A National Call: Save Civilian Public Education

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A National Call: Save Civilian Public Education

Over the last several decades, the Pentagon,conservative forces, and corporations have been systematically working to expand their presence in the K-12 learning environment and in public universities. The combined impact of the military, conservative think tanks and foundations,  and of corporatization of our public educational systems has eroded the basic democratic concept of civilian public education.   It is a trend that, if allowed to continue, will weaken the primacy of civilian rule and, ultimately, our country’s commitment to democratic ideals.

The signers of this statement believe it is urgent for all advocates of social justice, peace and the environment to recognize the dangerous nature of this problem and confront it with deliberate action.

View Signers at National Call Website at: http://savecivilianeducation.org


The most aggressive outside effort to use the school system to teach an ideology with ominous long-term implications for society comes from the military establishment. Over the last two decades, with relatively little media coverage or public outcry, the Pentagon’s involvement in schools and students’ lives has grown exponentially. Now, for example:

  • Every school day, at least half a million high school students attend Junior ROTC classes to receive instruction from retired officers who are handpicked by the Pentagon to teach its own version of history and civics. These students are assigned “ranks” and conditioned to believe that military and civilian values are similar, with the implication that unquestioning obedience to authority is therefore a feature of good citizenship.
  • Armed forces academies are being established in some public schools (Chicago now has eight), where all students are given a heavy dose of military culture and values.
  • A network of military-related programs is spreading in hundreds of elementary and middle schools. Examples are the Young Marines and Starbase programs, and military programs that sneak into schools under the cloak of Science / Technology / Engineering / Math (STEM) education.
  • Military recruiters are trained to pursue “school ownership” as their goal (see: Army School Recruiting Program Handbook). Their frequent presence in classrooms, lunch areas and at assemblies has the effect of popularizing military values, soldiering and, ultimately, war.
  • Since 2001, federal law has overridden civilian school autonomy and family privacy when it comes to releasing student contact information to the military. Additionally, each year thousands of schools allow the military to administer its entrance exam -- the ASVAB -- to 10th-12th graders, allowing recruiters to bypass laws protecting parental rights and the privacy of minors and gain access to personal information on hundreds of thousands of students.



Efforts by groups outside the school system to inject conservatism and corporate values into the learning process have been going on for a number of years. In a recent example of right-wing educational intervention, The New York Times reported that tea party groups, using lesson plans and coloring books, have been pushing schools to “teach a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, where the federal government is a creeping and unwelcome presence in the lives of freedom-loving Americans.” (See:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/17/us/constitution-has-its-day-amid-a-struggle-for-its-spirit.html )

Corporations have been projecting their influence in schools with devices like Channel One, a closed-circuit TV program that broadcasts commercial content daily to captive student audiences in 8,000 schools. Some companies have succeeded in convincing schools to sign exclusive contracts for pizza, soft drinks and other products, with the goal of teaching early brand loyalty to children. A National Education Policy Center report issued in November 2011 documents the various ways in which business/school partnerships are harming children educationally by channeling student thinking “into a corporate-friendly track” and stunting their ability to think critically. (See: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/schoolhouse-commercialism-2011 )

The development of this corporate-friendly track dovetails with a radical corporate agenda to dismantle America's public education system. States across the country are slashing educational spending, outsourcing public teacher jobs, curbing collective-bargaining rights, and marginalizing teachers' unions. There is a proliferation of charter and "cyber" schools that promote private sector involvement and a push toward for-profit schools where the compensation paid to private management companies is tied directly to student performance on standardized assessments.  The cumulative effect is the creation of institutions that cultivate a simplistic ideology that merges consumerism with subservience. (See: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/michigan-privatize-public-education )

The corporatization of education via charter schools and the administration sector growth at universities is another troubling trend for public education.  Diane Ravitch’s book Reign of Error ( http://www.npr.org/2013/09/27/225748846/diane-ravitch-rebukes-education-activists-reign-of-error ) and Henry A. Giroux's newest book, Neoliberalism's War on Higher Education,  (See:  http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22548-henry-giroux-beyond-neoliberal-miseducation ) give pointers to the doubtful role of corporate values in public education.

Why is this happening?  Giroux notes that “Chris Hedges, the former New York Times correspondent, appeared on Democracy Now! in 2012 and told host Amy Goodman the federal government spends some $600 billion a year on education—“and the corporations want it.”

There are also some organizations supporting efforts to introduce history and civics lessons from a progressive perspective, such as the Howard Zinn Education Project (See: https://zinnedproject.org ) and Rethinking Schools (See:  http://www.rethinkingschools.org ). And a small movement is working against Channel One and the commercialization of the school environment (e.g., http://www.commercialalert.org/issues/education and ( http://www.obligation.org ).



There is reason to be hopeful about reversing this trend if we look, for example, at some of the successes in grassroots efforts to curb militarism in schools. In 2009, a coalition of high school students, parents and teachers in the very conservative, military-dominated city of San Diego succeeded in getting their elected school board to shut down JROTC firing ranges at eleven high schools. Two years later, the same coalition got the school board to pass a policy significantly limiting military recruiting in all of its schools. Though such initiatives are relatively few in number, similar victories have been won in other school districts and on the state level in Hawaii and Maryland.

There are also some organizations supporting efforts to introduce history and civics lessons from a progressive perspective, such as the Zinn Education Project (See: http://www.zinnedproject.org) and Rethinking Schools (See: http://www.rethinkingschools.org). And a small movement is working against Channel One and the commercialization of the school environment (e.g., http://www.commercialalert.org/issues/education/ and http://www.obligation.org/ ).

As promising and effective as these efforts are, they pale in comparison to the massive scale of what groups on the other side of the political spectrum are proactively doing in the educational environment to preserve the influence of conservatism, militarism and corporate power.

It is time for progressive organizations, foundations and media to confront this and become equally involved in the educational system. It is especially important that more organizations unite to oppose the growing intrusion of the Pentagon in K-12 schools and universities. Restoring the primacy of critical thinking and democratic values in our culture cannot be done without stopping the militarization and corporate takeover of public education.

Progressive individuals, organizations, foundations and media all have important roles to play in confronting the conservative, corporate and military influences in our educational system. Below are lists of ideas for action and groups that offer useful resources and background information.


1. Everyone can raise awareness and stimulate constructive dialogue by circulating this call as widely as possible.  Circulate the National Call document, publish it, or use one of your social network accounts.

2. Consider holding a community or chapter meeting to discuss how your neighbors would like to move forward

3. Organizations can devote resources to youth outreach and education. For example:


  • Create a youth/student led leadership component of your organization.
  • Develop a speakers pool for youth groups, classrooms and workshops at youth conferences.
        (See   http://www.teachingforchange.org/)

  • Sponsor essay/video/spoken word contests with themes that will educate and engage young people.  (See http://peacefulvocations.org/ re. annual poetry slam).
  • Send your regular news releases or specially written ones to editors of high school student newspaper; place ads in student papers and offer them op-ed pieces for publication.
  • Provide literature and other resources to enable students to do peer education. There are many models that can be adapted for this work.
        (See the various groups listed below)

  • Organize teams to distribute youth-friendly leaflets at school entrances. (See http://comdsd.org/youth.htm)
  • Contact schools about participating in career/college fairs with a display highlighting career and volunteer opportunities for social change activism. (See http://www.projectyano.org and http://www.forusa.org/iwillnotkill

4. Become involved in shaping education policy:

  • Monitor activities of businesses, the military and conservative organizations in local schools; protest when such groups violate policies and laws on access to campuses and student education records; propose new policies, if needed, to restrict their activities. (E.g., see http://www.projectyano.org/educationnotarms/, . . . other references?)
  • Monitor and oppose efforts to replace public education with for-profit, corporate-run charter schools. (See National Education Policy Center, Rethinking Schools, Classroom Struggle re. reports and studies )
  • Investigate whether students are being involuntarily placed into military indoctrination programs like JROTC or are being tracked into the military by denying them access to college prep classes and other alternatives to the military. (See Education Not Arms Coalition)
  • Form alliances with parents, students and community groups working on education-related issues.
  • Become involved in the selection of school district governing boards:
    • Do surveys of candidates for elected board seats and circulating their answers to questions on key issues.
    • Run candidates in board elections.
  1. Give a high priority to supporting efforts to resist the militarization and commercialization of schools.
  2. Support outreach and educational initiatives to teach progressive values to young people.
  3. Support both youth-led organizations AND community groups that educate or support youth activism.
  1. Present stories and analysis that will raise awareness about the problem of allowing conservative groups, the military and commercial interests to influence the educational system.
  2. Make a deliberate effort to cover organizing that focuses on youth activism and movements to resist  the militarization and commercialization of schools.


Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University
National Education Policy Center
Zinn Education Project
Rethinking Schools
Justice Matters
New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE)
Teachers for Social Justice
Education for Liberation Network
Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert/Education
Teaching for Change
The National Network Opposing the Militarization of Schools (NNOMY)
The Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (Project YANO)
The National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy (campaign against military testing in high schools):
The Military Recruitment Project of the New York Civil Liberties Union
The War Resisters League
Veterans for Peace
Demilitarizing Youth Facebook page (NNOMY)
Youth 4 Change Alliance
What Kids Can Do
Youth Activists/Youth Allies Network
Committee Opposed to Militarism  & the Draft (students’ rights)
Queers for Economic Justice
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Creating a Culture of Peace
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ)