Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Asking Too Much of Our Troops -- And Not Enough of College Students

From the History News Network comes this thought-provoking post contrasting the way we pamper new college students when they enter the calm warm waters of academic life with the way we throw new military enlistees into shark-infested rapids after only a few weeks of basic training - William Astore: Asking Too Much of Our Troops -- And Not Enough of College Students.

A couple quotes:

Given rising tuition costs, perhaps students deserve (or, at least they've come to expect) all these helping hands [such as orientations, counseling and tutoring]. But I wonder if a hand-holding approach to education is ultimately stunting rather than aiding them. Is all this coaching -- all these support networks -- truly helping students to mature and become responsible, self-motivating adults?

We can shed some light on this by contrasting a student-centered, help-is-on-its-way approach in college to what is expected of young enlistees in the military. The differences are, in a word, striking. After a few months of training (as opposed to years of education), we send eighteen- and nineteen-year-old enlistees overseas and task them with negotiating bewilderingly complex "human terrain" in hostile places like Iraq and Afghanistan. As they operate high-tech equipment worth millions, these "strategic privates" are entrusted to make near-instantaneous, life-or-death decisions under pressure.

Could the contrast be any starker?

-- snip --

A contrast this stark sets me to thinking. I wonder, for example, how many young adults join the military precisely because they'll be entrusted with responsibility (and firepower) without Mommy, Daddy, and our "Nanny State" hovering over them. Critics may see the military as authoritarian and limiting, yet young recruits may see it as liberating: as building self-reliance and resiliency in a setting free from helicopter parents, feel-good counselors, and similar "mean well" interceders.

I'm sure he's right about the liberating nature of military service for young men. After chaffing under the Nanny State-ism of the educational system - whether up to high school or through college - it is pure exhilaration to be treated as a responsible adult. And the firepower part definitely helps. I always thought the best recruiting slogan would be: Join the Army. We'll Let You Use Machine Guns. A close second is the (real) Navy slogan I saw once: Rocket science is a lot more relevant when you actually have rockets.

I've been to college and I've been in the military, and there is no contest as to which one gave me the greater sense of self-reliance and resiliency. Not to mention machine guns.


The Snake's Mommy said...

I like it. Your timing is good too, as I glance at the summer reading for incoming freshmen and am stunned by its bias. On my blog I pointed at an opinion piece by ex-CIA staffer Kent Clizbe that I'm coming around to agreeing with... that American college education is being shaped by KGB.

If our troops are preparing for Parris Island with some reading, I hope it's more Sun Tsu than Barbara Ehrenreich.

TSB said...

Sun Tsu might be too much to hope for from today's generation, but I've seen anecdotal evidence that almost all of our incoming recruits have read or seen Starship Troopers. That's not a bad substitute.

Personally, I'm more of a Julius Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War guy. Caesar would understand the situation we face in Afghanistan far better than General Petraeus and all of his counterinsurgency brain trust ever will.