First Take: Marines vs. School

Marines-corp-seal-plaque-11 School has not been easy, nor has it been particularly enjoyable for my oldest son, who recently joined the Marines (though he will not actually enlist until he graduates from high school in a few months). There are reasons for this but they are his own private concern and not related to the point I wish to make here.

He signed on a Friday afternoon, my wife and I accompanying him to the recruitment center. They spoke to and about Evan with evident respect for him and his abilities, emphasizing what an asset he will be to the Marine Corps.

Saturday morning, a sergeant picked him up to take him to an all-day training session (called "PT") with his fellow recruits. He felt accepted, respected, understood for who he is and what he wants to be. They returned him home hours later, exhausted, happy, sweat-soaked, gritty with sand from the beaches along which they ran.

Sunday they picked him and took him to the recruitment center to help him prepare for his induction process and ASVAB exam, which determines the specialties he can choose once he finishes boot camp.

Monday, they retrieved him at 4:30 a.m.–was my son really getting up at 4:30 in the morning of his own choice?!–to take him to the induction center where he was tested for twelve hours. He got the highest score of everyone there on the ASVAB. He is in exemplary health and physical condition.

What's my point? This young man, for whom school has felt so often so uncomfortable or even a punishment–though that is not to say he has not had teachers who have made a great impact on him and whom he genuinely respects–experienced in the four days described above more respect, success, satisfaction, and general feeling of competence than he has experienced in four years of high school (and, if I really wanted to push it, could include middle school).

I'm not ready to draw any big conclusions from it as a teacher, but Evan's experiences lately give me a lot to think about when I see all the disturbing numbers and trends related to adolescent boys in our society, many of whom struggle to find a place and sense of purpose in (and outside of) school.

11 Responses to “First Take: Marines vs. School”

  1. This sounds like my much potential but not one who enjoyed school and what it had to offer. He went ROTC but it has given him the confidence to do well in college and the opportunity to compete and be successful.
    Good luck to your son. Sounds like he is going to do great!

  2. It sounds like your son has found his niche. Two of my boys also struggled through middle- and high school, and both ended up going to the alternative high school for a variety of reasons and ended up dropping out of school. As their parents we insisted that at the very least they both take the GED exam; they did and passed with the highest marks in both of their classes. After they earned their GED, both boys decided to join the military, the Army to be specific. Much like your son, during the recruitment process, both of my boys experienced much of the same respect and success during that short time than they did during their middle and high school years.
    I am happy to say that both boys are doing extremely well today. My oldest has just returned home from Iraq and beams when he tells me how he and many of the soldiers in his unit(the 287th Military Police) earned the Army Commendation Medal. My other son is a lot like his older brother when he tells me about his upcoming training with the Army’s Airborne School.
    My point being, throughout their education, it was like pulling teeth to get both boys to get out of bed in the morning and go to school, and yet, here they are today, proudly serving our country in a very routine and disciplined manner. More importantly, they both look forward to the educational experiences the military has to offer them.
    I agree with you, Jim. I think our educational system can learn something from the military as far as how to help students understand and SEE the relevancy behind why we are trying to teach them.
    Military recruits know that everything the military teaches them has the potential to help save their lives one day. That’s a pretty relevant reason for the recruits to want to learn everything they can from their trainers. I wonder if there is someway we can adapt this line of thought to our classrooms.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, Kimberly. Such a helpful note to read. I am sure there are more lessons ahead for us all than I am ready to learn just yet!

  4. Thanks for sharing Jim, this is an important topic and a very personal one as well.

  5. Julie Aaron February 6, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    This past year, I’ve had three students return to the school to see me. Two Air Force and one Marine – what a proud, proud teacher I am. I can only imagine what how proud you are as parents!

  6. Ann Zivotsky February 6, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Here in Oceanside, CA the Marines of Camp Pendleton are a much respected and cared for part of our community. I wish you son a safe and rewarding Marine Corps life. Your blog reinforces my observation that not all students are made to sit in classes all day and take college prep classes. In CA we have lots so many “hands on” classes (shop, art, internships) that students don’t have many choices.

  7. Jim,
    Poignant and relevant. Please keep us posted on your thoughts.
    Semper Fi,

  8. Kathryn L. Keene M.Ed. February 7, 2010 at 11:54 am

    I guess I am ready to draw conclusions, Jim, as not all of those who abhor school have the ability or desire to join the Marines. We have a contract of sorts with our young people: you must, by law, come to school, and we….we….we…will show you respect, lead you to success, fill you with satisfaction per your accomplishments, and ensure that you have a general feeling of competence…Your son is obviously bright. If we were running a business and, after six years, we had not fulfilled our end of the contract…and someone else did so in the matter of a few months…should we still be in business? Oversimplified, I know, but…

  9. Your son’s experience also seems to suggest that our school systems are failing to applaud and reward skills and talents outside the usual suspects of numeracy and literacy.
    I am not a complete believer in Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, but it does seem unfair that students who are not ‘academically bright’ or good at sports seem to get no sense of achievement from the way schools work just about everywhere in the western world.
    And to make it quite clear – this is NOT the fault of the teachers, who often offer great encouragement to students who don’t have well-developed examination skills. The system fails them, not their school or their teachers.

  10. I’m glad to hear your son found some teachers he liked. My hope would be that English class, with all the possibilities of literature, could be one place where students find room in books for different types of thinking and values.

  11. Delurking to say this supports what I have always felt…school is not for everyone. Find a path and be the best at where ever that path leads.

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