Schools under Siege: Terror, Security, and the Making of Milton High

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Sari K. Biklen


militarization, national security, public schools

Subject Categories



The September 11 attacks intensified U.S. issues of security, defense, and protection through practices like increased surveillance, indefinite detention, and zero tolerance policing in its domestic and foreign engagements (Gregory, 2004; Gregory & Pred, 2007). This amplified focus on national in/security has also informed U.S. school reform projects. In 2008, for instance, Milton High School implemented a homeland security studies program as a way to "boost" the academic achievement of its students, who were predominately poor and working class youth of color. Milton High School partnered with major defense corporations like Northrop Grumman and government organizations like the National Security Agency to facilitate these efforts. Together, Milton and its partners transformed students' classes to focus on issues of in/security and militarized solutions to terrorism, and to provide pathways to low-level jobs in the security industry.

Based on seven months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted at Milton High School, this dissertation intimately examines everyday life in the homeland security program. I map and analyze the social forces that led Milton to adopt a homeland security program, the vocabularies used to talk about threat and insecurity, the kinds of militarized subjectivities the program cultivated, the militarized gender norms celebrated at the school, and students' palpable fears in response to this type of schooling. In turn, this dissertation offers a mediation on how this corporatized, national security-oriented type of education prepared Milton students to defend the homeland; called upon them to make "ultimate sacrifices" (Billig, 1995) in the name of national security; and normalized them to the operations, values, and ideologies of the military-security nation that make going to war possible.

Ultimately, I argue that through public-private partnerships with the security industry and government organizations, militarization and securitization shaped everyday life at Milton, and that, symbiotically, Milton reproduced and remade this militarization and securitization. Milton's story, thus, provides important insight into one way U.S. public schools organize for the waging of war and the securing of society (Geyer, 1989).


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