers will be created. In other words, soldiers aren’t sissies and they aren’t pussies, either. These disparagements are used as behavior regulators in military settings. Military public schools are a problem, not simply because  “don’t ask don’t tell” policies restrict the access of queers to full participation in the military, but because these schools require the active, systematic, and visible disparagement and destruction of queerness and queer lives. We reject the idea that queers should organize for access to the military that depends on our revilement for its existence, rather than for the right to privacy, the right to public life, and the right to life free from militarism.

We live in a city awash in the randomly, tragically spilled blood of our children. We live, all of us, in a violent nation that is regularly spilling the blood of other children, elsewhere. It sickens us to think of students marching and growing comfortable with guns.



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William Ayers

William Ayers

educador teórico estadounidense especializado en la enseñaza primaria quien en la década de 1960 fue un activista por la paz. Es conocido por la naturaleza radical de su activismo durante los años 60 y 70, como también por sus trabajos actuales en temas relacionados con la reforma educativa, el currículo, y la enseñanza. En 1969 fundó junto con otras personas la organización de izquierda radical Weather Underground, que llevó a cabo una campaña de colocación de bombas en edificios públicos durante los años 1960s y 1970s. Actualmente es profesor en el College of Education de la Universidad de Illinois en Chicago, ostentando los títulos de Profesor distinguido de Educación y Estudioso Universitario Superior

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