By Corey Mead
Teachers across the country know only too well that the No Child Left Behind Act requires public schools receiving federal funding to allow military recruiters access to campuses and to private student data. Now this link between the military and our public schools has gone one step further. In fall 2008, the Ohio Department of Education announced a new partnership with the U.S. Army and Project Lead the Way to "promote student interest in the engineering and technical fields" by using the military-developed videogame America's Army in middle school and high school classrooms statewide.
According to an Army press release, students will be able to use the America's Army gaming platform to, among other things, "explore kinematics in a ballistics project," "test the accuracy of their calculations" in virtual environments, and "?drive' a vehicle around a virtual obstacle course as well as perform a virtual helicopter drop," all in order to "increase student mastery, especially in technical studies." Following this year's pilot in Ohio schools, Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit with close ties to the distance learning and educational outcomes assessment market, will incorporate its America's Army learning modules into teacher training systems for pre-engineering classes nationwide. Further applications are being considered for modules in biomedical sciences, digital electronics, and robotics.
While one might expect educators to be wary about such blatant military intrusion into their classrooms, Susan Tave Zelman, Ohio State Superintendent of Public Instruction, has no such qualms. The Army press release quotes Zelman as saying, "When we were approached by the U.S. Army late last year , we realized the great opportunity this project represented for engaging students in a learning environment that excites them. . . . This marks a real shift in the education paradigm to utilizing a technology platform that students are familiar with and enjoy!" No mention of the content of the "technology platform"?America's Army?is made.
Initially developed by the Army as a recruiting tool, America's Army is a free online game in which players (as soldiers) proceed through four basic training modules before moving on to more advanced training or to virtual missions. Hugely popular since its 2002 release, America's Army currently boasts over 10 million registered users.