What! You're sending him to military school?

But he's such a good boy! These statements represent the typical response of our family, friends, and neighbors when we announced that our younger son would be attending a military boarding school for his high school education. Our son was a fine young man who was doing reasonably well in school and was never in trouble. However, after much soul searching, we reached the conclusion that he would not be able to achieve his personal or academic potential in the large, impersonal, and somewhat disjointed life of the typical American high school

Once thought of as the repair shop for young men in trouble, today’s secondary military academies have a much different and more positive mission, namely the development of young people of character. Although each school has its own flavor and uniqueness, they all utilize a military structure to achieve this all-important goal. This central theme, when coupled with a strong college preparatory curriculum, a challenging athletic program, and unparalleled opportunities for leadership development, make the military boarding school the right choice for many families.

Why are military schools so special?

Why are military academies so special, one might ask? What makes their programs so different from those of a non-military boarding school? What makes an academy worth the personal and financial sacrifices needed to complete this type of education? Quite simply, a military academy offers an environment rich in those qualities and values missing in the daily lives of many young people. Cadets typically share a rather Spartan barracks room in which they study, relax, and sleep. For many this is the first time they have been away from home for an extended period or had to share a bedroom. The routine of class, physical activity, military training, and study varies little from day to day. Cadets are responsible for the cleanliness of their room, for shining their shoes, for taking care of their clothes. Again for many, these were alien activities prior to military school. Academies have an enforced study time each day in which all other activity on campus stops. This serves to implant in the cadets the extreme importance of scholarship, and helps them develop effective study behavior. The students all participate in military drill training that helps them learn teamwork and cooperation. In all military academies great emphasis is placed on visibly rewarding personal accomplishments. However, clear punishments (usually in the form of demerits and loss of privileges) follow if cadets do not do what is expected of them.

All of these factors help a young person move beyond what has become the epidemic of entitlement that is so pervasive in our youth culture. Harvard psychologist Dr. Dan Kindlon speaks directly to the need to break our children away from this epidemic so they can learn individual responsibility and develop that self-motivation without which they cannot be successful. In his latest book, Too Much of a Good Thing, Dr. Kindlon argues that many young people are unable to delay gratification, to set high expectations for themselves and make the efforts needed to accomplishment them. Because of their structure, discipline, developmental student leadership, and the culture of accomplishment, military academies offer a very effective means of helping a student to succeed despite the culture around them.

Core Values

Of perhaps even greater importance, however, are the core values that lead directly to the mission of character development. Every day cadets learn what Honor means and come to appreciate the importance of personal integrity. They practice respect for superiors through the tradition of saluting and respect for each other by the manners and personal decorum demanded in class, at meals, and in all public settings. They gain appreciation for the thrill of success and learn to overcome the disappointments of failure. They develop pride and self-confidence. They relish the esprit de corps that surrounds a regimental parade or athletic victory. Cadets come to realize that they are responsible for their own future and are firm in their belief in themselves.

No value can be placed on what we feel our son has gained from his four years at military boarding school. He has become physically strong, is an excellent student, a confident and effective leader, and a young man of outstanding character. Despite our being life-long educators, my wife and I know we could not have given him the depth of experience that he has received and have living proof that we made the right decision four years ago.

About the Author

Dr. Robert Grant is the Director of Guidance at Fork Union Military Academy.After thirty years as a public school counselor and administrator, Dr. Robert J. Grant became Director of Guidance at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia at the urging of his son Alex (FUMA '04), then a sophomore at the Academy.