Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

Related Topics

E pluribus unum refers to thirteen colonies peacefully becoming a single nation. But it applies to Philadelphia in a different sense. Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods.

Sights to See: The Outer Ring
There are many interesting places to visit in the exurban ring beyond Philadelphia, linked to the city by history rather than commerce.

Academia in the Philadelphia Region
Higher education is a source of pride, progress, and aggravation.

Touring Philadelphia's Western Regions
Philadelpia County had two hundred farms in 1950, but is now thickly settled in all directions. Western regions along the Schuylkill are still spread out somewhat; with many historic estates.

Education in Philadelphia
Taxes are too high, but the tax base is too small, so public education is underfunded. Drug use and lack of classroom discipline are also problems. Business and employed persons have fled the city, must be induced to return. Deteriorating education, rising taxes and crime are the immediate problems, but the underlying issue is lack of vigor and engagement by the urban population itself.

Military Philadelphia

Chester County, Pennsylvania
Chester was an original county of Pennsylvania, one of the largest until Dauphin, Lancaster and Delaware counties were split off. Because the boundaries mainly did not follow rivers or other natural dividers, translating verbal boundaries into actual lines was highly contentious.

Military School

{VFMS Crest}
VFMS Crest

In the middle of the pacifist Quaker farm region, in fact in the middle of William Penn's Quaker Welsh Barony, sits Valley Forge Military Academy. Its location seems even stranger when you consider the nearest town, within easy walking distance, is Wayne, PA described by David Brooks in Bobos in Paradise as the East-Coast epicenter for yuppie education-based elitism, with all its air of entitlement. In fact, Brooks does not mention the Academy once in his three hundred page book about the town. What is VFMA and why is it located where it is? Three names, Baker, Mellon and Annenberg pretty much explain it. Lieutenant General Milton Baker, a great friend of the Eisenhower family, was passionate about Valley Forge, its history, its parks, its military hospital, its renovation and its preservation. If Baker founded a school (in 1928), it was going to be here. The money was Mellon and Annenberg money, but Baker was their man.

{Military school}
Military school

Military schools are now in a period of decline. A flurry of building after the Civil War created about 600 of them, in recognition that the North nearly lost the Civil War to the Confederate States who had a much stronger military tradition, especially in Virginia. It's therefore not surprising that Valley Forge wanders from Southern traditions, and is consciously modelled after Sandhurst, the British Royal Military College. Valley Forge competes with Canada, Australia and Great Britain for foreign students, while the Southern schools are more provincial. There seem to be two main reasons to send your son to a military boarding school.

The first is the tradition of military aristocracy, traceable in a sense to feudalism and the Knights of the Round Table. There's little patience with politically correct speech in the military, who readily tell you that many rich families encourage their daughters to marry career military officers, as a way of strengthening loyalties between these two power groups. During formative years of the American republic, resounding emphasis was placed on having no standing army. That was a cloaked way of restraining a military aristocracy, and seems to have provided the main reasoning behind the constitutional Second Amendment, which projects a general right of all citizens to bear arms. It follows the model of Switzerland where military service is universal, as contrasted with limiting firearms to specialists, whether police or military. If that was the goal, it seems to have been effective; military elites now seem most appealing to foreign cultures, like Latin America, Korea, Saudi Arabia. Tony DeGeorge, the current president of Valley Forge, tells of an astounding phone call from one Saudi prince, who responded to an alumni fund-raising appeal by offering to buy the whole school. The Saudi noticed, one supposes, that "Storming' Norman" Schwartkopf, the hero of the First Gulf War, was an alumnus of Valley Forge.

The other main reason to send your son to military boarding school, is because he's too unruly to handle at home. Here is another seemingly delicate matter the school makes no bones about. All new entrants must spend six weeks as "plebes", enduring a ferocious hazing discipline that weeds 'em out. The solution to cell phones and Internet games is to forbid them. Valley Forge confronts the matter of recreational drugs head-on. All students are subject to random drug testing, and a positive test means get off the school grounds -- permanently -- within four hours. The exercises program is not only mandatory, it is rigorous beyond description. The result is that fifteen alumni are currently playing professional football in the NFL, the polo team is regularly the national champion. Somewhere General Baker got the idea that playing music helps your mathematical ability, so every single 9th grader plays the violin. The marching band is internationally famous, and by gad it better stay that way. Only about a third of the graduates go on to a lifetime military career, but another third of the alumni are CEOs of companies. Even what happens to the remaining third bears some thought.

{J.D. Salinger}
J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger and Edward Albee were both alumni of Valley Forge Military Academy. True, General Baker told Salinger that The Catcher in The Rye was rubbish, and one need not speculate much on how he would have reviewed Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the collision between these two social misfits and the plebe hazing experience contributed significantly to the depth and power of the serious literature they produced. It is not easy to name two alumni of Andover, Exeter or Lawrenceville who have contributed as much to 20th Century American fiction. Salinger and Albee hated the place, but it made them what they became. "Whatever that was," you can almost hear the other two thirds of the alumni mutter.

In a day that echoes No Child Left Behind, it is a little hard and it is certainly politically incorrect, to give this devil its due. But all Armies live by the slogan, that if you must take an objective, you must take some casualties.

My son (14 year old) was accepted to VFMA. He is also accepted in the Regimental Band. I was excited for him, but he was not excited. He does not want to attend the school. I really want him to go because I think it will be good for him learn how to be most independent and learn some leadership qualities. I want to make him attend the school but I do not want him to start a new school upset and angry (since I will not be seeing him for 8 weeks). Has any one sent their son to the school who really did not want to be there (and he ending up liking it or ended up hating it)? Thanks for any information, Tman
Posted by: Tman   |   Feb 13, 2015 5:36 PM
I attended VF. I went on to college and a very fulfilling and successful career! The school is the best high school in the country. Of course, not all kids are tough enough and disciplined enough. Your children have to be up for the challenge! I would be more than happy to discuss with any parent how truly beneficial the school is. Keep in mind I love VF and that's what you're going to hear from me.
Posted by: Andre   |   Oct 15, 2013 1:18 PM
I attended Valley Forge for one year, and after just one year it provided me with so many virtues and attributes that have built me into the man I am today. As a senior in high school, I can honestly say that had I not attended Valley Forge, I would lack the motivation that is necessary to succeed in life and become a person of high character. It will take some time and hard work throughout your enrollment at Valley Forge, but this school is still an amazing place that changes boys into men.
Posted by: eaglesfan    |   Aug 23, 2013 5:36 AM
These posts make me sick. Not saying they are not true, just saying they make me sick. I was a proud cadet from 1965 to 1967, when General Baker was still in command along with General Medenbach, Col. Feltham and many other very fine men. After the anti-war Vietnam era military schools went to hell in a handbasket, if they even survived at all. Last time I visited was 1978---I couldn't believe how much it had deteriorated in such a short period. I don't really know what it is truly like today, but I loved the band and the school nearly fifty years ago. Malcontents will always write hit pieces like some of the above, but perhaps allot of that is true. But our whole society has fallen to a place I never could have imagined.
Posted by: Bandsman   |   Aug 5, 2013 6:52 PM
These posts make me sick. Not saying they are not true, just saying they make me sick. I was a proud cadet from 1965 to 1967, when General Baker was still in command along with General Medenbach, Col. Feltham and many other very fine men. After the anti-war Vietnam era military schools went to hell in a handbasket, if they even survived at all. Last time I visited was 1978---I couldn't believe how much it had deteriorated in such a short period. I don't really know what it is truly like today, but I loved the band and the school nearly fifty years ago. Malcontents will alway write hit pieces like some of the above, but perhaps allot of that is true. But our whole society has fallen to a place I never could have imagined.
Posted by: Bandsman   |   Aug 5, 2013 6:50 PM
I attended VFMA during my last 2 years of high school (1967-1969). I wanted to go ever since I attended their 7 week summer camp when I was 11 years old. I also wanted to attend West Point for college. Well, as you can imagine, after actually experiencing military school, I did not want to go on to West Point. Instead I went on to Boston University. Notwithstanding the fact that very few of us really liked being there once we got there, it was great training for us all. We were adolescents with a lot of energy and VFMA made us tow the line and had us keep our focus on school and eventually moving on to college. We stayed out of trouble, didn't impregnate our girlfriends, and learned how to act properly as a member of a group and how to work with others. If I had not gone to VFMA, I would probably would not have entered Boston University. It was good training for those of us that attended. When I was there, we had one of the largest Corps of Cadets ever assembled at the Academy (1,000+ cadets). With one of the best military bands on the planet, when the 1,000 member Corps formed up for parade, we were an impressive lot with infantry, cavalry and artillery units. Over the years since that period, I have had many fond memories of VFMA. Would I go voluntarily again if I could live my life over? I don't know, but I am certainly glad I went when I did! I think the majority of alumni would agree. Thanks Valley Forge
Posted by: Bob Shroyer   |   Feb 18, 2013 11:47 PM
I am the father of a teenager who went to VFMA for 2 years. His academics were good for most of the first year, and then declined dramatically. He did not go for discipline issues, but picked up some serious issues at this school. He was introduced to drugs at the school, and after leaving has gotten even worse. I am not sure what the role of the school was in this, but I do know that it was the students there who introduced my son to drugs, and the school did nothing about it. There is no drug testing at the school to speak of, and apparently incidents of drug and alcohol use on campus are common. My son is now struggling to complete high school (more like I am stuggling to get him to complete high school), and is a disciplinary nightmare.
Posted by: anonymous   |   Apr 2, 2012 10:37 AM
Unless you hate your child, do not send them to this place. Especially if he is smaller than average. He will be beaten up by the large contengent of bullies than are sent here instead of prison or reform school. I attended VF for 4 years and endured hazing beyond belief. You must have other options. Please look past the nice uniforms and fancy parades. You owe it to your child no matter how badly you think they need improvement. This is not the place.
Posted by: Ron   |   Mar 21, 2012 8:30 PM
To Phillip who posted on 11.24.11- Why would you have even continued to send your son to Valley Forge for 4 years if you weren't pleased with the education he was receiving?! 40K x 4 years = `160K?? Hard to believe you were really THAT disappointed in the school
Posted by: Incoming VFMC   |   Dec 19, 2011 4:57 PM
Hey, my son has gone to this school for four years now and it has done nothing but cause trouble for him. I would NEVER recommend this place for anybody for their staff is atrociously horrible, nobody listens to you with suggestions, it has just flat out been a waste for $40,000 a year. Horrible place to send your kid. If you love him, do not send him here.
Posted by: Phillip   |   Nov 24, 2011 3:31 PM
hi i need info about this school for my son he is no w in 7th grade my email thanks!!!
Posted by: barbara mroz   |   Apr 26, 2011 9:35 PM
I attended Valley Forge (VFMA) in 1962 and 63. The regimin was quite difficult and the days hard and long but well worth the effort. The school instilled the dicipline in me I needed to have a sucessfull business carer. While I did not appreciate many aspects of the school at the time I now realize it played a major role in my development as a man.
Posted by: Tom Thompson   |   Apr 17, 2011 3:02 PM
I went to The Forge (VFMA) in the early to mid-80's. We did not have to play violins, as a matter of fact I never saw a single one. I should know, I was in one of the musical units (the Drum and Bugle Corps). The hazing did happen a lot when I was there, but not anymore. But here is what The Forge did for me, it forced me to apply myself to get the grades I was always capable of. It got me accepted into Ivy League schools. This coming from someone who wanted never to even attend high school. It did what prep schools are supposed to do.
Posted by: matt craig   |   Jan 24, 2011 11:05 AM
Hello, my name is tulga from mongolia. and 22 years old.. Is that possible foreigner from abroad enlist this school?
Posted by: Tulga   |   Nov 12, 2010 4:19 AM
my mom is just tarid of him he gives her hight blood persure she need to find out more infomation on the school u can cantact me
Posted by: kimesha   |   Sep 4, 2010 10:34 PM
please send more information on the school for my son,
Posted by: tutu   |   Sep 2, 2010 7:51 PM
Posted by: susan dutkiwicz   |   Jul 25, 2010 9:30 PM
Posted by: ROBYN   |   Jul 14, 2010 10:53 AM
I just was told tht my son can not rtn back to his school in the fall. He is 16 going will be 17 in Dec. He failed 5 classes. I would like information on your school.
Posted by: Mable Bazemore   |   Jun 28, 2010 4:45 PM
I'd be curious to know what percentage of the grads go on
to West Point ? Being a military Academy I would assume it's quite large.
Posted by: Robert Torres   |   Jan 28, 2010 9:40 PM
my son is a 11yrs old and very defiant what can what can i do will this school help
Posted by: vicki valinoto   |   Jan 17, 2010 6:47 PM
please send me information concerning your school.
Posted by: wayne hansen   |   May 13, 2009 3:28 PM
I am looking for a good military school for my troubled nephew. You can reach me @
Posted by: Jamilla Smith   |   Apr 30, 2009 9:31 AM
Are you serious, did you ever speak to anyone who actually went to this school. Physical regimen rigorous beyond belief huh? Completely untrue... as are many things in your blog. Completely untrue trash.
Posted by: Valley Forge Alum   |   Jan 30, 2009 7:20 AM
Please send me information concening your school
Posted by: mary quattrock   |   Sep 6, 2008 9:38 AM
I just move to West Philadelphia and I'm looking for a good school for my son. I thank a milltary school would good for him.
Posted by: Candace Sanders   |   Aug 3, 2008 6:43 AM

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