Jefferson Morley | June 10, 2019
Gina Haspel’s Classmates Set the Record Straight on Lakenheath High
My story about Gina Haspel’s education, “The Girl Who Became Spymaster” has generated a furry of comments from Lakenheath alumni. Several took exception to some or all of my description of Haspel’s experience there as “insulated, demanding and militarized.” So let’s hear what they have to say.
Was the school demanding, ie., did it have high academic standards?
Debra, who attend from 1973 to 1976, wrote:
The DoD education far out ranked the level of teaching in the American public school system. The DoD teachers had to continue their training and update their certifications to continue. I came back to Schertz, Texas public school and Washington DC private Catholic school and realized these schools behind and lower standard than the DoD schools.
Rob, who also attended Lakenheath High School in the mid 1970s, recalled:
a marvelous experience in most respects. The hallmark of the school was the superior faculty. In the main, they were talented, highly qualified, caring instructors. Perhaps the fact that they chose to be ex-pats made them more curious and adventuresome than their stateside compatriots.
Bill, whose sister knew Gina Walker in high school, stressed the liberal character of the education.
The DOD schools like Lakenheath were rather liberal compared to state side public schools in the South and Midwest, and far from insulated or militarized. Some teachers were somewhat conservative and some rather liberal. In fact, one of my liberal Democrat teachers went on to be principle of a DOD school in Germany, then later became head of all European DOD schools till she retired about 10 years ago. The play I was in at Lakenheath in 1975 was Inherit the Wind, about the Scopes Monkey Trial. A play that my kids public high school in Gulf Breeze, FL would never allow.
Paul disgreed with alumnus Frank Kelley, who told me the school was “top notch.” Not for Paul, it wasn’t. He wrote:
Not really a demanding school either– I skated by rarely doing homework or classwork , while my more studious classmates did more. Militarized? That’s the funniest of them all! Lots of long-haired, cigarette smoking slackers! While most British schools had mandatory uniforms at the time, blue jeans and t-shirts were a staple at Lakenheath.
Rob objected to my use of the word “militarized,” saying “the school and its students were largely isolated from the military operations,” aside from a small ROTC program. He went on to say the principal cultural difference between Lakenheath from many stateside communities:
was the diversity of the student population and the narrowness of the socio-economic band. Everyone had a mother and father, and every father had a job, but no one had money. The sargent’s kid enjoyed the same opportunities as the colonel’s kid. The school also was comprised of sizable African- American, Hispanic, and white populations, with smatterings of South Pacific, Asian, and other students. In this sense, the community was both ideal and well ahead of its time.
Donna rejected the idea that the school was academically demanding.
Insulated? Demanding? MILITARIZED??? My school was far from these things! We experienced more in the few years we had there than our counterparts in the US. We had the world view on the telly, every night. We had the pleasure of hearing our aircraft every day, and knowing our parents were there for a reason. We were ordinary kids, in an extraordinary place. And we are still proud of our experiences there.
Ricky rejected the “militarized” label and qualified the notion that the school was demanding.
Nothing military about it except for the location (on an Air Force base) and there was a Jr ROTC program at the school for those that were interested in it. I was a dormitory student Monday thru Friday. We came in from other bases and stayed all week and went home for the weekends. There was no mandatory study hall except for in the dormitories. The study hall was mandatory if you did not make the A-B honorary role for the last semester. Then it was usually from 7-8:30pm on Monday thru Thursday nights. I never saw or heard anything that was military while I attended the school for two years except for the jets that flew over day and night at times.
Based on these comments, I should have chosen my words more carefully.
When I wrote “insulated,” I meant to say the Lakenheath student body was “insulated” from the people who live in England. Given the number of boarding students, and the evidently open-minded character of the faculty, the word gives the wrong impression. “All-American” is a more appropriate adjective for the Lakenheath education.
I’m surprised that alumni objected to my reporting that the school was academically “demanding.” I meant that word as praise. Perhaps it would be more precise to say Lakenheath was challenging for motivated students.
As for “militarized,” I wanted to convey the idea that Gina Walker grew up in an environment where the military was omnipresent, from the sounds of the aircraft to the careers of the parents. I was trying to convey the idea that Rob expressed more precisely with the phrase, “the narrowness of the socio-economic band” of the student body.
The connotations of the word “militarized,” I realize, conjure up a war zone or mandatory uniforms, which isn’t right. Again, my word choice should have been better.
So I’ve revised the story accordingly: See the corrected version of “The Girl Who Became Spymaster.”