Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Feeding the Military Machine: JROTC Expansion and Inner-City Academies Mark Recruiting Incursion into U.S. Public School Classrooms, Critics Say

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Feeding the Military Machine: JROTC Expansion and Inner-City Academies Mark Recruiting Incursion into U.S. Public School Classrooms, Critics Say

Article excerpt

God may not be allowed in American public schools but the military visits frequently and, in some districts, has set up camp. An increase in recruiter access to public high school students, made possible by the new education reform bill, and a dramatic expansion of Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, mark a significant growth in the Pentagon's presence in the hallways and classrooms of America.

Over the past decade, the number of JROTC programs has doubled nationwide, from 1,500 units to around 3,000, and public military academies are becoming popular options, especially in urban districts where truancy and fights are rampant. Expenditures have tripled from $76 million in 1992 to approximately $210 million.

Politicians and school administrators say the military, with its uniforms and code of discipline, bring a much-needed cohesion to schools in chaos. Critics argue the military's package of goods, with its pro-military career bias, is nothing but a thinly veiled effort to recruit Americans at an ever-younger age, a charge the armed forces denies.

The military's incursion into public schools, widespread and deep, is undeniably altering the once strictly civilian tenor of public education, as more classrooms become a forum for the Pentagon's point of view.

In Chicago, the U.S. Army has entrenched itself in a public school system that is overwhelmingly nonwhite (91 percent) and poor (85 percent of the students come from low-income families), according to district figures. Forty-four of the city's 93 high schools have a JROTC program. While all branches of the armed services are represented, most of the units are Army-run. One out of every 10 high school students wears a military uniform to school at least once a week and those attending military academies wear them daily. The city has 10 military academies; three operate independently, and seven function as schools within schools.

Despite a federal statute restricting JROTC to a course offering for students in ninth through 12th grades, 20 of Chicago's middle schools have Cadet Corps, a modified version of high school JROTC. Alisha Hill, principal of Evergreen Middle School where Cadet Corps is offered, said it teaches "kids about rank, armed forces, leadership, drill presentation, flag etiquette."

Citywide, 500 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, ages 11 to 14, participate in this program that cultivates an early interest in high school JROTC and the military. Last year's field trip for cadets at Evergreen was a tour of the Great Lakes Naval Station where students observed a day in the life of a Navy recruit.

Primarily an afterschool program, Cadet Corps morphed into a full-day military academy at Madero Middle School, located in a working-class neighborhood that is 98 percent Mexican, according to Principal Rosa Ramirez.

Nationwide, JROTC is in its biggest period of growth since its establishment by Congress in 1916 as a program to develop citizenship and responsibility in young people. This year's defense authorization bill removed the 2002 cap that limited JROTC units to 3,500, and all branches of the armed services expect to increase their programs, if war doesn't cut into funding.

After the riots

The four-year course, offered as an elective in lieu of physical education at a traditional high school or as a requirement at a military academy, comes with its own curricula and instructors, who are retired military officers certified by the branch of the armed services they represent. Army JROTC instructors receive their certification at Fort Knox, Ky., which is also headquarters for Army recruiting.

According to the military, impetus for JROTC's growth in the last decade came from Gen. Colin Powell, now secretary of state, after the Los Angeles race riots in 1992. Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, surveyed the ruins of southern Los Angeles and decided that what the nation's youth needed was the discipline and structure of the military. …

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