SOLDIERS IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
by Catherine Lutz and Lesley Bartlett
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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"Making Soldiers in the Public Schools: An Analysis of the Army JROTC Curriculum," is a new American Friends Service Committee publication about the large and rapidly growing military presence in American high schools, via the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). The publication provides an analysis of the JROTC curriculum, compares the claims made by the JROTC program with the outcomes, notes the absence of data to substantiate most of the program's claims, contrasts JROTC goals with those of public education in a democracy, and raises serious concerns for parents, students, educators, and school boards.
With the clearly stated goal of creating "favorable attitudes and impressions toward the Services and toward careers in the Armed Forces," JROTC employs retired military personnel as classroom instructors to teach a military curriculum. Approximately 310,000 students, ages 14 and up, participate in about 2,200 high schools nationwide. JROTC's funding has expanded by more than 80 million dollars since 1992; the number of units is expected to reach 2900 by 1996.
At first glance, the JROTC program can appear very attractive to school districts. It claims to provide discipline to students who join, to prevent drug abuse and dropouts, to provide leadership training, and, overall, to benefit "at-risk" students. However, as the program expands, many students, teachers, and parents have asked, "Does this program belong in the public schools? What does it teach, what does it promise, and what does it deliver? What are its economic and social costs? Does it recruit for the military?" "Making Soldiers in the Public Schools" considers these and other questions through examination of the basic outlines of JROTC's history, its racially and regionally skewed distribution in schools, its relation to military manpower needs, and problems with its curriculum.
The publication asks whether public schools should be used for the benefit of the military, whose goals are not those of public education in a democracy. Public schooling strives to promote respect for other cultures, critical thinking, and basic academic skills in a safe environment. In contrast, JROTC introduces guns into the schools, promotes authoritarian values, uses rote learning methods, and consigns much student time in the program to learning drill, military history and protocol, which have little relevance outside the military.
The chief findings of the report include:
While JROTC materials produced to attract school districts and individuals state that the program is not a recruiting tool, 45 percent of all cadets who successfully complete JROTC enter some branch of the service. Moreover, JROTC textbooks disproportionately tout military careers as opposed to civilian ones.
The program claims to provide discipline to the students who join, and to prevent both drug abuse and to decrease the dropout rate. Yet systematic data to substantiate most of these claims is not even collected. Recent Army JROTC promotional material states that JROTC cadets graduate at higher rates than other students. What little information they have provided does not prove that JROTC is an effective dropout prevention program. Given the high rate of attrition within the JROTC program, claims concerning dropout reduction would be difficult, if not impossible, to validate.
JROTC programs are more often found in schools with a high proportion of non-white students, who now represent 54 percent of JROTC cadets, and in non-affluent schools. They are also heavily clustered in Southern high schools (65 percent of the units). The program attracts large numbers of women (40 percent of the total), but female JROTC teachers are extremely rare.
While schools may take on a JROTC unit hoping to gain resources, in fact, JROTC drains resources from other educational programs through cost-sharing requirements.
JROTC Curriculum Faulted
Significantly, there is normally no detailed review of the JROTC curriculum by local school boards or school districts. A comparison of the JROTC curriculum and two widely used civilian high school civics and history textbooks demonstrates that the JROTC curriculum falls well below accepted pedagogical standards. Units on citizenship and history are strikingly different from standard civilian texts on these subjects.
For example, the citizenship sections of the JROTC texts portray citizenship as being primarily achieved through military service; provide only a short discussion of civil rights; and downplay the importance of civilian control of the military. By contrast, the civilian civics text treats political participation as citizenship's defining feature and describes the Constitution's framers' intent to control the power of the military by making a civilian the commander of the armed forces. In comparison to the civilian history text, historical events presented in the JROTC curriculum are distorted by the omission of certain facts and/or perspectives. History is described as a linear series of accomplishments by soldiers, while the progress engendered by regular citizens is marginalized. America's wars are treated as having been inevitable.
While it claims to provide leadership training with broad relevance, in fact, the JROTC curriculum defines leadership as respect for constituted authority and the chain of command, rather than as critical thinking and democratic consensus-building, and it consistently conflates leadership and followership. Finally, the text encourages the reader to rely uncritically on the military as a source of self-esteem and guidance.
JROTC's militarism runs counter to many school-based initiatives to deter the spread of school violence. At a time when schools are employing a variety of methods -- from metal detectors to peer conflict mediation -- to curb incidents of violence in the schools, create safe learning environments, and teach peaceful means of conflict resolution, JROTC's introduction of weapons training, its partnership with the NRA to sponsor marksmanship matches, and its modeling of militaristic solutions to problems contradict schools' stated opposition to violence. Many schools accept JROTC's claim that the program benefits students prone to acts of violence without realizing the irony of looking to the military as a solution for violent behavior.
The substantial expansion of the JROTC program has occurred in response to the military's need for more and better trained recruits in an era of shrinking young adult populations. In effect, schools with JROTC programs are doing public relations work for the military, and are supporting the view of some defense analysts that a highly visible, positive public military presence among civilians will help prevent threatened budget reductions. This attempt to frame the military as a social service is a dangerous trend.
"Making Soldiers in the Public Schools" argues that the JROTC program brings the military into public schools to do work that can, and should, be done by people trained to do that work. That includes teaching American history, civics, and communications, inspiring young people to make a life's work out of what best suits them, encouraging character development, raising self-esteem, encouraging graduation and preventing drug abuse. These are not the aims of the American military, nor should they be. "Making Soldiers in the Public Schools" challenges school boards and others thinking of adding or continuing a JROTC unit to take a closer look at the curriculum and carefully examine the costs involved.
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Catherine Lutz, Professor of Anthropology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of Reading National Geographic (with J. Collins), Unnatural Emotions, and Language and the Politics of Emotion (with L. Abu-Lughod). She received a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Harvard University in 1980.
At publication time, Lesley Bartlett was a graduate student specializing in educational anthropology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has a degree in education and has taught in the North Carolina public school system.
© American Friends Service Committee · National Youth & Militarism Program 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001.