Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Chicago Schools—Military In; San Francisco Schools—Military Out

On Nov. 6, 2006, Arne Duncan announced his support for 19 new schools for Chicago’s students. Twelve of the 19 will be charter schools; another three will be “contract” schools. In other words, 15 of the 19 schools will operate outside the Chicago Teachers Union and outside the community guidance of Local School Councils.

One of the planned schools is the Marine Military Academy, scheduled to open in 2007, at 145 S. Campbell. The press release announcing Duncan’s plans describes the school as “the first public Marine Junior Reserved Officer Training Corps (JROTC) high school in the nation.” In contrast, on Nov. 14, San Francisco’s Board of Education voted to eliminate JROTC programs from its schools, through a two-year phase-out. Board member Dan Kelly, who voted to remove JROTC, described it as, "basically a branding program, or a recruiting program for the military.”

The military’s discrimination against LGBT people was also a factor in the decision to ditch the program. In an opinion piece in the Chronicle, board members Kelly and Mark Sanchez explain, “The U.S. military's ‘don't ask, don't tell’ policy toward gays and lesbians prevents JROTC from employing openly gay instructors and bars openly gay students from the preferential enlistment opportunities that are among JROTC's touted benefits.”

Supporters have claimed that JROTC is popular is San Francisco. Kelly and Sanchez point out that popularity shouldn’t be the only or even primary factor in deciding what programs schools offer—the bigger pictures—equity, fairness, justice—also have to be considered. Popular doesn’t equal appropriate, they say.

The claim of popularity may be more hyperbole than truth—San Francisco students formed an independent movement to oust JROTC from their high schools this year, and gathered more than 800 signatures on a petition supporting their position.

What do JROTC programs offer students? Spiffy uniforms, structure, a group, and the promise of help getting through college (if you aren’t queer). San Francisco plans to develop and pilot new programs next year, to address what the city’s families and students will miss when JROTC is gone.

I encourage the city to consider these ideas for its schools:

--Have students design their own uniforms, after exploring the forms and functions of uniforms from the past and present (this idea from fabulous SAIC art educator Maya Escobar; look at uniforms by artist Andrea Zittel and the exhibit RN by Mark Dion and J. Morgan Puett).

--Develop some “secret” clubs that are, conversely, open to all. These should have handshakes, special names (the blue-birds? the spiders?), marching bands and songs, drill teams with pink batons (this idea from every gay pride parade I’ve attended), and weekly meetings with games and snacks.

--Stock every school with art supplies, from kilns and clay and easels and paint, to design software and computers, and keep all the art rooms open and staffed until 9:00 PM.

--Offer scholarships to all students who want post-secondary education.

That would probably end any remaining JROTC-lust in our schools.

Now the question is—can Chicagoans follow the lead of San Franciscans and excise the military from our public schools? Our students need a chance to develop their creativity and critical thinking, not their obedience. And they need to know they can go on to college.

The Chicagoland Coalition Opposing Militarization of Youth has formed a working group to begin exploring the possibilities for opposing the planned Marine Academy. If you are interested in helping with this, contact Neal at

Friday, November 03, 2006

Public Military Schools or Jazz in Every Auditorium

Last year this letter objecting to the imposition of a naval academy on a public high school, signed by more than 50 area faculty of education, was sent to Arne Duncan (CEO of CPS), Daley (Mayor of Chicago), and the Chicago Board of Education. No answer to date.

Chicago already has the most militarized public school system in the nation, perhaps the world--10,000 students from middle school through high school participate in some form of military-focused education. And the city is planning more links between the military and the Chicago Public Schools. Daley and Duncan use "choice" as a mantra when talking about military schools, but what meaning does choice have in a school system built around "good" selective admission schools that accept only the smallest % of applicants and military schools that market themselves, and are marketed by CPS, as options for those rejected by their first choice schools.

As to the "military schools provide discipline" pitch--so would true engagement in the visual arts, literature, music and the sciences. And the kind of discipline developed through the humanities, arts and sciences is a different kind than the military develops or wants. Writers and other artists grow toward self-discipline and self-motivation; they learn to be inspired by their own curiosities, intuition, and observations. Ditto scientists. In contrast, what the military aims to foster is obedience.

When Daley offers military schools and uniforms, let's ask for arts academies and sewing machines (the students can design and sew their own uniforms!). The best schools in the world are Finnish, according to The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Finnish elementary school students learn to sew and knit in their art classes.

When Duncan says our children need the routine and order of JROTC drills, let's ask for trumpets, drums, flutes, clarinets, and pianos, and a jazz band for every school. School band practice is at least as disciplinary as military marching, and less damaging world-wide.

February 4, 2005

Dear Arne Duncan, Mayor Daley, and Members of the Chicago Board of Education:

On December 15th 2004 Chicago’s Board of Education voted to approve the establishment of a “Naval Academy” in Senn High School located in Chicago’s Edgewater community. One of Chicago’s most diverse schools, Senn is home to 1,700 students from more than 65 countries. Good things have been happening at this neighborhood institution—Senn has a successful International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, was recently awarded a five-year $1.2 million grant from the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation to provide development and support services to freshmen and sophomores, and was selected as one of only 16 National Service-Learning Leader Schools.

Despite these and other successes, against the wishes of many Senn teachers, students, and parents, and without a process for community consultation, you decided to install a Naval Academy at Senn High School in fall 2005.

There are many reasons to oppose this decision. The lack of neighborhood involvement is one: It is simply wrong to remake this school without considering community voices and vision. The apparent hypocrisy of city leaders is another: How can the city endorse the military for Chicago Public School students when the Chicago City Council has declared the city a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone and voted to reject the invasion of Iraq and the U.S. Patriot Act? And, as educators, we oppose the proposed Naval Academy, because it and other military academies offer:

--Bad education
The evidence is overwhelming that urban military-themed schools fail to provide a high quality education that prepares youth to graduate high school and enter college. Instead of receiving a well-rounded education, students study subjects like “Military Science” and “Army Customs and Courtesies.” With that kind of preparation, is it a surprise that at Chicago’s Carver Military Academy, similar in structure to the proposed Naval Academy, only 54% of students graduate high school, and only 34% of graduating seniors enter college?

--Racial targeting
The pattern is clear: The Chicago Board of Education targets low-income, primarily African American, communities for military-themed high schools. Schools for the elite, such as Northside College Prep, are not forced to house military programs. Instead, these schools and their upper-income white communities are offered gifted, magnet, and college prep schools and programs. Imposing a Naval Academy at Senn will reinforce this negative and unfortunately familiar message: poor youth of color merit substandard education.

--Sanctioned discrimination
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is not acceptable for Chicago’s gay, lesbian. bisexual and transgendered youth. 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 sexual minorities. Military schools are partnerships between the United States Armed Services and Chicago Public Schools; like San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, Chicago should refuse to allow the military to recruit in its public schools, and refuse to do business with organizations that discriminate against its citizens.

Chicago must provide high quality education equally to all its youth and communities. The racially targeted establishment of military-themed schools is wrong in every case. But in a time of seemingly boundless budgets for endless war it is especially fraught to tell poor kids, “The best education we can offer you is one linked to combat.” This is not a “choice,” as Arne Duncan has referred to the proposed Naval Academy, it is a tragedy.

As faculty in colleges and programs of education across Chicago, we know this city can do better. And it must.


1. Ken Addison, Northeastern Illinois University; 2. William Ayers, University of Illinois at Chicago; 3. Megan Bangs, Northwestern University; 4. Paula Baron, Northeastern Illinois University; 5. Amy Blumenthal, Oakton Community College; 6. Bonnie Chauncey, Northeastern Illinois University; 7. Pauline Clardy, National-Louis University; 8. Nell Cobb, DePaul University; 9. Jennifer Cohen, DePaul University; 10. Chuck Cole, University of Illinois at Chicago; 11. Dionne Danns, University of Illinois at Chicago; 12. Steve Dundis, Northeastern Illinois University; 13. Sarah Efron, National-Louis University; 14. Michael Fagen, Northeastern Illinois University; 15. Susan Gabel, National-Louis University; 16. Joby Gardner, DePaul University; 17. Artin Göncü, University of Illinois at Chicagol 18. Eric (Rico) Gutstein, University of Illinois at Chicago; 19. Lisa Hochtritt, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; 20. Stacey Horn, University of Illinois at Chicago; 21. Ed Hunt, Northeastern Illinois University; 22. Sue Jungck, National-Louis University; 23. Sy Karlin, National-Louis University; 24. Jeffrey Kuzmic, DePaul University; 25. Eva Lam, Northwestern University; 26. Pauline Lipman, DePaul University; 27. Norma Lopez-Reyna, University of Illinois at Chicago; 28. Sharon McNeely, Northeastern Illinois University; 29. Erica Meiners, Northeastern Illinois University; 30. Gregory Michie, National-Louis University; 31. Karen Monkman, DePaul University; 32. Christopher Murray, DePaul University; 33. April Nauman, Northeastern Illinois University; 34. Irma Olmedo, University of Illinois at Chicago; 35. Roger Passman, Northeastern Illinois University; 36. Patricia Pelletier, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; 37. Jan Perney, National-Louis University; 38. John Ploof, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; 39. Todd Price, National-Louis University; 40. Therese Quinn, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; 41. Patrick Roberts, National-Louis University; 42. tammy ko robinson, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; 43. Kenneth Saltman, DePaul University; 44. Bill Schubert, University of Illinois at Chicago; 45. Brian Schultz, National-Louis University; 46. Katherine Schuster, Oakton Community College; 47. Katy Smith, Northeastern Illinois University; 48. Terry Stirling, Northeastern Illinois University; 49. David Stovall, University of Illinois at Chicago; 50. Joaquim Villegas, Northeastern Illinois University; 51. Pat Walsh, Northeastern Illinois University; 52. Steve Wolk, Northeastern Illinois University; 53. Christopher Worthman, DePaul University

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Accredit Love Not Condemnation

My colleague, Erica Meiners, and I attended the Illinois Association for Colleges for Teacher Education on Friday the 13th of October. The conference was held at Wheaton College (apropos the date?), and its conveners opened the event with a prayer (it was a public event, so why the coercive calls to Jesus?--a moment of silence would have been more respectful of the diverse attendees' views). We hoped that many of the folks attending would accept a hot pink button (fist in apple--power to the teachers!), and that even more would sign the Accredit Love Not Condemnation Pledge (we are asking that only teacher education programs that promote love and respect for lesbian and gay students, families, and community members, be accredited; see previous post for more about the pledge and to read about teacher education programs that endorse condemnation, rather than love). The buttons were more popular than the pledge, though. We collected three of these (thanks, friends). The best part of the conference--meeting our fellow queer educators (yes, Wheaton--there were many of us "condemned" ones on your campus that day). Worst? That's a toss-up--maybe that so many people wouldn't make eye contact with me (making it so damn hard to cruise...oh!...that's what they were afraid of!); maybe that there's a building named after Billy ("this [Jewish] stranglehold has got to be broken") Graham; maybe that we saw a car in the parking lot with "disabled person" plates and a bumper sticker proclaiming "No Civil Rights Without Citizenship"; maybe that a sister passed her signed pledge to Erica in the women's bathroom (but again, thank you); maybe that Sharon Robinson, the President (and CEO--odd?) of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and a featured speaker, wouldn't say that sexual orientation should be an aspect of diversity that is addressed in all teacher education programs. With love, of course, not condemnation! Well, we plan to attend the spring meeting of the group in greater numbers and with more and better props (but please...not at Wheaton). Care to join us?