by Sam Diener
JROTC, a high school program to militarize youth in high schools, wants to invade hundreds more schools. It has already invaded almost 3,400. Congress passed a little-noticed measure in the 2009 National Defense Authorization bill to expand the number of JROTC schools to 3,700 by 2020. To do this, the military will have to open at least 45 new JROTC units per year. (Some schools drop the program each year, most often because of low student participation rates. In 2006, for example, Santa Barbara high school dropped its JROTC program due to high costs and low participation rates.
Peacework Magazine (a program of the American Friends Service Committee) has the list of targeted schools available online: www.peaceworkmagazine.org.
To install new JROTC units, the Pentagon first turns to a list of schools in which it has convinced someone to fill out paperwork requesting a unit. JROTC officials call these “waiting lists.” We call them “targeted schools.”
This additional attempt to further militarize the youth, schools, and culture of the U.S. can be resisted and stopped, however.
JROTC: Costly, Discriminatory, Biased, Deadly
In the 1990s, during a previous round of JROTC expansion, activists worked to expose the realities of the JROTC program to community members and school officials. Because of community opposition, JROTC never opened in approximately 25-30 schools that had been on the militaryâ€™s target list.
Most communities that decided to reject planned units did so after learning that:
- Each unit costs school districts at least $50,000, with an average net cost of more than $76,000. Why should the public schools be subsidizing the military? (Please see “Trading Books for Soldiers: The True Cost of JROTC,” Peacework, Oct. 2004.)
- JROTC discriminates. JROTC instructors must meet current active military duty standards. Therefore, they cannot be openly gay, bisexual, or lesbian. Honorably discharged disabled veterans are also ineligible. The latter stricture violates every school district’s employment non-discrimination policy and most teachers’ union contracts. Also, according to a fact sheet distributed by AF JROTC Cadet Command in March, 2005, students are only eligible for AF JROTC if they are “physically fit and citizens of the United States.” Thus, the program discriminates against students on the basis of disability and citizenship.
- A school district has no control over the JROTC curriculum, which is dictated by the national JROTC cadet command. JROTC classes don’t always count as academic classes — not for entry into California public colleges, for example.
- JROTC is an over-priced, underperforming alternative to physical education. Although typically JROTC recruits students into the program as an alternative to gym classes, in a San Diego study, JROTC students fell behind their peers in physical fitness. When San Francisco stopped offering physical education credit to JROTC classes, enrollment in the JROTC program abruptly fell from 1,600 students to 500 students. Also, since a school with 100 JROTC students is required to hire two JROTC instructors (and add another JROTC instructor for each additional 50 students enrolled), JROTC is more costly than physical education classes with certified teachers who teach far more students.
- JROTC curricula are inherently biased. A militaristic tone is consistent throughout. The textbooks imply that immigrants and national minorities have to prove their “American-ness” through participation in U.S. wars. The Air Force JROTC textbooks imply that it is air power that wins U.S. wars; the Navy implies that it’s sea power.
- There is no evidence to support the military’s claim that JROTC prevents students from dropping out of school. The fact that students entering are supposed to have a “C” average, and that half of all students who take JROTC leave the program the following year, tends to indicate the claim is most likely false. Some of the most intensely pro-JROTC students say that JROTC is a place in the school that provides community. Schools need to build safe communities without militarization, discrimination, high cost and other drawbacks.
- JROTC makes a mockery of schools’ weapon-free zones by bringing guns (especially in Army JROTC) and mock-guns into the schools Some students waged a year-and-a-half long successful campaign to bar JROTC rifle ranges in the San Diego schools scheduled to take effect June 2009.
- There are numerous cases of JROTC-connected violence, including murders, gang-activities, and violent hazing. In June 2009, a student in a San Ysidro JROTC class was accused of exploding five bottle bombs on campus.
- The military’s vaunted “leadership-skill training” focuses instead on following orders.
- JROTC is more of a recruiting program than a leadership program. When testifying to Congress about JROTC on February 9, 2000, then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen gushed, it’s “one of the best recruiting devices that we could have.”
- There are serious drawbacks, attested to by Veterans for Peace especially, to militarizing young minds.
Recruiting Young Children Also Against Law
Future protests might also raise questions about the appropriateness of high schools preparing military personnel for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ACLU has concluded that JROTC violates the optional protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty ratified by the U.S.
For additional information about JROTC, including fact sheets, analyses, case histories and activist assistance, please contact the American Friends Service Committee Youth and Militarism Program, 215-241.7046; and Project YANO (Youth and Non-Military Opportunities), 760.634.3604). YANO”s website features a single page document summarizing points for JROTC opponents to make at school board meetings. Φ
Sam Diener is the Co-Editor of Peacework Magazine, www.peaceworkmagazine.org and was the coordinator of the campaign against JROTC expansion when on staff of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors in the 1990s.