In February, the Associated Press reported that 9 New York City high schools will have U.S. Army recruiters teaching life skills to students on basketball teams. It’s part of a pilot program, launched by the Public School Athletic League, a non-profit based in New York, that partners with New York City schools to offer students an opportunity to participate in sports.
The life skills program is now operating at nine New York City high schools: JFK and Columbus high schools in the Bronx; Jamaica High School in Queens; Canarsie, Tilden and Sheepshead Bay high schools in Brooklyn; Curtis and Pt. Richmond high schools in Staten Island to name a few, according to Tim Quinn, co-founder for Academics in Motion, which is the organizer of the program.
Participating students on high school basketball teams are required to enroll in an eight-week study hall lead by Army recruiters. During class time, students learn certain goal oriented behaviors such as time management, study skills, organization and effective thinking. The Public School Athletic League helped fund the program.
“The purpose is that these Army recruiters are a great resource,” Quinn said. “Whether you want to be a Web developer or in the 86th Airborne, students are able to talk to someone in the real world where they are instituting these skills.”
One critic, Donna Lieberman, executive director of New York’s Civil Liberties Union, said that the program is an attempt to increase military recruiting efforts in schools. “The Army has a long track record of targeting New York’s poor black and Latino populations with coercive and aggressive military recruitment techniques and now we are seeing potentially another avenue for military recruitment in our schools — and with the Department of Education’s encouragement,” she said in the article.
Since there are so many other citywide nonprofit organizations that teach students life skills, it’s unclear why the public schools decided to partner with Army recruiters in the first place. One such program, Art for Progress, offers students arts-oriented after school programs.
Yet, the Army does have positive benefits for some students who may have veered away from the college track. Jeff Kaufman, a teacher at East Brooklyn Congregation (EBC) High School for Public Safety and Law, said that for some students that struggle with school and live in an area with few employment opportunities, the military offers a viable alternative.
In some instances, such as with Junior ROTC programs and the Reserve Officers Training Core, students have benefited from having a military presence in their schools. In 2008, San Francisco tried to ban the program in its schools, upsetting many of the student cadets. And as far as JROTC being used as a recruitment tool, it did not succeed in San Francisco. Out of 1,465 cadets that participated in the 2006-2007 school year, only two went on to join the Army.
While the discipline may help some children develop a stronger sense of self or help keep them from getting into trouble, it is worth asking whether there’s another, better alternative.
— Jamie Oppenheim