Education Toward War

Faith Agostinone-Wilson

We enter 2008 on the knife’s edge of economic crisis.  Foreclosures are a common sight, with entire streets featuring homes for sale.  Home equity is the lowest it has been since 1945 and the nation’s savings rate is zero.  Household debt levels mirror the national debt, with many people putting doctors’ visits and college tuition on multiple credit cards, maxed to their limits.  Food costs are rising at the fastest rates of inflation in fifteen years, far outpacing the amount that food stamps allotments.  Charity-based food pantry levels are low—arguably the real measure of economic health.  Oil finally reached $100.00 a barrel, impacting transportation and the food supply, built on the corporate agri-business model that relies on long-distance shipping versus local farming.   Jobs cuts are at a five year high, yet the profits of large companies keep rising, the triumph of the Bush tax cuts.

The American economy is linked like a ball and chain to the cash- and soul-sucking Iraq invasion, along with bloated military budgets sustaining a global, imperial presence, mostly used to protect business interests.  With money tied up in Iraq, infrastructure collapse and inability (and unwillingness) to respond to natural disasters such as Katrina are inevitable.  The swooping in of neoliberal city “planners” in New Orleans and Chicago are systematically driving out low income families by mounting an attack on local public school systems.  Substance News documents a record number of school closings in Chicago, paving the way for more “acceptable” whites and upper middle class families to “reclaim” neighborhoods.  These schools, if they are reopened, are made over into selective public or private charter schools that set admissions standards and continually deny services to the poor and families who have students with special learning needs.  The “success” of the Chicago model has been put into play in New Orleans (Quigley, 2007).

An economy on the edge of instability creates the perfect conditions for militarism as the solution to societal problems.  This is reflected in soaring incarceration rates, with 2008 estimates being one out of every 100 adults behind bars (Liptak, 2008).  The situation for African-American adults is even worse in 2008 with one out of fifteen being imprisoned.  At the root of militarism is the belief that humans are inherently bad and in need of authoritarian controls- specifically, controls for those perceived more unruly, such as the poor and minorities.  Artificially created scarcity is the only spark needed to ignite the chain of events the war-makers desire.

Education plays a key role in the justification of militarism and the naturalization of war as “the only solution,” accompanying the dogma “there is no alternative to capitalism.”  Biological determinism resurrects itself through evolutionary biologists like Steven Pinker arguing that humankind is built for war and the free market (Gasper, 2004).  War is a common feature for analysis in K-12 history and social study content standards for the 50 states.  History is taught with war being the primary force of meaning and the locus of social change while at the same time strongly discouraging the rights of oppressed groups to resist through force or extralegal methods.  Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton’s January 2008 statement about civil rights is a reflection of this filtering of history through “official channels”:

I would point to the fact that Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality. The power of that dream became real in people’s lives because we had a president who said, “We are going to do it,” and actually got it accomplished (Media Matters, 2008).

When people do not perceive themselves as having agency in history, they absorb the prevailing ideology, which, according to Marx, is always the ideology of the ruling class.


This paper is meant to be an accessible analysis of the education/war connection in terms of laws, policy and the economic situation facing young people in America today.  The first of two parts examining the school-to-military pipeline, it is not an overarching exploration of state-sponsored militarism or armed forces advertising in the mass media, as beautifully presented in Education as Enforcement (Saltman & Goodman, 2008).  Though corporate connections are always behind militarism, this paper instead looks closely at the problems facing those interested in resisting militarism at its choke point- recruiting.  It also examines the school to war pipeline’s targeting of young people aged 13-29, including college students.  While assuming that right wing resistance toward anti-militarism is rampant and ubiquitous, scholar-activists cannot ignore the influence of centrist-liberal support for military presence within the schools, contributing to its veneer of acceptability.

It is hoped that a wide audience will find this paper useful, not just within the confines of academia.  A combination of dialectical-materialist analysis along with utilizing popular media sources in a readable language is the goal.  Building a successful anti-war movement has to involve multiple paths and alliances, not a top-down hierarchy, though leadership and organization is key.  This paper is meant to initiate a conversation about how to build on successful strategies of resistance, by starting at the beginning, so to speak.  I am assuming that I am not the only person surprised to find the extent of the military’s involvement within K-12 schools and universities, as I did when starting to collect research for this paper.  Information will be presented to systematically convey the seriousness of the situation.  Their side is well-armed:  ideologically, legally, monetarily, and literally.  The second installment (forthcoming) will assess the state of the counter-recruiting movement today, along with a historical analysis of military resistance in the draft and post-draft eras.

The two ideologies that make resisting military recruiting the most difficult include: 1) the presentation of the “all volunteer” army and 2) the military being perceived as a jobs training program and college financial aid institution.  This paper will examine these ideologies, along with counter-arguments that teacher educators and other war resistors can use to deconstruct them.  Until these two ideologies can be effectively challenged, building a compelling—and lasting—case for resisting military recruiting in post-draft era schools will not happen.

Though not intending to contribute to a climate of despair, it is very important for those interested in resisting recruiting to understand the scope of what we are up against.  In this vein, a presentation of laws and policies will be the opening, followed by a discussion of the volunteer army and military-as-jobs ideologies.  Counter-arguments will be presented in the form of the economic realities facing young civilians and veterans, often compelling them to enlist.  References used are a combination of scholarly as well as mass media sources, along with recruiting manuals.  In many cases, alternative media and scholarly journals likeInternational Socialist ReviewZ MagazineJournal for Critical Education Policy Studies, and Substance Newsprovided the most accurate and contemporary coverage of the school to work pipeline rather than traditional academic journals which seemed reluctant to publish work from a revolutionary or Marxist stance openly opposing military recruiting at both the K-12 and university levels.

The Military Presence in the Schools

At a November 2007 Chicago Board of Education meeting, 14 active-duty military personnel were in attendance.  Schmidt (2007) recounts the unusual events:

In order to get in the door, you had to say “excuse me” to a uniformed soldier.  Inside, a squad of Marines was standing, all in uniform, along the walls at the side and back of the meeting room.   One soldier in desert combat fatigues and desert boots was standing in the group of Marines.  There were uniformed soldiers or Marines at both entrances (p.1).

Schmidt was later told by Marine officials that the soldiers had been asked to attend the meeting as a show of support for allowing recruiter access for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).  “The New Policy on Recruiter Access had been developed as a result of growing parental and civic pressure on CPS to stop allowing military recruiters what amounted in some schools to unlimited access to Chicago high school juniors and seniors” (p.9).  After an anti-war Iraq veteran in support of limited recruiter access testified about her experiences with the JROTC and their misrepresentations–including paying her $100.00 per day to wear her uniform as a high school student to entice others to enlist—the uniformed soldiers had departed the meeting.

Recruiters have open access to schools, at both K-12 and postsecondary institutions.  This has been accomplished through a combination of legislation and relentless cultivation of friendly relationships between the schools and the military through various programs targeting students and faculty.  Asserting that the military should have the same access to colleges as other employment firms, the Solomon Amendment (1996) not only allows access to college campuses, it can authorize the government to take action against postsecondary institutions that prevent recruiting, including denying certain Federal funds.  Noncompliance with the policy is reported by recruiters, who present documentation of potential offenses to the Recruiting Battalion Education Services (School Recruiting Program Handbook, 2004, p.9).

An extension of the Solomon Amendment, the Hutchinson Amendment (2002) allows recruiter access to secondary schools.  Educational agencies have to report directory information to the Department of Defense, “as it is provided generally to postsecondary education institutions” (School Recruiting Program Handbook, 2004, p.9).  Mirroring the process of being sent to the principal’s office, schools that do not comply are reported by the Secretary of Defense “to the specified congressional committee, Senators of the State in which the school is located, and the member of the House of Representatives who represents the school district” (p.9).

Closely related to the Hutchinson Amendment, The Armed Forces Recruiter Access to Students and Student Recruiting Information, Section 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act (2001), ties federal funding to the release of secondary student directory information to military recruiters.  While providing the chance for parents and students to opt out, individuals have to make the request in writing, adding an extra step in the paperwork trail that parents are inundated with already.  Proponents of the “volunteer army” are proud to point to the opt-out feature of NCLB to prove the authenticity of “choosing” to join the military, but one wonders that if the military were truly “voluntary,” wouldn’t it make more sense to have to complete paperwork to “opt in” instead?  And why do we have the threat of withdrawing federal funding in all of these pieces of legislation?  Most revealingly, the Recruiting Operations Manual (2006) states that while military officials can ‘remind’ schools that they have to comply, “recruiters and their leaders cannot rely on public law to gain access to schools and students. Real success can come only with a well planned and well executed school recruiting plan” (p.21).

Taking the threat of withholding funding to the extreme and in an act of “red meat revenge,” Senators Jim DeMint (famous for his recommendation that gay people or single mothers who live with their partners not teach in public schools) and Jim Inhofe (who believes climate change is a hoax and that the Weather Channel is in on it) introduced H.R.5222 otherwise known as the “Sempre Fi Act.”  Ignoring the concept of “local control” often favored by conservatives when it comes to excluding minorities, the Act was created in response to the recent Berkeley City Council’s Resolution to limit recruiter access to the city on the basis of a) the military’s discrimination against the GLBT community, b) the tendency of recruiters to renege on promises made to enlistees, and c) the propensity of the military to engage in illegal invasions of other countries. The Sempre Fi Act would rescind funds that would go to Berkley and transfer those funds to Marine recruiting coffers.  As of mid-February, 2008, an anonymous hold has been placed on the bill (Bender, 2008).  Though not likely to pass, the Act is important because it is meant as a domestic PSYOPs not only for the counter-recruiters, but for the public at large, who is supposed to see military recruiters as being constantly victimized by powerful leftists and in need of patriotic protection by the good ol’ boys.

Within the schools themselves, Section 2302 of No Child Left Behind (2001) authorizes funding for the Troops-to-Teachers Program, with a particular emphasis on targeting schools with large percentages of low-income students.  Administered by the Department of Defense, Troops-to-Teachers provides for certification or licensing of veterans to teach in elementary and secondary public schools.  As of 2005, more than 6,000 teachers have been placed in school systems via the program.  “These teachers are strategically placed in prime recruiting areas to help recruiters establish “school ownership” (International Action Center, 2005, p. 23).  In some California schools with large minority populations, veterans are given a six-week course and placed immediately in the classroom (Mariscal, 2004, para.14).

The Marine Corps have used a program called the Educator Workshop (Mariscal, 2004), designed to “win over influencers” (school personnel) by having them attend a week of boot camp (International Action Center, 2005, p.23). Teachers who take part in the “workshop” every year (40 from each recruiting zone) are flown to San Diego or Parris Island and set up in local hotels.  In addition, they are paid $225.00 (Mariscal, 2004, para.11).  The idea behind the program is to create a bond with the military and then carry that excitement back to their schools to pass on to “prospective enlistees” (International Action Center, 2005, p.23).  However, Mariscal (2004) points out, “military veterans are considered to be potentially disruptive given their first hand knowledge of military values and practices” and are not allowed to participate in the workshop (para.13).

Indeed, the military is highly intent on making as many connections with “influencers” as possible, as indicated in this passage from the School Recruiting Program Handbook (2004):

Many faculty members are prior service or are current members of the United States Army Reserve.  Try to identify these individuals and develop them as centers of influence (COIs).  Your goal is to develop as many COIs as possible for the schools.  Don’t forget the administrative staff since many of them act as policy makers.  Establish and maintain rapport and always treat them with respect.  Also, have something to give them (pen, calendar, cup, donuts, etc.) and always remember secretary’s week with a card or flowers (p.5).

The Handbook goes on to instruct recruiters to look for student influencers, “…class officers, newspaper and yearbook editors, and athletes” who “can help build interest in the Army among the student body” (p.3).  “First to contact, first to contract” is the policy outlined, with the warning “if you wait until they’re seniors, it is probably too late” (p.3).  Recruiters are expected to actively promote a positive image of the military to students old enough to begin thinking about their career.

The Recruiting Operations Manual (2006) uses a bizarre juxtaposition of military doctrine (in italics) and recommendations (directly below, in regular font) for appealing to students, as in the following two excerpts, begging the question, who is the “enemy?”

Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage.
1-26. Recruiters must establish and maintain a visible and active presence in their markets. By so doing, recruiters will promote the Army as the service of choice for he young people they seek to recruit (p.17).

Strike the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which he is unprepared.
1-27. An Army recruiter will likely surprise no one when he or she visits a high school or college campus. However, the recruiter can create surprise—even delight—by demonstrating genuine interest in young people. Some people will expect an Army recruiter to have an interest in nothing more than “filling his quota.” The oldier or civilian employee who counsels and mentors young people and lives the Army values will indeed surprise those people (p.17).

Similar to the School Recruiting Program Handbook (2004), that warns ominously “like the farmer who fails to guard the hen house, we can easily lose our schools and relinquish ownership to other services if we fail to maintain a strong school recruiting program (SRP)” (p.2), the Operations Manual (2006) states that “recruiting quality soldiers to fight the Global War on Terrorism means recruiters and their leaders must be fully engaged with the market” in the schools (p.29).  Schools are pivotal, because “without a strong schools program, you cannot have an effective grad recruiting program” (p.21).  Using language like “taking the offensive” (directing the nature of an operation), “market areas of interest” (all educational institutions, public and private), “total market penetration” (schools and the larger community), “target rich environment” (a school with a lot of potential recruits, i.e. poor and minority), the Operations Manual is straightforward in its goals with minimal ambiguity.

School recruiting programs are now targeting Latino/a students, who compose 22% of the recruiting market, twice the rate of Latino/as in the general population (roughly 13.5%) (Mariscal, 2004, para.3).  “Visit any high school with a large Latino population, and you will find JROTC units, Army-sponsored computer games, and an overabundance of recruiters, often more numerous than career counselors” (para.6).  An entry point to recruiting minority students is the administration of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) during the junior or senior year of high school.  The ASVAB is not only an enlistment screening tool, it is a way for recruiters to insert themselves into schools by helpfully providing “a cost-effective career exploration program” to low-income schools (School Recruiting Program Handbook, 2004, p.7).  Along with the ASVAB, the Army has developed online software called March 2 Success that preps students for the ASVAB, meant to enhance their helpful image (p.7).  As the Handbook (2004) states, it is “reasonable” for school officials to allow recruiters to present help in interpreting ASVAB scores.  In addition, each recruiter is supposed to prepare a detailed school folder including the scores, documentation related to teachers’ and students’ level of interest and opportunities for “career” presentations at school events (p.4).

Colleges and universities are not immune from military strategy, either.  The Concurrent Admissions Program Manual (2002) describes partnerships between postsecondary schools and the Army, including assisting veterans in obtaining course credit for time spent in the military (Army/American Council on Education Registry Transcript System).  Veterans and active-duty soldiers are encouraged to select a local college from a list of over 1,540 participating schools (The Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges), because the local campus will be easier for the recruiter to “partner” with (p.4): “the college will view the recruiter as an excellent source of future students, enabling the recruiter to improve access and high-grad recruiting on that campus” (p.3).  Colleges are even encouraged to enroll recruiters who are working on degrees: “Help recruiters understand your college so well that they will unhesitatingly refer their enlistees to your college!” (p.7).

Militarism as a whole must be resisted and stopping recruiting is a good place to begin.  As Mariscal (2004) argues, military values are located at all levels of culture, emanating from the capitalist state.  Unchecked and unchallenged, militarism starves the rest of society of necessary resources that would go to meet human needs, not corporate interests.  One challenge we face in resisting recruiters is that it is easy to slip into an easy sense of schools being “our” institutions, since many of us attended public schools for 13 years.  These schools provided some of the only forms of stability and introduced us to the importance of learning and critical thought.  Influential teachers nurtured and cared for us.  We might be tempted to think that these institutions can be reformed to serve the people’s needs.  However, as Gibson, Queen, Ross, and Vinson (2007) warn,

…schools embedded within a capitalist nation, especially capital’s most favored nation, are capitalist schools, their schools, not ours, until such time social upheavals or civil strife are at such a stage that schooling is either dramatically upended, or freedom schools operating outside capital’s school supercede them (para. 51).

In a similar vein, it is their troops, not “our troops” when it comes to the military.  Indeed, the primary purpose of any military, along with the police, is to protect the ruling elite and their property, not the working class. As long as the troops support their mission, they are not our troops, until they decide to dramatically upend the system by refusing to fight or sabotaging the system from within, keeping in mind that there might be several stages of readiness at play. The fact that they might be working class themselves and buy into the system only makes the situation that much more challenging.

Compulsory Volunteerism

The “volunteer” army is a skillful rhetorical device used to sustain support for military presence in the schools.   Alongside volunteerism is rampant privatization, borne out by the figure of 130,000 mercenaries with 145,000 active duty forces serving in Iraq, “an effective doubling of the size of the occupation force” (Scahill, 2007, p.24).  Scahill summarizes the political importance behind the image of the volunteer army on a global level in his book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army:

What we see here is an insidious system where you want to avoid having a draft in your country; you want to keep it off the table for political reasons.  You can’t convince the world to participate in your global wars of conquest, and so what you do is you make the whole world your recruiting ground.  You use these private companies to go into the poorer countries of the world, countries that have been systematically destabilized by the United States, and you hire up the poor of the developing world, and you deploy them to kill and be killed in Iraq against the poor and suffering of Iraq” (pp.24-25).

According to Mariscal (2004), here in the U.S., these imperialist adventures will require an endless supply of reserve troops, so “what better institutional site to conduct such a campaign than the nation’s dysfunctional public school systems that have been thrown into chaos by massive budget cuts, overcrowding, and neglect?” (para. 16).  While there is no draft in official policy, the poverty draft includes those students being targeted with promises of services that are continually denied them in the larger world, services which are seen as components of basic human rights according to the 1948 United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (International Action Center, 2005; Kamenetz, 2006; Spring, 1999).

People join the military not because they want to, but because they have to (Aleman, 2007).  Rasmus (2007) describes the historical shift in unions over the past 150 years, ultimately impacting worker/boss power relations among the non-unionized.  From the post WWII 1940s to the mid-1970s, there was an expansion of militant collective organizing, with health care, pensions, inflationary raises, and job security being on the list of demands.  “…this was the golden age of contract bargaining, and of what might be called ‘contract unionism’ (p.45).

From the late 70s onward, a shift occurred as part of a corporate offensive.  Massive bargaining agreements were disrupted through legislation and a focus on concessions within existing contracts.  “This period, which lasted until the present, might be called “concessionary unionism,” with its focus on minimizing the reduction of magnitudes and values in bargaining” (Rasmus, 2007, p.45).  Now, unions are in the role of partnering with businesses, further eroding hard fought contracts, and shifting health care costs to the employee via high-deductable private insurance plans, and selling off pensions to be managed for profit.  “This new condition might be indentified as the era of “corporate unionism” where unions become even more integrated with the strategies, aims, and objectives of global corporate management” (p.45).  All of this contributes to the uncertainty that workers and young people about to enter the workforce experience.

With traditional avenues of security fast disappearing, it is no wonder that people are “forced to turn towards the offered benefits and financial security of the Armed Forces” (Aleman, 2007, p.13).  In A Deserter’s Tale, Key (2007) outlines in plain talk how his economic situation drove him to enlist with only ten dollars in his pocket the day he stepped into the recruiting office:

I had no money, I had dreams of getting formal training as a welder, I needed to get my teeth fixed, and I wanted to have my kidney stone removed.  If only I joined the military, the posters suggested, I would be on easy street.  The armed forces were offering money for college tuition, health insurance, and even a cash bonus for signing up (p.36).

Key goes on to describe how the recruiter befriended him over the following six weeks, becoming “my coach, my guidance counselor, my adviser, and my personal biographer, as well as the provider of coffee, doughnuts, and submarine sandwiches…” (p.39).  The recruiter visited Key and his wife, promising that life on the military base would be safe and rent free “I learned later that this was not true, that about $700.00 would be docked each month from my paycheck [$1,200 monthly] for the rent” (p. 42).  Knowing that Key wanted to become a welder, the recruiter also promised him access to training while he was posted on the base.  Once deployed, Key attempted to talk with an officer to ask about the mismatch between what he was promised and what was actually occurring.  The officer responded, “Soldier, you obviously don’t understand the military way of life…get the hell out of my office” (p.55).  The following day, Key was severely reprimanded and punished by his squad and team leaders and never again asked any questions.

War resister and veteran Eugene Cherry noticed that the bulk of the medics he met during his tour were Caucasian, not African American.  Most of the African-Americans he encountered tended to serve infantry ranks, which were predominantly black.  He saw a direct connection between the demographics of the infantry units and lowest ranks, and the make-up of the schools and neighborhoods targeted by recruiters:  “They’re not going into well-to-do areas like Lake Forest and trying to get those kids to join, but I guarantee you if you go to a neighborhood like Englewood, you’re going to see a lot of recruiting stations” (Ziemba, 2008, p. 15).

Deserter/resistors such as Key and Cherry are not the only ones to acknowledge the precariousness of the “volunteer army” construct.  The Recruiting Operations Manual (2006) states:

Economic factors can have a strong influence on the recruiting environment. The labor market has a direct affect on recruiting operations. When unemployment rates go up, enlistments go up. When unemployment rates go down, enlistments go down. Areas that are economically depressed have higher enlistment rates, as young men and women seek the opportunity to escape economic hardship. A good understanding of the economic situation in their AO enables recruiters to plan their operations for optimum success (p.33).

The Operations Manual also acknowledges that social changes, either regional or national, can enhance the image of volunteerism, such as what happened between 9/11 and the lead-up to the Iraq invasion.  The military capitalized on these “social conditions,” taking care to guard against mistakes in self-presentation during “periods of prolonged war, which are always controversial” and “can sway youth to or from Army service” (p.33).

The Operations Manual likes to brag about soldiers who “leave behind their comfortable homes and temporarily set aside their personal plans to put on the Army uniform to help protect their country from her enemies” (p.133).  One of the most high-profile soldiers, Pat Tillman’s death (under mysterious circumstances) was exploited to promote the myth of the all volunteer army- that Tillman gave up his high paid professional football career to serve his country (Aleman, 2007).  The media portrayed this as if it were true for all enlistees- as if everyone had the same number of options yet chose military service out of the goodness of their hearts.

When social class enters the picture, volunteerism takes a hit.  Jessica Lynch, from a working class background, was used by the military in a similar manner than Tillman by immediately exaggerating her heroism during the early stages of the Iraq invasion.  In both cases, the lies were exposed by Tillman’s family and Lynch herself, but not in time to prevent the damage of the mythology of the all volunteer army that still runs strong in the public’s mind.  And when Lyndie England’s famous pictures emerged of her posing with Abu Graib detainees, the media focused on her as being the one responsible, not the higher-ups. Pundits constantly brought up the argument that the soldiers who participated in acts of torture “chose” to join the military and were therefore obligated to face the consequences (the “few bad apples” defense). Then and only then did they invoke the Nuremburg trials and the notion of personal choice, violating their usual “just following orders” logic used to justify their own misdeeds.  This is the hard lesson of volunteerism for the rank and file- the construct will be used against them with the upper ranks avoiding any kind of punishment.

The condition of young people in the United States argues against the concept of a truly volunteer fighting force.  According to the International Action Center (2005), almost 40% of the homeless population is under age 18.  5.5 million sixteen to twenty-four-year olds are “officially disconnected”- they are not in school or the military, are unemployed, living with others, or outgrown the age limits for juvenile hall and foster care (Kamenetz, 2006, p.70).  One out of 5 children in the United States are born into poverty (Sklar, 2007) with a larger proportion of people in severe poverty reaching a 32 year high, growing more than 26% since 2000 (Aleman, 2007).  Since the 1970s, the top 1% of households has doubled their share of the wealth and white households have seven times as much net worth than households of color (Sklar, 2007). Sklar states that one out of six people under age 65 has no health insurance of any kind with Aleman (2007) putting the figure at 45 million uninsured for longer than one year and 55 million partly uninsured the prior year.  Nearly 30% of nineteen to twenty-nine year olds have no regular health insurance, which is twice the percentage of the population at large, more than any other age group (Kamenetz, 2006).

We have the image of young people as being the best off of any segment of the population on all measures- health, finances, and education.  The International Action Center (2005) places the estimates of youth incarcerated in adult jails at 7,600 with fifteen states setting the minimum age of the death penalty at eighteen.  At the start of 2001, 73 people on death row were there due to crimes they had committed under the age of 18.  Youth of color are 34% of the juvenile justice system population and 62% in custody.  In the past fourteen years, there has been a 51% increase in young people being committed, two-thirds of those being minority youth (International Action Center, 2005).  Overall, the jail and prison population has soared since 1980, with latest figures approaching 1 in every 46 civilians (Sklar, 2007).  One out of every 7 black men ages 25-29 are incarcerated.  Looking just at prisons and not local jails, 10% of black males ages 25-29 were locked up at the end of 2001, compared with 1% of white males (Sklar, 2007; Gasper, 2007).  The total number of the incarcerated stands at 2.2 million, with 4.8 million on parole/probation and prison budgets busting at $61 billion (Gasper, 2007).

The war on crime mirrors the language of the war on terrorism, with a law-and-order mentality that is essentially veiled racism.  Nixon was the first to emphasize tough on crime talk, followed by the Reagan administration’s double offensive on “criminals” and “welfare recipients,” both coded terms for African-Americans (Gasper, 2007, p.19).  This ideology serves to justify militarism aimed at unruly brown citizens, both here and abroad.  It also justifies irrational tougher sentencing laws, with many prisoners serving life terms for petty theft or bounced checks, all in the service of the for-profit prison industry.  According to Gasper, California spends $35,000 per year on every prisoner and only $7,000 annually per K-12 students and $4,000 for college students.  The education/jail connection cannot be more obvious with two-thirds of California’s prisoners reading below a ninth grade level and over half being functionally illiterate.  Funding for inmate educational programs (shown to be one of the most effective ways of reaching younger inmates) has been slashed with only 6% of prisoners in academic classes or 5% in vocational training (Gasper, 2007).

It is difficult to accurately determine the scope of school dropout rates,  because data has been subject to manipulation and error due to self-reporting by high schools, as mandated by NCLB.  Houston is a prominent example of this problem.  Under NCLB, states are allowed to use their own measures for graduation rates, making it impossible to not only obtain national data, but statewide data.  In California, nearly one in three high school students in the class of 2006 did not graduate, the rate dropping to a ten year low (Aleman, 2007, p.12).  Balfanz and Legsters (2004) estimate that between 900 and 1,000 U.S. high schools have a 50/50 chance of graduating its students.  In 2,000 high schools, the freshman class reduces by 40% or more by the time the senior year arrives (p.3).  These schools have weak promoting power, a common feature of schools with high concentrations of poverty and minority students leading to staggering dropout rates.  High dropout rate schools are located in major cities, along with the rural South and West where large numbers of white students attend.  “Nearly half of our nation’s African-American students, nearly 40% of Latino students, and only 11% of white students attend high schools in which graduation is not the norm” (p.6).  Fifteen percent of  these high schools produce close to 50% of the nation’s dropouts, causing a media stir when  Balfanz and Legters (2006) labeled them “dropout factories” (para.2).   “There is a near perfect linear relationship between a high school’s poverty level and its tendency to lose large numbers of students between ninth and twelfth grades” (para.4).

These high poverty schools are the perfect candidates for the “total market penetration” that the military recruiters seek out.  In fact, they have a willing cadre of unelected, self-appointed, bipartisan elites like Bill Gates willing to help in the form of the National Commission on Skills in the Workplace’s Tough Choices orTough Times report.  Tough Choices proposes universal exam-based tracking with all 10th graders having to take a regents exam “terminating the education of those who failed” (Miller & Gerson, 2008, p.16).  Miller and Gerson point out that while the report stresses that students can retake the exams and won’t fail, it will be up to them to display the motivation to persist in obtaining an education, the objectivists’ ultimate dream writ large.  In the language of corporate supremacy, that means “i.e. throwing millions of students out into the streets as they turn 16” (p.16).  One can only guess which remaining public institution will be ready at the helm to welcome in these youngsters.

According to Army statistics, recruiters are already finding it necessary to look to enlisting high school dropouts and “lower-achieving” applicants to meet quotas (Schmitt, 2005).  Even though Army officials insist that they wouldn’t “lower standards” to meet quotas, recruiters “…said they were told in February to start accepting more recruits who are ranked in Category 4 on the military’s standardized aptitude test- those who scored between the 10th and 30th percentiles on the ASVAB” (para.4-6).  In 2004, the Army accepted 465 of Category 4 recruits while in 2005 they accepted 800 such recruits (para.18).  The percentage of new recruits without a high school diploma have reached 10%, up from 8% in 2004 and 2% (the upper limit) of ASVAB low-scorers have been admitted into the Army.

Once in the “all volunteer” military, soldiers are finding that the health benefits they sought to be sorely lacking and highly conditional.  One veteran and war resister believed that the red tape that people encounter “…is really a smokescreen, because behind the red tape there is next to nothing there.  It’s just trying to shield people from seeing that the services are not there” (p.21).  VA hospitals, already understaffed, are now seeing active-duty soldiers as patients because the Department of Defense hospitals are inundated.  “On any given night, there are 195,000 homeless veterans, 9,600 for whom the VA does not have beds.  In the last two years, one-third of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans classified as being at risk of homelessness lost their homes…the suicide rate for veterans is double that of the civilian population” (Binh, 2007, p.52).

The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans estimates that 23% of the overall homeless population are veterans, with a bulk of them having served in Vietnam.  The Department of Veterans Affairs has located 1,500 young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are homeless out of a total 336,000 veterans homeless during 2006 (McClam, 2008).  The three main causes of homelessness among veterans are mental illness, financial problems, and difficulty finding affordable housing- conditions that, not coincidentally, led many to enlist in the first place!  As McClam explains, “Iraq veterans are less likely to have substance abuse problems but are more likely to suffer mental illness, particularly post-traumatic stress…that stress by itself can trigger substance abuse” (para.26), leading to homelessness.  There is growing concern about the unique problems facing Iraq veterans in the form of numerous redeployments, longer tours, and improvised explosive devices, all leading to extreme stress and contributing to the problem of homelessness.

Those who do seek treatment find that the same cutbacks and insurance industry trickeries in privatized medical care affecting the civilian population also impact them.  According to Matt Hrutkay, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, the VA web site has a section containing a guide for VA medical providers and doctors encouraging them to diagnose veterans with “adjustment disorder,” “anxiety disorder,” and “personality disorder.”  “The reason they’re doing that is so they can claim there was a pre-existing condition before I joined the army and my issues have nothing to do with being blown up twenty-one times” (Ruder, 2007, p.23).  Eugene Cherry was a soldier/medic who was given prescriptions instead of treatment for his PTSD.  Rather than losing what little bit of sanity remained, he chose to go AWOL in order to get the treatment the military wouldn’t give him.  Choosing to take on the military, he managed to demonstrate through the legal system that he went AWOL due to the PTSD (Ziemba, 2008).

Binh (2007) reports that the VA has a “backlog of more than 600,000 applications and appeals for disability benefits,” most of which won’t be successful (p.52).  The case load is projected to grow by 1.6 million over the next two years.  Veterans who suffer from severe PTSD often receive low disability ratings.   “As of July 2006, 152,669 veterans filed disability claims after fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, and only 1,502 of them received disability ratings of 100%”  (p.52).  Binh recounted how one private received a rating of 40% and has to support his family on the $700.00 per month he receives from the government.  Unable to work due to the PTSD, he is nearing bankruptcy and has been waiting five months to receive treatment at the VA hospital.   A mere 3% of veterans going through the medical system have been granted permanent disability status (it used to be 10% in 2001).  Since 2001, the military has disqualified 22,500 veterans due to “personality disorders” which eliminates them from receiving benefits, “saving the VA $4.5 billion over the course of their lifetimes” (p.52).

100,000 veterans from the first Iraq war later reported mysterious medical conditions such as birth defects, cancer, and unexplained fatigue.  In 1991, there was a two year limit on reimbursements for war-related illness, which eliminated 95% of these applicants from being eligible for benefits since their symptoms didn’t manifest themselves until years later (Binh, 2007).  As one veteran stated, “They are creating veterans every single day who come back from combat and there’s no support structure… A lot of people have to wait until it gets really bad” (Ruder, 2007, p.22).   Another veteran discovered that once he left the army, he had been diagnosed as having an “adjustment disorder” without having seen one medical provider, despite making numerous appointments that were continually cancelled.

When confronted with these figures, proponents of volunteerism among the ruling elite point to the fact that soldiers made an “informed choice” and therefore should have understood the consequences before enlisting.  The “all volunteer” army is a way to ultimately wash one’s hands of the responsibility and discomfort at systematically NOT supporting the troops.  The public is catching on.  Despite their efforts to own schools, including millions of dollars spent on advertising and padding the ranks of recruiters, enlistments in the Army are down by as much as 30% (International Action Center, 2005, p.28).  Well-publicized scandals such as last year’s Walter Reed debacle creates a space for critically questioning what “support the troops” REALLY means.  This indicates that people are becoming aware of the lies and deception that are part of the military and that the beginnings of a mass resistance in the post-draft era are possible.  However, “While the Armed Forces are having trouble reaching recruitment quotas amid an unwinnable war, they are managing retention at record levels.  People already in the Armed Services have a firm understanding hat a civilian world that seems ever more unwelcoming and unreliable awaits them and that the military cocoon is just the opposite” (Aleman, 2007, p.13).

No Money/No Jobs

The recent barrage of military advertising uses emotional music and patriotic themes to promise exciting careers to potential recruits.  Common images include people operating imposing, high-tech machinery and paratroopers emerging from planes in flight.  But, as the International Action Center (2005) points out:  “…there aren’t many aircraft carriers in Des Moines, Iowa.  No one is hiring tank drivers in the Bronx.  And civilian airline companies prefer that you keep the doors closed and that nobody jumps out” (p. 29).  Like the ideology of the all-volunteer army, the military is quick to promote one thing (job training and financial aid for college) while doing another (playing the personal responsibility card when challenged by the public by distancing themselves from ever saying they promised job training or financial aid in the first place).

One cannot deny the allure of vocational training or money for college.  The military has succeeded in the post-draft era by riding the tsunami of public misinformation – who wants to be the hard ass who proposes limiting recruiter’s access to the schools when they only want to provide career counseling and financial aid to disadvantaged school districts?   The situation facing many young people related to employment isn’t exactly upbeat.  Unemployment is the highest for young people with the Census listing 10% compared to 3% for the general population (the rates are most likely higher).  One out of every three African American men and women between 16-19 years old are unemployed, as are one out of five between 20-24 (Sklar, 2007, p.30).  In the United States, one out of four workers makes $8.70 or less per hour and the percentage of full-time workers at the poverty level has soared 50% (p.27).  A household with two children would have to work more than three full-time jobs at the prevailing minimum wage to just break even (p.26).  When it comes to race and labor, African-American income is three-fifths that of whites, unemployment twice that of whites and their poverty rate triple that of whites (p.29).  And youths between the ages of eighteen and twenty four are the ones most likely to hold low wage jobs and are the first to get laid off, contributing to their 30% poverty rate, the highest of any age group (Kamenetz, 2006, p.6).

When the first Baby Boomers made their debut in the job market in 1970, the largest employer in the United States was General Motors offering an average hourly wage of $17.50 in today’s dollars.  Today, the largest employer is Wal-Mart whose average hourly wage is $8.00 (Kamenetz, 2006, p.7).  Kamenetz describes theses as “crap jobs, positions that are “temporary, part-time, with no benefits, and hourly pay.  Included in the crap category are unpaid internships, representing “a $124 million yearly contribution to the welfare of corporate America” (p.101).  These jobs serve not only to enrich the capitalist class, they also intimidate low-wage workers who are always under the threat of dismissal along with serving as a leverage against slightly more privileged salaried employees who fear being replaced by the temps.  In this context, “…the value of a college education has grown in the last generation not because college grads make so much more but because high school grads’ earning has stagnated” (p.95).  Usual markers of adult achievement- shorter time to complete one’s education, higher income, and living on one’s own- are all lower than for youth in the 1970s.  The only thing that has increased is the number of “choices” in consumer goods, made possible by an outsourced economy.

The military capitalizes on the large number of postsecondary school “stopouts,” another term for those who fail to re-enroll or drop out from college altogether.  According to Kamenetz, (2006) in her book Generation Debt, one in five Americans in his or her twenties was a college dropout.  Today, it is one out of three (p.6).  Not only are young people dropping out of college, they are taking longer to earn their degrees:

The nationwide high school graduation rate peaked in 1970 at 77%.  It was around 67% in 2004…of every 100 young people who begin their freshman year of high school, just 38 eventually enroll in college, and only 18 graduate within 150% of allotted time- six years for a bachelor’s degree or three years for an associate’s degree.  Only 24.4% of the adult population has a B.A., according to the Census… (pp.5-6).

The School Recruiting Program Handbook (2004) advises recruiters that “The market is an excellent source of potential Army enlistments due to the high percentage of students who drop out of college, particularly during the first two years…there are certain times during every semester, when, if students are going to drop out, they will do so (pp.8-9).  The Handbook instructs recruiters to compare student rosters from semester to semester in order to identify those who have stopped out.  The recruiter is supposed to be ready and waiting when “work-bound students may realize that they lack the necessary training and experience to land a good paying job or for some college-bound students who planned on continuing their education the expected scholarship money didn’t materialize” (p.3).

In a rare fit of honesty, Dick Cheney once remarked that the military isn’t about job training or providing financial aid.  It exists to wage war.  But all of the advertising and presence during sporting events and on MTV emphasizes training and money.  Dispelling these myths, the International Action Center (2005) states that on the whole, veterans earn 19% less than those with no military experience and that 88% of men and 94% of women will never utilize their military training in civilian jobs (p.29).  The enlistment contract itself features a handy clause that allows the military to make any changes to any part of the contract with no notification required, meaning most likely you will not get the job you want, despite all the promises and handshakes.

Often recruits are told during boot camp that they can choose from an array of military jobs, but once they get out, they are forced into taking less desirable jobs (International Action Center, 2005; Ziemba, 2008).  This happened to Joshua Key, who was promised by a recruiter that he would get to build bridges in the continental United States after finishing boot camp.  Instead, he was promptly shipped off to Iraq, and being the lowest ranked in his unit, was the one chosen to dispose of his companies’ solid waste:

We crapped into fifty-gallon metal barrels, each sliced in half.  When the barrels were full, I would toss in five gallons of diesel, light a match, and use a fence post to stir the shit.  Usually I would have two or three barrels burning at once, stirring them for hours at a time” (Key, 2007, p.77).

It’s important to note that Key wasn’t assigned this job as punishment- it was considered normal procedurefor the lower-ranked enlistees, most of whom were impoverished when they joined the military, to be assigned the worst jobs in the unit.  The School Reporting Program Handbook (2004) regularly distributes job vacancy reports from Reserve units to high school counselors.  Of course the handbook specifies that there is no guarantee that the jobs posted will be available or that the applicant will qualify (ASVAB scores determine qualifications, thus shutting lower-performing students out of the better jobs).

The same hierarchies that are part of capitalist society are reflected in the ranks and structures of the military.  For example, 3% of all Latino/as in the Marines are officers- over 80% of officers are white (Mariscal, 2004, para.3).  Latinos, tend to serve in combat positions (para.5).  In the JROTC, 54% of participants are minority youth; of all JROTC participants, 70% end up being in the lower ranks of the military.  These programs that reinforce unfair hierarchies cost the high schools in which they are located an average of $50,000 per year (International Action Center, 2005, p.11).

The other commonly promoted myth about the military are the signing bonuses and money for college, with $70,000 from the G.I. Bill promised.  Only one in twenty even qualify for the $70,000 to begin with (International Action Center, 2005, p.31).  The most an enlistee can get from the GI Bill is a little over $36,000, barely enough to cover the tuition for four years at a public university.  If an enlistee wants the total $70,000, they have to score above the mean on the on the ASVAB and sign up for the military jobs that are the hardest to fill.  In fact, the amount of money enlistees will receive in hand after signing the contract is zero.  Due to a variety of personal factors, 57%-65% of GI Bill applicants never receive money for college (International Action Center, 2005; Ziemba, 2008).  To qualify for GI Bill money, you have to be honorably discharged (20% aren’t), have to be able to attend school (not likely if you have impairments), have to be enrolled in a VA approved program, and have to survive your tour (GI Bill money doesn’t go to the survivors) (International Action Center, 2005,p.31).  “The average person that does receive money from the GI Bill will get a meager $2,151, not the tens of thousands promised in advertisements” (Ziemba, 2008, p.14).

Of all enlistees who finish four years of military service, only 16% complete a degree program (International Action Center, 2005, p.31).  Like other victims of “government prioritizing,” the GI Bill awards have not kept up with the costs of tuition, which has increased as much as 65% between 1995 and 1999 alone, while GI Bill funding has only jumped 16% (p.31).  Making matters worse, the GI Bill and other promised signing bonuses are loans- to apply for the GI Bill a mandatory, non-refundable monthly deduction of $100.00 is drawn from enlistee’s pay, barely at minimum wage levels to start.   In fact, the military profits from the GI Bill as people give up applying for the funds and the non-refundable deposits are placed into Pentagon coffers (p.32).   And the enlistment bonuses?  If an enlistee doesn’t complete their required tour, they have to pay back the bonus (p.33).

Rampant tuition inflation- public college tuition has gone up four times more than median family income in the 1990s- has not brought on many alternatives for funding a college education (Kamenetz, 2006, p.17).  Like the military, post-secondary institutions have steered students toward loans rather than grants as financial aid.  “One major factor is the decline in state appropriations to public colleges and universities…higher education was known as the budget balancer for states cutting essential services” (p.20).   Clinton did not allocate much funding for the Pell Grant during the sixth reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in 1992.  Instead, student loan maximums were increased and newer unsubsidized loans (where accumulated interest is added to the loan amount) were made available.  Making matters worse, Pell Grants and similar aid packages are not tied to inflation costs but are adjusted during each reauthorization.  “In 1976, the maximum Pell covered 72% of costs at the average four-year public school; in 2004 it paid just 36%…”(p.26).

Reflecting the privatization trend in social services, college education costs are being shifted to students and their families, even as enrollments soar.  In the early 1980s, most federal financial aid came in the form of grants.  Now, most of the funding comes in the form of loans- almost 60% with nearly two-thirds of students borrowing to pay tuition.  As a result, the student loan industry is itself has become a profit-making entity.  In 2005, Sallie Mae made the Fortune 500 as the “second most profitable company in returns on revenue…” (Kamenetz, 2006, p.29).  $85 billion in new loans were the result.  Now, two-thirds of four year students graduate with an average of up to $23,000 in loan debt, an average unpaid credit card balance of $2,169, and one fourth of these students putting their tuition on their credit cards (p.5).  Even 44% of students who were still dependent on their parents and came from households making $100,000 annually borrowed money for school in 2002 (p.7).  Predictably, rates of default on student loans began to rise in the late 80s, reaching 22% in 1992 (p.32).

Even when students drop out of school they have to repay the loans and considering that freshman attrition rests at one-third, further possibility for the debt-and-default cycle begins when one is young:  “If student loans go into default, the government can garnishee 15% of your wages without taking you to court. Under a 1996 law, the feds can seize your Social Security, tax refunds, or even emergency and disaster relief payments to pay off old student loans” (Kamenetz, 2006, p.33).  Even declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy won’t help- student loans are exempt from forgiveness.  Kamenetz presents economists’ data on “manageable” debt burdens, where payments should be no more than 8% of monthly income.  By these measures, 39% of student borrowers now graduate with unmanageable debt, including 55% of African-American and 58% of Hispanic graduates (p.52).

The trend is also moving toward college savings plans/IRAs with government support being thrown behind benefits that are more likely to enrich those with the money to set aside for these kinds of plans rather than direct assistance to poor and working class families.  This mirrors what Kamenetz (2006) notes about recent “merit-based” grants and scholarships, which she argues are helping the very families who can already afford full tuition in the first place.  Indeed, university awards to families making $100,000+ annually have grown by 145% while families making less than $20,000 annually grew by only 17%!  In addition, “the lowest achieving rich kids attend college at about the same rate (77%) as the smartest poor kids (78%)” (p.42). College attendance gaps between whites and minority groups have widened since affirmative action policies ended in the 1980s and 1990s.    When tuition jumps, the median income of Pell recipients also rises (59% from the early to late 1990s) because of those jumps, “while the poorest families [are] priced out of the market altogether” (p.40).

As Kamenetz (2006) points out, today’s college students, compared to students in the 1970s, are older, require child care assistance, need increased financial aid to offset lower-paying jobs while in school, have more gaps in attendance between high school and college (and between semesters once in college), and require weekend and evening class offerings along with intense advising to ensure graduating.  When our institutions of higher education push these students aside, many will turn to the military for its perceived benefits.  And when the military reflects the same hierarchies and lack of financial aid seen at the colleges and universities, this feeds the cycle of debt and drop-outs that benefits capitalism the most.


In order to resist recruiting, we have to take a hard assessment of the situation, which is fast deteriorating for all segments of the population.  This includes respecting the reasons why many young people are interested in the military and comprehending the combination of debt and desperation facing not only high school students, but also those attending colleges.  Continuing the military metaphor, the government has been in full retreat from funding social services and infrastructure since the mid 1970s.  They have been the ones to “cut and run” in the face of an incredibly patient populace. In this climate, military service looks like the only option until young people join only to discover that it’s the same government denying them health care and education!


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