Armed Forces' proselytism in primary schools and the question of war

(328 Posts)
kchornik Sun 27-Jul-14 11:15:59

In the wake of the atrocities committed in Gaza, it is more urgent than ever that our children learn that war is a very serious matter and should be avoided by all means.

This week I was shocked to hear a Flight Lieutenant using the words ‘cool’, ‘fun’ and ‘exciting’ to describe his job at an ‘Inspirational Talk’ for Year 6-children and their parents, organised by a primary school, which my daughter attended. The LT is currently a member of the Royal Air Force and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other countries.

After showing a film depicting his spectacular pirouetting skills – sound-tracked with Hollywood-style, heroic music –, he recounted his career in the RAF, stressing how great his job was. He made no mention of his training or participation in armed conflicts – how odd, given that these are central remits of the armed forces! – and did not show any awareness or concerns about the humanitarian disasters caused by wars. Instead, he presented his job as a sporting adventure.

Worryingly, most children appeared positively impressed by his account. The youngsters’ questions all tallied with the partial and superficial information given to them. ‘What do you feel when you spin?’, asked one boy. In his answers, he even suggested that some could join the RAF. I wonder in what ways teachers believe these promotions might be ‘inspirational’.

Attending this talk made me realise the extent to which it is possible to manipulate and decontextualize issues of enormous implications, and that we have not sufficiently educated our children about the horrors of wars.

[identifying features removed by MNHQ]

scaevola Sun 27-Jul-14 11:20:35

He's one of the Red Arrows.

I assume the purpose would be to talk about aerobatics.

Have you asked the school why they invited him? (He can't have just turned up).

KenDoddsDadsDog Sun 27-Jul-14 11:23:14

I saw the Red Arrows yesterday. Indeed , cool fun and exciting. Was that why he was there ?

capsium Sun 27-Jul-14 11:24:41

On balance though I think children do learn about the horrors of war as well. They study war poetry for example.

Only highlighting the negative side of his occupation would be inappropriate, some the children's friends and family may also be in the armed forces.

I agree, in the sense it would be inappropriate to glorify occupations in the armed forces, but feel this might be put into context with all the information the children receive concerning war, conflict and peace keeping.

I do think you've been a teeny weeny bit disingenuous by not mentioning that the fellow in question is a Red Arrow and thus his job will be cool, fun and exciting

However, this is an interesting subject for discussion

kchornik Sun 27-Jul-14 11:35:26

Yes, he is now in the Red Arrows but he was previously in the Army and according to the printed programme parents were given, in 2003 he was working in Iraq and other operations which were very likely not 'just' pirouetting but bombing.

The Red Arrows do 'shows' but they are part of the RAF, and the RAF is a fighting force. To go to a school and start making publicity about the RAF is ethically questionable, especially if kids are presented with a very partial picture of what the Armed Forces do.

capsium Sun 27-Jul-14 11:38:12

kchornik I think children are taught about the horrors of war also though. And as they get older it is difficult to miss.....our mass media is full of it.

capsium Sun 27-Jul-14 11:41:31

I actually think it is also important they see members of the armed forces as real people instead of associating them only with the horrors of war and conflict.

scaevola Sun 27-Jul-14 11:41:44

Yes, his CV is fully available online (including that he joined the Army as RAF was not recruiting for pilots at that time, but he transferred as soon as he could). As are his operational tours (he flew Tornadoes).

And so the school would have had all that information available, and they invited him in. There is no way that anyone can just turn up.

So it all boils down to the individual decision of an individual school. Do you know why they chose this, and what they asked him to talk about?

If he was talking about how cool and fun it is to bomb villagers, that would obviously be wrong. It sounds like he was talking about how cool and fun it is to do air shows, which I think is not too problematic.

Do you think the air shows should be banned, given that they glorify the RAF? If not, I don't think you can object to him going around talking about them.

I think it is very important to teach kids about how terrible war is, but it's also important not to be too simplistic about it. An air force, in and of itself, is not a bad thing -- it's what you do with it.

TheCraicDealer Sun 27-Jul-14 11:49:55

As long as he wasn't shoving them into a van like a RAF Pied Piper recruiting eight year olds, I wouldn't be that bothered. He was there to discuss his acrobatic skills and flying a plane- those things are pretty cool, at any age. I'd be happy for any child to listen to that. They've got ten years to realise what else the RAF and the other arms of the forces do before committing to a career or otherwise lending their support as an adult.

When I was in primary school we had a visit from two cast members from Gladiators. We thought that was super cool. Do I now dress up in latex and hit people with massive foam q-tips? No. Because I'm an adult and now it seems like a really stupid thing to do and I'd rather work in an office.

Pooka Sun 27-Jul-14 12:04:58

I would not have a problem with this.

Dd has just finished year 6. A year which has included learning about world wars. Private peaceful, Anne frank, when hitler stole pink rabbit, hitler's canary, goodnight mister tom have all bee read. They've learned about evacuation, persecution of Jews, post war Britain and Germany.

I would say that 11 year olds are generally capable of being aware of the cost of war, while at the same time thinking that a job as an aeronautical acrobat would be fun, cool and interesting. I can do the same - I expect his job is just that. He's someone who was obviously desperate to fly, hence the army-to-raf route, and if one is a pilot obsessed with flying then being a red arrow is the ultimate ambition.

I think that the issue is more complex than war equals bad. Some military actions are justified. Of course that will be tempered/taught alongside the cost of war - hence the literature covered in year 6 which tends to be based on personal experience of the impact of war on wider population. Then later, in secondary school, children will learn about the war poets and go into greater detail about the causes and impact of war, including criticism of the origins of ww1, and empires and so on.

FlossyMoo Sun 27-Jul-14 12:05:36

He is a person that does an interesting job and that job is what was being discussed.

Primary school children are, as part of the curriculum, taught extensively about the war history of this country. My year 5 DS has spent the last term learning about WW1 which include the atrocities of that war. He is under no illusion about the long lasting affects it has and does not find it glamorous or cool.

I don't think a guest speaker from the Red Arrows discussing his current job would go against what he has already been taught.

kchornik Sun 27-Jul-14 12:12:59

Many youngsters who join to Armed Forces may not really comprehend that they will be trained in, and involved in, armed conflicts, and that this involves dropping bombs that injure and kill people. Many may think it's 'cool', 'exciting' and 'fun', and if they like videogames, even better. Of course, if youngsters were taught to think critically about the humanitarian consequences of wars - and war poetry from, for instance WWI, is too far removed from a primary school child's experience to be effective in teaching an anti-war message - very few would join the Armed Forces. What I want to stress here, is that the bloke in question did suggest several kids - aged 11 - they joined the RAF. And this was done on the school's premises.

capsium Sun 27-Jul-14 12:24:22

War poetry affected me when I studied it. I also remember being deeply affected from watching that animated film which depicts the football match that took place in the no man's land during WW1. I grew up in the 80s and remember being terrified concerning the Falklands conflict and the prospect of nuclear war.

I also remember some of the Dad's being in the TA and some of my brother's friends did serve in the RAF. I don't think this is because war is glorified though, but the services at the time did offer a career, when there weren't many other options available to some.

FlossyMoo Sun 27-Jul-14 12:27:15

Joining up is not just about signing your name on the dotted line. There is intense training, information and interview process. You have to be 16 to join up an I would think by that age they would have a decent understanding that the army is not just a fun club to join or mimics a video game.

As far as suggesting they join the RAF it is no different than suggesting they join any other workforce. There are many many jobs within the armed forces which do not come with the condition of combat/physically fighting such as clerical, engineering, flight control, Queen's guard, catering, training officers. The list is endless.

TheCraicDealer Sun 27-Jul-14 12:27:54

I think it's doing a disservice to children to suggest that they don't know that soldiers kill and hurt people. Five years olds running around a playground pretending sticks are guns get that. You glean it from things like SAS recruitment ads, toys, cartoons, horrible histories...having a pilot come in and talk about how fun loop the loops are isn't going to make them forget, although they may not immediately link the two roles.

As an aside my partner is in the army. I'm less pro-forces now from the things he tells me. But there are many sections of the army- medics, motor transport, RMP, engineering, logistics, etc- where 'killing' isn't their main role. My DP has been in six years, never fired a shot in anger and now works in an office gathering info for historical enquiries.

I agree with you re. war poetry, but books such as Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, The Silver Sword, Goodnight Mister Tom, etc. are very suitable for primary school age children, and do humanise conflict for a younger audience.

blueemerald Sun 27-Jul-14 13:19:56

I'm with you OP. I work at a school that was, until recently, relentlessly targeted by the armed forces recruitment offices as we educate males that don't traditionally achieve academically. Our Headteacher has made it clear to them that they are not welcome at our school so often as he will not promote the armed forces over other careers for our students. If a student is interested then we will support them in persuing that course. Funny that not one student has signed up since we stopped the recruitment guys dropping in every 5 minutes (they come once a year to our careers fair, like everyone else).

The brainwashing starts at primary school I see.

FlossyMoo Sun 27-Jul-14 13:22:31

Brainwashing Really! hmm

scaevola Sun 27-Jul-14 13:28:36

It's totally up to the school to set the parameters of a visit (or indeed invite to visit at all), and requests for visits by the Red Arrows are often turned down as they're so popular and just don't have the time.

They will not be recruiting children in school visits and more than they do in their visits to, say, Great Ormond Street.

TheCraicDealer Sun 27-Jul-14 14:00:18

For males who "don't traditionally achieve academically" there are worse options than the army, blueemerald. DP met a fella last week who couldn't read, the army had to send him on a course to learn how. They're paying for DP to do an HR course in the local tech, he's already completed a few management ones which are recognised by civilian employers. Plenty of guys join in order to get an HGV licence, a trade, or just to earn a decent wage for four years. And when they do leave, they have a host of options available to them in terms of resettlement options. Where else are you going to get all that? It's not some magical cure all, and certainly I'd like to see improvements in the approach to PTSD and other mental health issues, but it's not fair to say that the young people who join don't consider the benefits and are "brainwashed" instead. The varied up-sides and options are pretty hard to outline via the means of a single stall in a packed assembly hall.

spanieleyes Sun 27-Jul-14 14:33:29

I don't think the air force recruits 11 year olds confused
By the time these 11 year olds are considering a career, they will have been spoken to by a whole host of careers advisors/representatives who will make their particular job sound interesting, exciting and the bees knees, that's their job! ( I once had to make the civil service sound like the best thing since sliced bread-that took some doing!!) No-one is forcing 11 year olds into combat roles, just showing one aspect of a particular career choice.

Most 11 year olds don't want to hear about the 'boring' stuff. They want to hear about the cool, exciting and adventurous stuff. In fact the visitor may well have been told to avoid the 'war' side of the military. I spoke to the a Year 6's at my DDs school and the HT asked me not to go into too much depth. I spoke about the work I did in Bosnia and Iraq, concentrating on the children that I had helped to 'save'. I also spoke about the opportunities that the Army had given me - driving lessons & test, HGV, Scuba Diving, windsurfing, Snowboarding and skiing, travel, trekking. I told them about two of my friends that have followed semi-professional sporting careers (on Olympics, one commonwealth games). I told them that it was hard work, but rewarding work.

One lad asked if I had ever killed anyone and I said no, he also asked if I had my own gun and had to fire it and I said yes.

I wasn't recruiting, any more than the paramedic was or the special effect make-up artist was, or the professional horsewoman was. We just had interesting careers to talk about.

Lonecatwithkitten Sun 27-Jul-14 14:51:14

I really think you are under estimating we have friend who has been through out DD's frontline and he has done three tours in her lifetime. She has always understood that X has some amazing toys to play with (the technology he uses is truly awesome), but there is a very real chance he may get killed and we worry about him while he is gone.

blueemerald Sun 27-Jul-14 15:21:24

If someone wants to join the armed forces then great but I hate this attitude that if you have no qualifications then you can just join the army. I think this is actually insulting to current members of the armed forces too(and I'm not fan of the concept of armed forces).

My real qualm is the, thankfully dying out, belief that boys who are academically behind and "challenging" are ok to ignore because they can join the army. For a long time young men were heavily leaned on (if not forced) to join up through lack of options

There is also a difference between visits and recruitment officers coming to schools that I think I overlooked.

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