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Correspondent Friday, 21 March, 2003, 15:31 GMT
The price of an army education
American military school kids on parade
Is this just a scheme to recruit for a life in the services?
Charles Wheeler

The US military is putting more and more money into America's high schools. Charles Wheeler reports on why the growing militarisation of America's schoolchildren is giving some cause for concern.

In 2002, President Bush's New Education Act - No Child Left Behind - became law. But, buried within it, are two clauses that have a sting in the tail.

One clause demands increased access to high schools for military recruiters.

And another asks schools to provide names, addresses and telephone numbers of children in every school to military recruiters.

Erin Stewart
Erin Stewart is Bronzeville's top pupil
Schools that refuse to co-operate have been told they are liable to lose their federal education funds.

A key to education

Karon Stewart is a single mother. Her twin daughters, Erin and Elizabeth, are at Bronzeville Military Academy in Chicago.

It is a normal high school but all the students are members of the Junior Reserve Officers training Corps (JROTC).

The students in Bronzeville are drawn from mainly African Americans, and wear uniform all day.

They have a chance at an education they wouldn't otherwise have

Karon Stewart
The equipment and the salaries of the military teachers are funded by the Pentagon.

Ms Stewart sees the military involvement in the school as her way of giving her children a good start in life.

"This is a chance to better their situation - they have a chance at an education they wouldn't otherwise have," she says.

Erin Stewart is Bronzeville's battalion commander and she is convinced of the benefits of the JROTC system.

"We get the same education as the regular high school, but get a little bit more," she says.

Her sister Elizabeth agrees but says: "There are a lot of students in our class who say that they don't like the military, they might like our school, but as far as going into the military, they disagree."

Quakers protest

Although the military training is integrated with the curriculum, and the students are willing participants, not everyone in Chicago agrees with the system.

Jennifer Bing-Canar
Jennifer Bing-Canar is concerned that the military only target deprived areas
Protests are often staged in the city centre.

"I don't think they are training leaders, I think what they are doing is they're training young people saying the military way of life is the right one," said Jennifer Bing-Canar, a Quaker.

"It's giving hope to a lot of people that frankly don't have a lot of other options in our society."

Twenty minutes drive away from Bronzeville is Farragut Career Academy.

Nine out of 10 children, in the 2300 pupil school, are Hispanic, with fewer than 10% being African American.

And with this ethnic mix, certain degrees of disorder exist.

The Principal, Edward Guerra says they have cut down mob violence in the school from five or six a week to zero.

General George S Patton
Patton school sits at ease with Farragut
"Some kids know if they leave out the wrong door it could be a wrong move - they could be a statistic," he told Correspondent.

Army on top

It appears to be a civilian school. But, even at Farragut, the military have gained a toehold - The Patton Military Academy.

One floor up from Farragut, the students in this military academy learn the patriotic creed and flag folding in a rigid, disciplined environment.

The attraction for students is that the military pay their tuition fees for their higher education.

But, in return, students have to join the army, the reserves or the National Guard.

"This programme is not about recruiting for the military and we do not promote that in the least," Lt Colonel Mills, who is in charge of Chicago's military schools, told Correspondent

"What we promote is excellence, academic learning, leadership and success in life, that's what we want to see."

But in the corridors of the school, a US Marine Corporal was seen openly recruiting for the Corps.

Somehow, these schools co-exist in stark contrast - chaos versus conformity.

Military service

With this military education, comes the ultimate pay-back.

Elizabeth Stewart
Elizabeth Stewart is paying the ultimate price for education
Bronzeville student Elizabeth Stewart had signed up for the army - but did not understand the extent of her commitment.

Her college bills were paid by the military. But now she and her mother are faced with the realities of National Guard service - she could be sent to the Middle East.

"My daughter is just like all the other kids whose parents couldn't afford to pay for college," says Karon Stewart.

"If I had had money for her to go to college she probably wouldn't have joined the National Guard, so that's a burden I bear."

America's School Kid Soldiers was broadcast on BBC Two on Sunday, 23 March, 2003 at 1845 GMT.

Erin Stewart
"You have to do your homework - I like it though"
Karon Stewart
"My kids aren't any different from anybody elses kids"
Jennifer Bing-Canar
"I don't think they're training leaders"
See also:

18 Mar 03 | Country profiles
11 Mar 03 | Country profiles
16 Feb 02 | Newsnight
09 Sep 99 | Education
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