Results For Merits
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- Keynote: Mission Guidance - John Buxton (Culver)
- Opportunity Orange - Kriscia Tejada (North Valley)
- Relationship between Commandant and Dean - Brigadier General Richard Geraci, USA, Ret (MMA)
- Learning Landscape - Brigadier General Doug Murray, USAF, Ret. (NMMI)
A Brief History of the Military School in America - Kelly C. Jordan and John A. Coulter
Military schools have a long and successful history in America, viewed by many as a particularly effective educational approach. Since 1802, almost 850 different military schools have operated in the United States, far more than anywhere else in the world. These schools have educated male and female students from the elementary through the collegiate level, receiving funding from both public and private sources.
The marriage of military structure with education began in Europe in the 18th century, when military schools were established to provide technical training and instruction. Proving themselves to be not only essential but popular, these schools quickly gained a reputation for providing students with both effective education and the means to advance their social status. After experiencing their heyday in the 19th century, military schools experienced a steady decline until they virtually disappeared from Europe by the end of the 20th century.
The American military school shared little with the European military school in terms of purpose, developing for very different reasons. American military schools reflected the countryâ€™s belief in the power of education to better oneâ€™s self by deliberate efforts to form the intellect and develop the character in disciplined and academically rigorous environments. Rather than increasing oneâ€™s social status, the goal of an American military education is to produce informed individuals capable of being transformed into effective citizens of a democratic republic.
Military schools began appearing in America after the Revolutionary War, initially to help produce "proper military officers" of honor, ability, and intellect for the nation. This purpose highlights both the social and educational advantages associated with the early American concept of military education. The country's first military school was established in 1802 as a result of the determined efforts of many of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York was not only the nationâ€™s first military school, but it was also the nationâ€™s only engineering school until 1821, and it became the model for military school education in the United States. During its first one hundred years of its existence, West Point sought to discover the optimal balance of providing a comprehensive and sound technical education, along with relevant military training and effective character development.
Army officer Sylvanus Thayer was a distinguished scholar and soldier who, as the â€œFather of West Point,â€ succeeded in blending a demanding academic environment with disciplined military training and appropriate moral development into what became a distinctive American military educational model. Thayer believed in placing the responsibility for learning on the cadets themselves by requiring them to study the assigned material prior to attending class and then reinforcing the learning in class through a combination of group learning activities and active learning exercises under the watchful eyes of their professors. Compared to the rote memorization methods common to most other educational institutions, Thayerâ€™s approach represented perhaps the most innovative method of instruction in the country. Thayer also used daily grades to hold cadets accountable for their academic performance and a system of merits and demerits to hold them accountable for their conduct. Placed under such intense scrutiny while also receiving consistent and detailed feedback proved to be a quite effective educational approach. In the process, Thayer defined the model for American military education that is still valid and cherished by the nation today.
As the nation began to grow, so did its number of military schools. Between 1819 and 1866 the number of military schools in the United States increased to over 170 schools. Only two â€“ West Point and the Naval Academy â€“ were focused on producing active military officers.
The founding of the Virginia Military Institute in 1839 introduced an educational philosophy that shifted the collegiate military schoolâ€™s emphasis away from a narrow focus on training military officers for service and expanded the scope of the military school education beyond a technical and engineering orientation to include the liberal arts. At about the same time, the Kentucky Military Institute expanded the concept to secondary education, demonstrating its viability for preparatory schools. Like its VMI counterpart, KMIâ€™s curriculum focused on the natural sciences and incorporated the liberal arts into the eraâ€™s standard high school curriculum, combining the best of the West Point model with other educational innovations to produce a system for pre-collegiate schools that was influential, effective, and enduring. The success of these early military schools paved the way for the dramatic expansion of American military schools in the 19th century.
While serving as a brutal test of the effectiveness of the American military education model, the Civil War also checked the expansion of military schools in America. Military schools provided almost 20,000 alumni in the conflict (more than 13,700 for the South and around 4,800 for the North), including well over 400 general officers, along with thousands more at the levels from colonel down to sergeant. These contributions on the battlefield by military-school trained leaders came at a high cost to the institutions that produced them. The establishment of new schools ceased during the war, and military schools across the country closed as faculty members and cadets flocked to the colors of their respective nations. Cadets at the surviving schools served as drill masters, and several Southern military college cadet corps fought in combat.
After the Civil War, approximately one hundred military schools re-opened, bringing the total number to around 150 of mostly secondary education institutions. Enjoying renewed popularity, military schools reached their peak of 280 active schools during the post-Civil War period. The positive contribution to the Civil War of many military school cadets and graduates, the overall favorable view of the military within the country, and the adoption of the military school format by various Christian denominations and maritime organizations combined to help bring about this growth.
Viewed during this period as bastions of â€œgreat moral agency for goodâ€ that produce "better sons, better neighbors, [and] better citizens," military schools expanded their curricula further to include technical training in business. Incorporating many of the Progressive Eraâ€™s most alluring features, leaders of schools associated with the newly formed Association of Military Colleges and Schools in the United States (AMCSUS, founded in 1914) became very influential and respected educators in the early 20th century.
The decline of military schools began during the Great Depression. In response, military schools began reforming themselves, focusing more on college preparation at the expense of military training but bringing about an improvement in the courses and teaching. Though military schools were fewer in number, overall cadet enrollment peaked just prior to WW II as a result of these reforms.
The armed forces of the United States in World War II benefited greatly from the military school alumni, who were themselves much better educated and trained as a result of the depression-era changes. Just under 100,000 former military school cadets and midshipmen served, with the majority as officers. The strong emphasis on character development, most visible in the adoption of formal Honor Codes during the interwar period, proved to be of particular value as military school trained officers faced the varied and uncertain challenges of leading Americaâ€™s largest military in its most encompassing conflict against intractable foes determined to supplant Americaâ€™s way of life with their own ideologically motivated alternatives.
The ensuing post-war America was another flourishing period for military schools, lasting until the political unrest of the late-1960s and the coming of the Vietnam War. Between 1966 and 1978, over 70 military schools closed or transitioned from the military format. A small portion of military schools responded to this challenge by becoming reform schools for wayward boys. This short-term trend was particularly devastating to military schools in the long-term, tarnishing all and destroying public confidence in the military educational model. As a result of this decline and changing demographics, over 200 American military schools closed, bringing the total number of military schools in the country to an all-time low of 75 by the end of the 20th century.
Reaching its lowest point, several events occurred that helped revive the military education model in the 21st century. A new generation of parents began to question seriously the efficacy of public education. By 2004, an overwhelming majority of teachers and parents felt strongly that discipline was a key ingredient of success missing from public school classrooms. With parents and teachers seeking to restore more structure in the classroom, administrators turned to the military education model as a possible solution and found success. Public military schools using the military education model are an important part of the current growth of military schools in the country. The overall effect of this resurgence has been both positive and nation-wide in scope. As of 2016, there are around 100 military schools operating in the country, located in 27 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico.
Experiencing both the heights of popularity and respect, and the depths of discredit and distrust, the American military school continues to evolve and thrive in its quest to remain a relevant and viable choice within the cornucopia of American educational offerings. Characterized by alternating periods of stable continuity and dramatic change, this successful American educational format enjoys an increasing level of support and remains an effective educational approach for the 21st century and beyond.