In its rush to find the next generation of cyberwarriors, the military has begun to infiltrate our high schools and even our middle schools, blurring the line between education and recruitment. The Air Force, for example, runs a “CyberPatriot” national high school cyberdefense competition, geared toward influencing students to pursue careers in cybersecurity. The Pentagon, meanwhile, has its own annual “Digital Forensics Challenge,” in which teams of players develop their own investigative tools. But no one is as innovative in his approach as Colonel Casey Wardynski (ret.)—for 16 years the Army’s top economist and now the superintendent of schools in Huntsville, Ala.
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Since January, Wardynski has been partnering with the Army’s Cyber Command to restructure the curriculum of Huntsville’s middle schools and high schools to train students to wage and defend against cyberwar. (As part of this effort, Wardynski has made Huntsville City Schools the largest all-digital school system in the U.S.; all 24,000 students use a personal computing device to connect to their digital curriculum.) Army Cyber Command, in collaboration with West Point, is providing the curriculum, along with soldier-mentors for the students.
Wardynski is uniquely positioned to connect the military with high and middle schoolers. From 1993 to 2009, he was director of the Army’s Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis at West Point, where he created the world’s first military-built video game, America’s Army. A recruiting tool aimed at 12- and-13-year-olds, the game was an immediate smash: from 2002 to 2008, it was one of the top 10 computer games in the world. New applications of the game will now be delivered to Huntsville classrooms via iPads and iPhones. And although Huntsville is the first city to implement such a program, any materials developed for the program will be provided free to “any willing primary and secondary educational entity of the United States,” according to the agreement Wardynski signed.
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The military has long been at the forefront of the digital-curriculum movement, and it has for decades been the largest financer (by far) of educational technology. In fact, over the past century, the military has profoundly influenced educational institutions in the skills that are valued and taught, how students are evaluated and sorted, and the methods and modes of instruction. In that regard, the new era of cyberwar will inevitably determine how and what our children learn. But as state and federal education budgets are slashed in response to the collapsed economy and as the military strains to find cyber-qualified personnel, our schools and the military will undoubtedly join in an ever closer relationship.
But this interweaving of military technology, ideology and money poses a potential risk to students everywhere and should be critically examined by parents and educators alike. A military career is not a game. More to the point, the stealth recruitment and militarization of young minds is not game, and it should not be treated as such by school officials in charge of guiding our children’s future.