This year the Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) will celebrate 75 years of providing education to military-connected families both overseas and at home with a new anthology and accompanying exhibit that opens this month.
The school system first opened to military-connected students in October 1946 in Germany, Japan and Austria at the end of World War II when President Eisenhower ordered American troops to stay in place in Europe and Japan. To keep his upper brass more content and less homesick, Eisenhower knew he needed to bring military families along for the ride. Because families often bring young children, a Department of Defense school system was formed. To continue the support, the order to keep American troops in place, which was thought to be temporary, has lasted a span of more than seven decades and expanded into dozens of additional countries.
To capture some of the little-known but incredibly rich personal history of the schools, DODEA educators and daughter-father team Dr. Circe Olson Woessner and Dr. Allen Dale Olson wrote and edited “Schooling With Uncle Sam.” The new anthology also includes a foreword by DODEA Director Tom Brady and artwork by former DODDS teacher Joan Olson. The project, presented by the Museum of the American Military Family & Learning Center (MAMF), features nearly 100 different authentic stories and voices of the military-connected students who attended DODEA schools and the educators who dedicated their lives to teaching them.
“‘Schooling With Uncle Sam’ not only tells the history of the system but also opens windows on what it really is like to teach in or attend a typical American school on a military installation overseas,” said Olson, secretary and head of public affairs for MAMF.
“There are laughter and thrills, smiles and fears, adventure and tranquility highlighting the unique relationships among teachers and students. It’s important to collect and preserve these stories not only because history is always important, but also because they present a human dimension to military deployments, alignments, closures, and missions not normally known to the public.”
DODEA, for example, has had staff teaching English to Afghanistan soldiers and officials and has had a school in Asmara, Eritrea, Olsen says. The Defense Department has schools for military children in places like Iceland, Bermuda, the Azores, Puerto Rico, Bahrain and South Carolina, as well as in better-known places like Germany, Japan, England, Italy and the Philippines.
“The teachers and students in these schools bring a perspective on world issues and affairs not available to school systems at home,” he said. “Unless their stories are told and preserved, the stories of these places and these experiences will be lost, and no one will recall that teachers and students were also a part of the nation’s military mission.”
This unique collection of stories and photos can also be found on display at MAMF in Tijeras, New Mexico. The exhibit “Schooling With Uncle Sam” opened to the public on Oct. 11.
Dr. Olson says the DODEA had a lot of positive impacts.
“Undoubtedly the acquisition of state-of-the-art facilities is one of the biggest,” he said. “No more Quonset huts, portable classrooms, borrowed space from chapels, barracks, theaters. And the continuing evolution of teaching strategies — from digital classrooms to the innovative programs brought by a diverse faculty and availability of in-service training contracts with several U.S. universities and colleges. I also believe that the relationship between teachers and students in DODEA is unique in the way they bond, share intercultural experiences, and support one another in making a home and community away from home and community.”
According to DODEA, today it operates 160 schools in eight districts located within 11 foreign countries, seven states, and two territories across 10 time zones. There are nearly one million military connected-children of all ages worldwide, with more than 60,000 enrolled in DODEA schools served by more than 8,000 educators.