Thursday, February 19, 2015

Naval Academy English professor Bruce Fleming strikes again!

The best and the brightest

"The mission of the Naval Academy is “to develop midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor, and loyalty,” How inspiring these ideals are!
There’s one problem. Nobody ever asks if we achieve these goals. I know after 28 years that we don’t.
The service academies in the new millennium are little more than military Disneylands for tourists. They are also cash cows for the brass who send their own children there at taxpayer expense: the children of multiple current and past administrators have gotten this taxpayer-supported present, which looks to me like (illegal) nepotism. And far from “imbu[ing] them with the highest ideals,” the service academies are in fact the graveyards of the ideals of students who come looking for something that transcends the watery values of secular humanism that are the best many other institutions can offer.
And they’re hardly, on average, the “best and the brightest.” In fact more than a quarter of the class has SAT scores below 600, and our average is lower than the nearby state school University of Maryland. Twenty percent of our class comes through a taxpayer-supported remedial 13th grade (another almost $50,000 per student for taxpayers). They fill our remedial courses (I am teaching some of these this semester, as a full professor)—a second try at getting them up to college level.  The top 10 percent are impressive. But they are the exceptions rather than the rule, and almost all (I know from talking to them) are deeply disillusioned by the Academy and by what they found there.
Few students come for the classroom experience (many come for the “free” college degree) and academics are a tiny part of life at the academies. Most students are annoyed they have to go to class at all. Almost all are sleep-deprived (first-year students aren’t allowed to take naps) and try to fall asleep as soon as they sit down. Mind-dump memorization is the norm. Many classes are mandatory, even those that won’t be used later (for example electrical engineering for Marines)—including classes in “leadership” (which almost everyone agrees is a waste of time) and elementary computer knowledge, rendered sexy as “cybersecurity,” which is outdated by the time they graduate. 
The relentless nature of the hype, and its hollowness, prove the pointlessness of these places.  “Leaders to serve the Nation,” say the flags on posts at Annapolis. Nobody defines what a leader is, or asks whether somebody like a Silicon Valley innovator might not be serving her nation as much as, if not more than, a desk jockey officer in a fruitless military endeavor in Iraq. Or a first-grade teacher. Or a doctor, or a violinist, or a scientist: we graduate almost none of these. Leaders? Really? Officers, sure, because we have the congressional power to make our graduates officers. That’s a bit circular. And about half leave the military after their obligation of five to seven years as a junior officer, and some are let go before as the military downsizes. At your expense.
Do we teach them “character” as we claim we do? Apparently not. In fact about a third of the commanding officers removed in 2012 for malfeasance—record numbers for Navy—were Academy graduates."

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