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This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Bringing the military into US schools 14/2/02

TOM CARVER:
At six in the morning, Rubin Rodriguez gets ready for drill. His little brother, Joshua, tries to keep on sleeping in the bed they share. Rubin goes to Bronzeville Military Academy, a state school run by the military. Where Rubin comes from, most teenagers have only a passing connection with school. Truancy, gang warfare and illiteracy are all endemic. This is a tough part of town. Walking to school in a military uniform takes some courage.

General FRANK BACON:
(Director, Bronzeville Military Academy)
You've got formation in five minutes, lets move it! Step over here and give him your name.

TOM CARVER:
When they arrive, the principal is waiting, checking they look smart.

General FRANK BACON:
You can't wear those grey shoes on the bus on the way to school. They're not uniform.

TOM CARVER:
Being the south side of Chicago, Bronzeville Military Academy is 90% black. Like other state schools, it's open to any kid, but cadets, as they're called, must wear the uniform and agree to the military way of doing things. There's no shortage of applicants. Last year 1,000 families applied. The school has even introduced an entrance exam to filter them. If they don't toe the line, they're expelled. This isn't a correctional facility. For Rubin, whose only alternative was a grim local high school, Bronzeville appears to have given him a new-found sense of confidence.

RUBIN RODRIGUEZ:
If I had gone to my local school, I think I would have got harassed by gang members, and I think I would have probably dropped out in a couple of months. I feel, in a way, that I'm better than them, because I'm more respectful than them. That's my attitude towards them. I just walk by with my head up.

TOM CARVER:
I came here expecting the school to feel cramped and restrictive, but these teenagers, who have never had much of a chance to learn, seem liberated by the boot camp style.

Sergeant WILLIAM GRATE:
(Bronzeville Military Academy)
Are you chewing gum?

UNNAMED CADET:
Yes sir.

Sergeant WILLIAM GRATE:
Why?

CADET:
I forgot to spit it out, sir.

TOM CARVER:
The nine military instructors are paid for half by the army and half by the board of education. Sergeant Willie Grate is here after serving 24 years in the infantry.

Sergeant WILLIAM GRATE:
A lot of them find it real tough. Today a lot of young kids don't like discipline, but I think they're coming along great. Most of the kids look pretty good. They've come along.

TOM CARVER:
There's no question that Bronzeville Academy gives these kids a chance to learn in an atmosphere free of drugs and violence. In that sense, it's an improvement on other schools in this area. Using taxpayers' money to march teenagers up and down a drill hall is certainly novel. The real test is whether it equips them for a life in the outside world, as opposed to a life in the military. The mastermind behind Bronzeville is General Frank Bacon, a veteran of World War II and Korea. He persuaded the Chicago Education Board and the Pentagon to pony up $24 million to build a school in the neighbourhood where he grew up.

General FRANK BACON:
(Director, Bronzeville Military Academy)
I'm not equipping them for life in the military. There is a danger in that. Please, no. I'm very clear on this. Please know that we are training young people for college. Our goal at this school is that 90% of our kids will graduate, and 70% of them will go to college on a scholarship that has been provided by the school.

TOM CARVER:
Do you encourage them to go in the military?

General FRANK BACON:
I encourage them to go to college first. Then if they want to go in the military, no problem. It is a career.

TOM CARVER:
Everywhere you look there are recruitment posters for the military. In the wake of September 11th, the armed forces have gained in stature, especially among impressionable teenagers with few other career options. Bronzeville Academy is surrounded by a bleak, decaying landscape. Because it's able to choose pupils from all over Chicago, it doesn't necessarily have to take in the local kids. Community leaders don't question its success, but they do worry about it becoming elitist.

Dr SOKONI KARANJA:
The real negative aspect, as far as I'm concerned, is that we put them in an environment that is not like the real world. It is an environment where they are considered elite, and they don't interact with their peers. The folks they go home to are very different from the folks that they interact with all day. They may even become strangers in their own community.

TOM CARVER:
The military concept is catching on. Three miles down the road is Carver High, a rough local school which was plagued by gang violence. Then, two years ago, Carver High turned to the military for help. They asked the army to take over running school discipline and some of the activities, like gym. Today, the academic scores are still below average, but the classrooms are peaceful and the kids seem to now take some pride in the school. What is it like being in a military academy as opposed to school?

Cadet FLEMING:
At first we didn't like it, you don't like nobody telling you in your face what to do. But we are happy, we learn discipline.

TOM CARVER:
What about the gangs? You hear a lot about the gangs here?

UNNAMED CADET:
We don't have any anymore.

Cadet MULBERY:
The ones around my house, most of them say some stuff, but others respect you for it, because you are doing something positive, and you ain't out there with them, messing up. So some of them tease you, but some look up to you.

Cadet CLARK:
(Platoon Captain)
Here they teach you not to be on the streets, to make something of yourself. I feel comfortable, yeah.

TOM CARVER:
The military regime is being phased in over four years, which gives the school a curious appearance. Junior years are required to wear military uniform and do the drill and press-ups, the seniors are not. Do you tease the kids that have to wear the uniform?

MAURICE McCATZ:
Yeah, we tease them if their pants are tight, shirt too little. They make them do push-ups.

AARON BARNETT:
We don't like that. They do push-ups for no reason. I can't do push-ups.

TOM CARVER:
A sergeant has never tried to make you do push-ups?

AARON BARNETT:
They try to, but I told them I'm not doing it and they can't help it. Respect. If I was younger, then they could tell me, but now, sorry.

TOM CARVER:
The more peaceful atmosphere attracts better kids. They, in turn, raise the standards further. It's a virtuous circle. Dr Johnson, the principal, well remembers how all the windows in the dining room used to be regularly smashed during fights.

Dr WILLIAM JOHNSON:
(Principal, Carver High School)
At any given time, you could have chaos, a confrontation or a fight. Our truancy rate was extremely high. Chronic tardiness. Kids that would get to fourth period and leave and go home. It was almost like the insane asylums, to a certain extent.

TOM CARVER:
When you brought in the military, did the atmosphere change?

Dr WILLIAM JOHNSON:
You come into the halls of Carver, you know learning is taking place. In the past, it was a bull rushing in, and it was chaotic. Now you come in orderly. So the climate has changed. Our perception from the community has changed. People no longer view us as a school of last resort.

TOM CARVER:
Like Bronzeville, the community here is dying on its feet. Much of the public housing has been boarded up. The day we visited, there was a shooting in the street. Tarathe Brown, a single mother, doesn't have time to cook much of a dinner for her five children. Her two eldest daughters are at Carver. Apart from the fact that one of them now wants to join the navy, Tarathe has seen a change.

TARATHE BROWN:
I would be telling her sometimes, "You have to listen to what I say, and just shut your mouth sometimes". But now, since she went up to the high school, she ain't stopped completely, but she's getting there gradually. You know, to listen to what I have to say instead of her trying to get the last word in.

UNNAMED INSTRUCTOR:
One thing is guaranteed, you can be replaced. You can be replaced.

TOM CARVER:
At Carver, all the uniforms and parade ground routines seem to give teenagers a sense of identity. After spending their lives in the inner city being ignored by society, even the attention of the drill instructor is better than nothing. They feel that they finally count for something, and are part of a community. Using the military to operate a state school certainly raises concerns, and it's too soon to claim it produces better grades, but there's little doubt that Carver High School is an easier place to learn and teach now that it's under the military's watchful eye.


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