Bill Ayers, founder of the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society, is an expert on urban schooling. He also, incidentally, wrote the excellent Teaching Toward Freedom: Moral Commitment and Ethical Action in the Classroom (Beacon Press, 2005). His blog is pretty low-traffic, so it's always a great happiness to see him show up in the feed reader. Last week, he posted a piece co-authored with Therese Quinn and Erica Meiners about the increasing militarization of the Chicago school system.
Today, Chicago has the most militarized public school system in the nation, with Cadet Corps for students in middle-school, over 10,000 students participating in JROTC programs, over 1,000 students enrolled in one of the five, soon-to-be six autonomous military high schools, and hundreds more attending one of the nine military high schools that are called “schools within a school.” Chicago now has a Marine Military Academy, a Naval Academy, and three army high schools. When an air force high school opens next year, Chicago will be the only city in the nation to have academies representing all branches of the military. And Chicago is not the only city moving in this direction: the public school systems of other urban centers with largely Black and immigrant low income students , including Philadelphia, Atlanta and Oakland, are being similarly re-formed—and deformed— through partnerships with the Department of the Defense.
Unsurprisingly, these military schools "are located overwhelmingly in low income communities of color, while schools with rich curriculums including magnet schools, regional gifted centers, classical schools, IB programs and college prep schools are placed in whiter, wealthier communities, and in gentrifying areas." Ayers, Quinn, and Meiners are troubled by this and other problems with the academies, including the inherent problems with transforming public civilian education into a military recruiting tool, the fact that military academies promote conformity and discourage individual freedom of thought, and the discrimination practiced by the military via the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy."
Responding to last weekend's New York Times Book Review's Islam Issue, Eboo Patel (Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, reviewed recently here), addresses the struggle between white Europeans and their Muslim neighbors. Citing Philip Jenkins, Patel draws parallels between the African-American struggle for civil rights and the situation in Europe, where young Muslims are not offered the same opportunities as their white counterparts. Part of the problem, he says, is that "Europe proudly “tolerates” its minorities, but it continues to view even the second and third generations as foreigners."
Tolerance allows you in and indulges your needs, but treats you like an infant and an outsider. Pluralism respects you and your identity enough to require that you make a contribution to the broader society. One reason for the success of American Muslim immigrants compared to their European co-religionists is America’s instinct towards pluralism.