Rethinking Military Schools

Are you confounded by Common Core? Are you sick of endless standardized testing with less classroom teaching? Is your child doing the new fuzzy math?. Don't worry if you child doesn't learn 5th grade fractions or 6th grade decimals. You're told they're not important.

Don't worry about classic literature either. Katniss rules. According to the Lexile Index which tests readability,  Hunger Games is more complex then The Grapes of Wrath. Many of the classic texts from Hemingway to Milton may be replaced by fact-based magazines like Sports Illustrated.

At least he's getting all A's. In fact the entire class is composed of precocious students. Everyone has at least a 4.0 GPA or a 5.0 if they take AP courses.

Folks, sorry to burst your bubble but something is not right. It's called grade inflation. Johnny realizes after bombing the SAT or ACT that he didn't learn much. By that time it's usually too late to get into selective colleges. He has too many gaps in his learning. He may have to go to community college for remedial classes.

And then there's discipline. Little Johnny has been bullied all year and when he fights back, Zero Tolerance policies ensures that both he and the thug will have police records for assault.

You realize Catholic schools are not cutting it either. Parochial schools whose admissions peaked in the 1960s are closing in the inner cities. The academic rigor and discipline that hinged on diligent nuns is fading, while costs are increasing. However, eighth grade math and English scores are still 7.2 percent higher in Catholic schools as opposed to public schools.

Well, we also have a plethora of charter schools. I'll give you another option: military schools.


According to Dr. William B. Troussant in his book, Military High Schools in America, a century ago there were over 700 military schools. Today there are approximately 15. Originally, military schools were family-owned, Christian-based schools for poor youths. After the Civil War, these schools were staffed by returning military veterans and advocated a military preparation curriculum with strict discipline and offered excellent college preparation programs. Distinct from the Ivy League prep schools, military high schools catered to the sons of upper middle class families.

The establishment of public schools coupled with the inflation of the Great Depression which made operating costs soar led to the slow death of military schools. Family-run military schools had to incorporate and cede control or go bankrupt. The post-WWII inflation and recessions caused fiuther damage, while the Korean and Vietnam War drafts turned youths away from military schools. They saw no reason to spend their youth in a military school followed by forced induction into long wars. At the same time, feminism, racial equality, and school desegregation was occurring in society and in public schools.

Why do we need military schools?

There are approximately 10 percent of ambitious high school students that are squared away. With 4.0 GPA's they realize public school is not challenging. They want to be challenged and prepared for acceptance at a select or highly select college. Eighty percent need to be at a military school. They need to learn discipline, respect, manners, and develop self-confidence while learning study skills to be successful in academics and in life. The bottom 10 percent are problem kids -- they don't need to be in school and they usually don't last.

There are many misconceptions. Military schools are not for troubled teens. They are not reform schools. Military high schools are free of distractions. Many today are coed. The disciplined military platform allows learning to occur. Teachers are free to teach.

Only about 5 percent of students go on to a career in the military, which is about the same as public school.

The focus on math, science, and reading and writing prepares students for STEM majors in college and math or science careers. On average, about 95 percent of military high school graduates successfully complete a 4-year college curriculum.

Of the 80 percent that need to go to a military school, most realize that the discipline, the bonds formed, leadership lessons learned through Junior ROTC and a life of honor and integrity can be the key to turning their lives around.

Academic Rigor

My experience involves a boarding school, the state-sponsored, New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI.) where my son is attending as a high school sophomore.

In math, students learn algebra through calculus the old-fashioned way. They utilize Saxon Math. Developed by a former WWII Air Force pilot, John Saxon, it is the incremental approach. They start with the simplest facts, practice, add more facts, and constantly review the previous work. They memorize algorithms and quickly come to understand that algebra is something that must be mastered and remembered. It is not something to be forgotten as soon as the test is over. It is part of their tool kit as they build and take advanced courses.

From early morning drills, daily PT, breakfast, choir or band followed by classes from Chemistry, History, English, Math, and language classes like French, Spanish, and Arabic, followed by afternoon sports or clubs, there is little idle time. After dinner there is a mandatory study hall, two hours a night, six nights a week, with plenty of homework to build fact retention, along with dedicated teachers offering assistance. On the weekend there are parades, marches, and plenty of community service opportunities.

NMMI has a prestigious history dating back to 1890. Conrad Hilton and Sam Donaldson are just two of its distinguished alumni. Due to its superior curriculum, NMMI's U.S. Service Academy Preparatory Program continues to produce outstanding nominees for the Service Academies.

Over the past four years, superintendent Maj Gen. Jerry W. Grizzle has increased retention and turned a declining enrollment around. With an average math ACT score of nearly 25, NMMI is almost 5 points above the national average. Coupled with an ACT composite of 23.3 in 2012, NMMI was more then 2 points above the national average of 21.1. The teaching staff is excellent. Every faculty member has at least a Masters Degree in their field and some have Ph Ds with a 14:1 student/teacher ratio.

NMMI also has a junior college that was recently nationally ranked #2.

The commandant is the key to an effective military school. NMMI's Commandant of Cadets, Brigadier General Richard V. Geraci, U.S. Army, retired, is charged with providing for the safety, security, health and welfare, physical readiness, accountability, mentorship, leader development and discipline of the Corps of Cadets; and maintaining a positive leadership environment in which each cadet can achieve academic excellence and physical readiness while living the Cadet Honor Code.

Changing Educational Paradigms

I spoke to Colonel David West, assigned to the NMMI's Office of the Superintendent. An engineer, he referred me to the work of the renowned educator, Dr. Ken Robinson.

Robinson espouses that education is stuck in the educational milieu of the turn-of-the-last-century that trained students to work in the factory through conformity, compliance, and standardization. We are stuck in that antiquated paradigm of "one size fits all" whereas life today is constantly changing. We don't know what skills are required for a rapidly evolving work environment. We need creativity and we must realize that each student has myriad intelligences. Education must be individualized. First, it should foster diversity by offering a broad curriculum and encourage individualization of the learning process. Secondly, it should foster curiosity which depends on high-quality teacher training, and finally, it should focus on awakening creativity through alternative learning that places less emphasis on standardized testing.

It's ironic that you would expect conformity, compliance, and standardization as the military way. Colonel West illustrated the point through two female high school students just graduated high school while simultaneously completing a two-year degree at NMMI's junior college.

For many, military schools bring out, as Robinson espouses, "The Element" which is your passion. This passion is very liberating and results when a student finds his "tribe," a common vision and commitment to do what they feel they were born to do. The tribe at a military school can be the validation, inspiration, the circle of influence that is present in the barracks with your roommate or forged by the deep bonds of proud alumni that "wear the ring." It can exist in the esprit de corps of the corps of cadets and it creates a "Alchemy of Synergy" where like-minded individuals create something much greater than could be achieved individually -- greater than the sum of its parts. It can be the springboard to lifetime achievement.

NMMI is not alone. Excellence exists in many of the military high schools. I spoke to Marine Military Academy's (MMA) Director of Admissions, Lt. Col. Robert Grider, who stated that the all-male school is modeled after the U.S. Marine Corps where 60 percent of students want to be there. Honor, integrity, and discipline go hand-in-hand with reward and punishment. There are consequences for every act. Like NMMI, MMA espouses high expectations and high achievement. Grider emphasized it is not a school for bad kids rather it is a "Band of Brothers" that are united in a quest for achievement.

In addition to the service academies, military high schools boast that graduates have been accepted to many Tier One colleges including Ivy League schools, and Stanford and MIT as well as senior military colleges like Virginia Military Institute, the Citadel, Texas A&M, and other select colleges across America.

In closing, this nation sorely needs military high schools more than ever. We need future leaders with strength of character. Through an intensive program of demanding academics, leadership preparation, and character development, military high schools are achieving this purpose.

Military high school graduates have been successful in every career endeavor: industry, public service, education, science and the arts, and in the military. Renowned writers, actors, artists, professional athletes, politicians, and captains of industry stand alongside scientists and military leaders.

A central theme is a devotion to country, trust, integrity, dedication, service and responsibility, and the pursuit of excellence.

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