Welcome to Milton High School, where fear is a teacher’s best tool and every student is a soldier in the war on terror. A struggling public school outside the nation’s capital, Milton sat squarely at the center of two trends: growing fear of resurgent terrorism and mounting pressure to run schools as job training sites. In response, the school established a specialized Homeland Security program.
A Curriculum of Fear takes us into Milton for a day-to-day look at how such a program works, what it means to students and staff, and what it says about the militarization of U.S. public schools and, more broadly, the state of public education in this country. Nicole Nguyen guides us through a curriculum of national security–themed classes, electives, and internships designed through public-private partnerships with major defense contractors like Northrop Grumman and federal agencies like the NSA. She introduces us to students in the process of becoming a corps of “diverse workers” for the national security industry, learning to be “vigilant” citizens; and she shows us the everyday realities of a program intended to improve the school, revitalize the community, and eliminate the achievement gap.
With reference to critical work on school militarization, neoliberal school reform, the impact of the global war on terror on everyday life, and the political uses of fear, A Curriculum of Fear maps the contexts that gave rise to Milton’s Homeland Security program and its popularity. Ultimately, as the first ethnography of such a program, the book provides a disturbing close encounter with the new normal imposed by the global war on terror—a school at once under siege and actively preparing for the siege itself.
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