Special Exhibit Opens July 11 in Albuquerque
by Allen Dale Olson
Less than a third of one of America’s largest school systems is actually in the United States. Its 78,000 K-12 students attend 181 schools, 58 of which are in the States, the rest spread around the world from the Far and Middle East to Western Europe.
Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, as part of the Defense Department (DoD), it has field offices in Peachtree, Georgia, and in Japan and Germany. The Department of Defense Education Agency (DoDEA) is a civilian educator agency serving the families of American military personnel.
The history, challenges, and achievements of this unique school system will be on display in the Main Reading Room of the Albuquerque Special Collections Library starting July 11 and running through August 22, with an opening ceremony on July 16 at 5:00 p.m.
An exhibit created by the Museum of the American Military Family (MAMF),“Schooling with Uncle Sam” uses quotes, photos, documents, and artifacts gathered from around the world from former students, teachers, administrators, and military personnel and curated by MAMF volunteers with decades of experience in the DoD schools. MAMF is the only museum in the country dedicated exclusively to collecting and preserving the stories of the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, spouses, and other relatives of uniformed personnel from our nation’s founding to the present.
Military sponsorship for the education of sons and daughters of the armed forces dates to the mid-19th century, but the DoDEA of today traces its history to the end of World War II when the Army leadership decided that Occupation soldiers would have higher morale if their families were with them and that the defeated populace of Germany and Japan would benefit by witnessing living examples of American democracy. Besides, a racially integrated military was wary of assigning personnel into a still-segregated South.
Since DoD opened schools in Germany and Japan in 1946, an estimated 15,000,000 Americans have passed through them. Today, besides in the United States, DoD operates schools on military installations in 14 different nations.
DoDEA students are just like students in typical American schools, except they’re not. The average DoDEA student will attend four or five, often more, different schools en route to graduation. More than a quarter of them enter first grade speaking a language other than English. Almost all of them will have lived in at least one foreign country by the time they reach fourth grade.
Students come from every state in the Union, and so do their teachers. Every school is blessed with a faculty of men and women from diverse backgrounds and locations. They return to every state and enrich local districts with their own diversity and intercultural experiences.
DoDEA’s Director, Thomas Brady, in a recent Government Executive newsletter referred to DoDEA schools as “well-resourced,” because of their placement firmly in the Pentagon budget. He explains that DoDEA students have parents in a military organization that “requires them to keep up standards or get out. They have a roof over their heads, health care, three meals a day, and parents who care.”
Last summer, more than 20,000 visitors saw the MAMF Exhibit, “Sacrifice & Service,” the story of military families and how they find pride and identity through service and deal with deployments, loss, separation, and constant movement from base to base.
MAMF is an all-volunteer not-for-profit on-line entity in quest of a permanent home and is launching a capital campaign to support that quest.
The exhibit, “Schooling with Uncle Sam,” is free to the public. The Special Collections Library is at 423 Central Avenue NE in Albuquerque and is open from 10:00 a.m. till 6:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday except on Thursdays when it’s open 11:00 a.m. till 7:00 p.m. Closed Sundays and Mondays.