Education has been linked closely with the growth of professionalism in the military forces of the United States since the mid‐nineteenth century. Its principal purpose is to ensure the mastery of a body of specialized knowledge, one of the characteristics of any profession. Accordingly, the principal subject areas of professional military education include: the art of command (leadership); the organization and management of military forces; strategy, tactics, and logistics; military history; national security policy; the relationship of armed forces and society; and individual analytical and communication skills. The approach to these professional topics becomes broader, more complex, and more abstract at each successive level of formal military schooling.
Before World War II, the pace of peacetime garrison life or duty at sea left a good deal of time for individual professional study. Since 1945, the pace of active service and the resulting demands on an officer's time have increased tremendously, as have the breadth and complexity of the body of knowledge that must be mastered. Consequently, formal military schools now provide the principal venue for professional development.
Each of the military services has its own integrated, progressive program of formal education, which includes attendance for selected personnel at formal courses at the undergraduate, service school, staff college, and senior service college levels, as well as technical courses and courses at joint postgraduate schools. The four undergraduate national service academies (the Military Academy at West Point; the Naval Academy at Annapolis; the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs; and the Coast Guard Academy at New London), the ROTC programs found on many college campuses, and officer candidate schools run by each of the services prepare young men and women for initial entry to the services as commissioned officers. Basic service school courses, such as those for army infantry officers at Fort Benning, Georgia, and for Marine Corps officers at Quantico, Virginia, prepare newly commissioned junior officers for duties in operational units and aboard ship. Advanced service school courses, such as those offered by the Air Force Squadron Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and the army's Transportation School at Fort Eustis, Virginia, prepare senior company‐grade officers for small unit command and staffwork through battalion level. Staff colleges—the army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for example—prepare selected mid‐level career officers for service at battalion, brigade, and division level, and equivalent navy and air force echelons. Finally, the three senior service colleges—the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island; the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania; and the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama—prepare selected senior field‐grade officers for the highest command and staff positions. In addition, three joint service colleges—the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia, and the National War College and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, both in Washington, D.C.—seek to improve joint operations through interservice understanding and cooperation. A limited number of American officers are also selected to attend the military schools of other nations or the NATO Defense College in Rome. Specialist courses, graduate degree programs at civilian universities, and training with industry complete the array of formal military schooling.
In the United States, military education has always been closely linked to developments in the civilian educational community, and military educators have often been caught up by the fads in educational theory that have swept the civilian community periodically. For example, the development in the late nineteenth century of both civilian graduate education and the military war colleges was based on German models: the seminar method of the German universities and the Prussian Kriegsakademie, respectively. And today the call for “back to basics” rings in the halls of military schools as loudly as in our elementary and secondary schools and colleges.
Military educators have often led the exchange of ideas with their civilian counterparts. In 1817, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, then under the direction of Sylvanus Thayer, established the first formal program of engineering instruction, a program later copied by civilian institutions. At the turn of the century, the army's School of the Line at Fort Leavenworth (now the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College), under the leadership of Arthur L. Wagner and Eben Swift, stressed active student learning through practical exercises in place of passive lectures. This so‐called applicatory method was much admired and emulated by civilian academicians, as were the methods of standardized testing developed by the army and navy in the two world wars.
Although most civilian and military leaders agree on the ultimate goal of military education, there is considerable controversy over how that goal should be attained. One of the fundamental issues is time. Some officers (particularly in the navy) view formal schooling as a waste of time and argue that the best means of developing professional competence is on‐the‐job experience in active service in units and at sea. This view is reflected in all the services in the reluctance of some officers to attend formal military schools, and in lower selection and retention rates for those who “waste” too much time attending or teaching in the military educational institutions. Debate also exists over the relative value of “education” versus “training.” Many critics maintain that the various military schools should train officers for their next assignment rather than educate them for greater professional contributions at some indefinite future time and place. Others insist that military education should focus on operational military matters to the exclusion of “soft” subjects such as international relations, economics, and management.
[See also Academies: Service; Schools, Postgraduate Service; Schools, Private Military; Training and Indoctrination.]
John W. Masland and and Laurence I. Radway , Soldiers and Scholars: Military Education and National Policy, 1957.
James C. Shelburne and and Kenneth J. Groves , Education in the Armed Forces, 1965.
Lawrence J. Korb, ed., The System for Educating Military Officers in the U.S., 1976.
Martin van Creveld , The Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, 1990.
Charles R. Shrader