February 20, 2005

Boarding School of the Americas?


"They have this wonderful mission statement, but the reality is that it's a torture chamber in there . . . The kids are in charge. It's like Lord of the Flies." --Karen Sawyer, whose son was assaulted at the New York Military Academy.

Buried at the bottom of page A 24 of this morning's New York Times is a story by Our Town columnist Peter Applebome reporting on recent allegations of brutality at New York Military Academy, one of the premier military prep schools in the country. Founded in 1889, it is located in Cornwall-on-Hudson, sits seven miles south of West Point and is said to provide students with an exceptional academic education as well an education in personal virtues.

The occasion for this story is a law-suit filed by Karen and Michael Sawyer on behalf of their son who was admitted to the local emergency room twice in a six week period for serious injuries. Both times the student fabricated stories to explain what had happened. But when pressed he told of abuses at the hands of a 15 year old and two student officers, 17 and 18. The first time his head was rammed into a locker and the second he was stabbed in the leg with the jagged end of a broken brooms stick.

When Mrs. Sawyer confronted the commandant of the academy he told her that one of the students implicated was in "anger management classes;" but, he went on, "that doesn't make him a bad kid. He has a bad temper . . . " Sawyer pulled their son from the school after the commandant said that the matter was being dealt with internally and that academy's "zero tolerance" policies against violence, hazing and bullying would be upheld.

Applebome points out all the necessary ironies we've become used to in situations like these. He points out that hanging from the ceiling of the school chapel are banners proclaiming self-control, love, peace and gentleness. He lists famous almuni Donald Trump, Steven Sondheim (??!!) and current cadet Jesse Yu who scored a perfect 1600 on his SATs and want to attend MIT.

But most interestingly, Applebome ends the piece by turning to what might be the root of such behavior. He says that the current students "grew up with 9/11 and the world it ushered in--of non-stop war, of veneration of the military and the people in it." He blames the example of Abu Ghraib as well as the current administration and pentagon's seemingly cavalier approach to fighting of the war on terror and the Iraqi insurgency for the behavior of young men in a military academy.

While I agree that the military is being "venerated"--good choice of words--to the extent that they can do now wrong, it is sloppy to claim that this rash of behavior is attributable to 9/11 syndrome. This supports what I've claimed since Abu Ghraib broke, the secular media is not capable of dealing with such ironies in any appropriate depth. All this article does is establish yet another fuzzy arm-chair theory as to why kids are cruel to one another. What Applebome needs to say, but won't or can't because he's writing for a secular paper, is that schools in general no longer, if they ever did, teach students that human life and the human body are sacred gifts. Teaching this would come dangerously close to teaching students to be pro-life.



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