Reflections on a Military School Education
As a 35-year veteran teacher, I have encountered a number of myths and misconceptions about a military school education. The public often has an inaccurate image of military schools, in general, as being Spartan, reform schools for unruly adolescents. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In addition to excellent academic preparation, spiritual nurturing, and physical conditioning – education in “body, mind, and spirit” - military schools offer training in skills which lead to a successful and productive adult life, including leadership, self-discipline, character, teamwork, and service. Whenever reflecting on the value of a military school education, my thoughts focus on leadership, character, and service.
George C. Marshall often defined leadership as the ability to set a standard of behavior which instills trust and confidence in others, whether subordinates or superiors. Since we live in a society that emphasizes individuality and independence, sacrificing those principles requires faith, born of demonstrated authority, in our leaders.
Leaders are made, not born. At military schools, leadership starts with the individual, where one learns to forego one’s immediate self-interest for a longer-term goal. Frequently, I ask of my students: “What do you want out of life?” As teenagers, they reply that they don’t want people telling them what to do. I remind them that if they don’t want other people telling them what to do, they have to tell themselves what to do; they have to learn self-discipline.
It is all about self-control. The more positive discipline you exercise on yourself, the less discipline others will force on you. Instead of telling you what to do, they will be listening to what you have to say and following your example. Effective military leadership comes from inspiring men, adopting a standard of behavior that others want to follow, and pursuing a lifestyle based on setting and achieving goals.
Character & Service
Like the military depends on virtuous leadership, a democratic society cannot exist without virtuous citizenship. Along with leadership and self-discipline, military schools emphasize character and service. The military service calls upon an individual to sacrifice one’s immediate interest to serve the community. While military schools do not teach tactical skills, the principles of service and sacrifice for a cause greater than oneself are espoused in the classroom, in Chapel, in the barracks, on the courts and fields - all day, every day.
Expectations for conduct and achievement are high. Everyone is expected to work toward a personal best and contribute to the success of the team. Everyone marches to drill or Chapel, wears the uniform, follows the same rules and regulations. Respect, consideration, and good manners become the norm, and positive peer pressure raises the standard for student behavior on- and off-campus.
In my experience, the cadet-run Honor Council, like the Cadet Officer Corps itself, is a prime example of good leadership, character, and service. Members of the Honor Council are selected on the basis of their demonstrated leadership. In the decisions which they make on behalf of the entire academy, their character is tested. In the standard of ethical conduct which they establish among their peers, their service is measured.
Over the years, I have been privileged to watch generations of young men flourish and grow in wisdom and stature within the military school environment. Students who are fortunate enough to receive a military-school education find that this type of safe, structured, and caring environment provides them an opportunity not only for academic achievement, but also for leadership training, character development, and civic responsibility. Military schools build a solid foundation for higher education and a better foundation for life.
About the Author
William S. Hitchcock has worked at Fork Union Military Academy since 1974. A graduate of Lake Forest College and the University of Arizona, Col. Hitchcock is Chairman of the Social Studies Depa