Respect for Military Families and their Students:

Recent publications paint an ugly picture

We’ve seen a lot of flag-waving recently.
How sincere is it, really?

Memorial Day. Flag Day. Independence Day. Elections coming soon.

Seems as if we’ve seen a whole lot of flag-waving and “support our troops” slogans, recently.  But how is that working out for our military families?

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the news has a pretty good idea of the answer to that.  The families of active-military personnel have been faced with repeated, extremely long deployments in recent years. Returning National Guard veterans often find their old jobs have been given to others, and all veterans are discovering than in this economy it’s extremely hard to find new ones.  Veterans’ mental health care, particularly in the case of PTSD sufferers, is frequently inadequate.

This is a dilapidated roof at Clarkmoor
Elementary at Ft. Lewis, WA
. Photo by
Emma Schwartz for iWatch News.

Now add to all that the fact that apparently their kids aren’t being at all well served in school, either.

Just this week, “Daddy, Why Is My School Falling Down?” was published in Newsweek. The article, based on a longer one by author Kristen Lombardi originally published in iWatch News, focuses on the dilapidated, often unhealthy and unsafe condition of many schools on US military bases.

This closet is part of a 73-year-old Nazi
barracks, now Boeblingen Elementary
on a US base in Germany.  Photo by
Jenny Hoff for iWatch News.

Reading these articles, I was repeatedly reminded of the horrifying schools for poor children, described in Jonathan Kozol’s landmark 1991 book, Savage Inequalities.  Leaks like “Niagara Falls,” cracked bricks, termite-infested walls, and backed-up toilets all sounded hauntingly familiar.

The principal of Geronimo Road Ele-
mentary in Ft. Sill, OK
 can slide his
finger into some of the wall cracks.
Photo: Emma Schwartz for iWatch News.

The situation is not entirely hopeless. The Department of Defense has set up a task force to inspect the schools on military bases, though of course that doesn’t necessarily mean better schools are coming anytime soon.  
But why has there ever been a question about replacing or repairing schools on military bases in a timely way, when there always seemed to be enough money to fund billion-dollar weapons systems the generals have said they don’t even need? 

Just a month earlier than the Lombardi report, Education Week published “The Need to Support Students from Military Families,” by Ron Avi Astor. This commentary outlines the difficulties students from military families of ten face in public schools, where there apparently is little consciousness of their situation and even less understanding.

According to Astor, the state of California has “created a military-connected school-survey module” to aid in “understanding the experiences of military students and parents in public schools.” The fact that other states have not yet “follow[ed] California’s lead” gives us a glimpse of the remaining gap.

Why on earth isn’t gaining such background information about all incoming students already standard operating procedure for schools everywhere? Such information is fundamental for any kind of responsive education practice, and essential for helping gauge a child’s “starting point.”

Jill Biden and Michelle Obama have
joined forces with Education Secretary
Arne Duncan to help military families.

Last January, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, along with Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, launched an initiative focused on military-connected schools, which may eventually bear some fruit.

As an example of the needs they plan to address, according to the US Department of Education it is an issue for some public schools to allow students to be absent so they can greet parents who are returning from deployments.

I read this and wonder how anyone with an ounce of empathy can possibly question the logic of excusing such an absence. After all, one of the greatest stressors on military children is their parents’ absence–so much so, it can seriously affect grades and attendance.

We’ve been at war for a solid decade. Why in Heaven’s name are any of these issues still a problem?  In the name of decency and our country’s honor, how is it possible that they only now are in the the earliest stages of being addressed?

If ever a situation reeked of misplaced priorities, surely the plight of military families with school children is a prime example.

PHOTO CREDITS: The combined image of the US flag, the Statue of Liberty, and an eagle is from All Posters, where you can buy this image in several formats.  The 3 photos of dilapidated Pentagon-run schools by Emma Schwartz and Jenny Hoff are from iWatch News. The photo of Jill Biden and Michelle Obama is from Zimbio.

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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