In another sign of the U.S. military’s increasing encroachment into civilian life, all high schools are now obligated to provide the Pentagon with the names, addresses and phone numbers of their juniors and seniors. Any school that refuses to comply with these provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act and this year’s National Defense Authorization Act stands to loose all federal funding.
The U.S. military is a growing force in public education. In middle schools, students are being targeted with programs such as the Young Marines and the Navy’s Starbase-Atlantis. In high schools, the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) is spreading across the country. Currently about 500,000 students in more than 3,000 high schools participate in the program, with JROTC units authorized in another 500 schools.
What’s more, school districts around the nation are augmenting their education systems with publicly funded military academies. About 2,000 eighth-graders applied for the 140 spots in the Chicago Military Academy, a JROTC school that serves the African-American community in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side.
The Pentagon designs the JROTC curriculum and allows no input from the host school districts. JROTC classes are taught by former military officers, none of whom are required to have education degrees or other credentials.
This absence of standards extends to the program’s educational materials. Did you ever wonder what happened to the Indians? An Army JROTC textbook reveals: “At the close of the Civil War, after the large Union forces were disbanded, a small regular Army was given the task of pacifying the Indians. … Fortunately for the Army, the government policy of pushing the Indians farther west then wiping them out was carried out successfully.”
A Navy JROTC text explains, “Not all nations are blessed with great resources. We need the resources other countries can provide to maintain our standard of living.”
And another Army JROTC textbook informs students, “Under democracy there must always be economic class divisions, yet the free market system offers an incentive for people to change their economic status. Everyone, no matter what their political associations, can succeed in moving up in the class structure.”
Lessons in upward mobility seem to be a central part of JROTC programs, which are most often established in poor school districts that serve African-American or Latino students. In essence, JROTC serves as a form of economic conscription, a way to maintain an “all-volunteer” military.
In an letter notifying school administrators of their new military responsibilities, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of Education Rod Paige write: “The All-Volunteer Force has come to represent American resolve to defend freedom and protect liberty around the world. Sustaining that heritage requires the active support of public institutions in presenting military opportunities to our young people for their consideration. … For some of our students, this may be the best opportunity they have to get a college education.”
Not to mention the best opportunity the military has to swell its ranks. About 45 percent of students in JROTC enlist in the armed forces. Who can blame them? Military service is one of the few privileges that their government offers them. An Army JROTC textbook explains: “Citizens owe allegiance to their government, which in turn grants them rights and privileges of citizenship.”
This perversely authoritarian view of the relationship between the individual and the state is made to order for a militarized society.
We prefer the Declaration of Independence’s vision of governments as human-made institutions that derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.