This is a teen-written article from our friends at Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing.
By Jorge Cruz
When I was growing up in Ecuador, my dad wanted me to live out his broken dream of becoming a Marine. When I was 12, my parents informed me that I’d be leaving my Catholic school, which I’d attended since I was five, and start attending a military school. I’d have to make new friends and get to know new rules. I did not want to be in that school, and I was really upset about it.
In Catholic school you have to pray and go to the church every Friday. In military school you have to shave your head and do push-ups on Fridays. In my mind, both were ideologically wrong. Both required that you follow strict rules without any complaining or having opinions of your own.
All schools have to enforce rules, but I thought there should be more concern about the happiness of the students. To me, a good education is one in which you are able to explore your fascinations, where students are inspired to be curious about the world. That was not what military school inspired in me.
I spent four years at the school. The first year I was a shy, naïve dreamer. I had the hope of someday getting out of there and going back to a normal school where I could wear normal clothes, not an ugly khaki uniform.
All Work, No Chill Time
The school and philosophy of education felt hostile. I quickly learned how much military school is based on discipline and regimen. You had to keep your clothes clean and smooth the whole day. If the principal of the school wanted to do an inspection, it was necessary to be presentable as if you were about to see the president. Their standards of academic excellence were really difficult too. In 9th grade I was learning college-level math.
In the first week I was really stunned by all my new responsibilities, which even extended beyond the school day. I had to iron my uniform every day, wake up by myself at 5 a.m., and drop off my monthly tuition bill at the bank. After only a few days in the school, I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my school years there.
Some students in military school got special treatment because they were children or grandchildren of high-level Marines. Therefore they were expected to continue the tradition. Other students had this idea of becoming a lawyer or a doctor, or simply becoming the first in their families to be a Marine.
No Place for an Artist
That was not for me. I was looking for a future with passion and creativity and free expression, even if at that time I didn’t have a specific interest yet. I was motivated by the idea of contributing something creative to my city, where I felt art was underappreciated. I saw an empty field where I could apply my ideas.
But my life was now defined by rules. To me the rules were stupid and illogical, but I quickly learned that Marines do not complain, they just follow orders. If you didn’t follow the orders correctly, there were serious consequences.
If a commander saw you committing an infraction, like not wearing the right belt, he would make you do push-ups on your fists in the hot yard with the sun hitting right on your uncovered head. Your hands would be on fire from hot, sharp rocks that cut through your knuckles.
The following year, I was no longer a foreigner to the culture of the school. I found myself with a group that I’d describe as outcasts, punks, and jerks. We were unpopular, unattractive virgins, bonded by hate for the authority of the school. We were rejected by everybody.
Our little group of six grew to feel that our only purpose in life was to hate the school. Sometimes we would cut classes or bother the teachers. We were troublesome and rebellious, but not out of control.
For a while I had a really good time with those guys. They helped me a lot to try to fit in some place, and we had fun. But over time, I began to feel increasingly different—even within this group of outcasts.
Reprinted with permission from Youth Communication.