DeKalb County school officials are forging ahead with plans to open a first-of-its-kind military-style public high school, despite a growing campaign by activists upset at the involvement of the U.S. Marines.
“It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened in Georgia education,” said Michael Burke, a DeKalb resident and spokesman for the Georgia Veterans Alliance, a group that aligns itself with the work of the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, among others.
“The whole thing is just a ploy” to help the Marines recruit, Burke said. “We expect to fight it tooth and nail.”
That response irritated DeKalb school system officials. They said it stereotypes the proposed Marine school and students who may be interested in it. The protests — mounted largely through e-mails and letters — have not deterred them, they said.
“This is not a training ground to send kids into the military,” said DeKalb schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis, whose system, with 99,700 students, is the state’s third-largest. “My job is not to look after a portion of children but all the children. One size does not fit all. For the mom who believes her child is capable of going to college but lacks discipline, this is a choice.”
The DeKalb Marine Corps Institute will be the first of its kind in Georgia, and joins an expanding network of such schools nationwide. The first public military academy opened in Richmond, Va., in 1980, and more than a dozen now exist in places from New York to Wisconsin.
One proponent has been Arne Duncan, recently nominated as the nation’s education secretary after leading the Chicago public school system since 2001. Chicago opened the nation’s first public high school run by the Army’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and now features six full-site military academies, among other military-style programs.
To use a military analogy, opponents of this school are fighting the wrong battle against the wrong enemy. Their real argument, I suspect, is not with the military as a profession or as an institution; it is with decisions by elected civilian leadership on how that institution has been used or, too often, misused.
But military service, if that’s what kids choose, is a honorable and often wise career choice. For a lot of young people, a few years in the military acts as a useful bridge from adolescence to adulthood, particularly for those not ready academically, economically or emotionally for college. Even many high school kids respond well to the challenge and discipline of a military setting but might falter under some less structured system.
Attendance at the school is voluntary. It creates no commitment to later enlistment. I hope DeKalb officials stick to their guns … so to speak.