Leo R. Sandy

The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) is a program that has gained popularity in many schools in the south and in some mediocre schools in other parts of the country. The Pentagon specifically targets minority children and children of poverty who, incidentally, rarely enter the officer ranks. This trend has raised the concerns of many people who worry about the encroaching militarism of our society, especially with the end of the cold war. In fact, several reputable organizations have spoken out against the proliferation of JROTC in our public schools. Three of these include The Defense Monitor, based in Washington, DC and made up of numerous retired general and admirals; the American Friends Service Committee, and Veterans for Peace, Inc. All of these have done research on JROTC and concluded that the program should not be provided in our high schools. The members of these organizations are responsible and patriotic citizens who cannot be easily dismissed.

JROTC is a developmentally inappropriate practice. It is the instructional equivalent of drilling preschoolers in letters and numbers. The difference is that preschoolers will resist that which is not suitable to their needs while many young adolescents will embrace that which is incompatible with their best interests. For example, high numbers of adolescents engage in risky behavior such as smoking, drinking, speeding, cult activity and drug experimentation. They can be likewise addicted to uniforms, guns (euphemistically called "pieces" by JROTC instructors), and unquestioning obedience to adults who wield power and offer fabulous promises. The popularity of JROTC among youth should be its greatest indictment rather than a reason to expand the program.

High school students are in the process of developing identities, abstract reasoning skills, and principled morality. Thus, they need a curriculum which emphasizes their individuality, promotes critical and analytic thinking skills, and encourages perspective taking, service to others, and problem solving. These require effort, hard work, and self-sacrifice. They cannot be achieved through mindless activity. These skills are better accomplished in a nonmilitary context because they are inconsistent with military expectations and values. For example, the JROTC curriculum stresses lock step repetitive drill, anonymity, uniformity, following orders, absolute obedience, concrete thinking, hypernationalism and conventionality. In one program, forgotten or undone homework resulted in cadets having to do a prescribed number of pushups.

An in-depth study of JROTC programs by anthropologist, Catherine Lutz of the University North Carolina at Chapel Hill, supports the criticisms that have been directed toward JROTC programs. She and her graduate assistant, Lesley Bartlett, found that many of the promises that the program makes are not kept and that many of its claims are unfounded. For example, money for college is mentioned but only a small number of its graduates receive it. Also, there is no evidence that the program lowers drug use or prevents students from dropping out of school. A disproportionate amount of time is spent marching as if this activity somehow magically transforms individual characters simply by its repetition. The curriculum JROTC uses mentions, among other things, the military success of pushing the Indians farther west and then wiping them out. The books themselves are simple in content and reading ability and they present military solutions as inevitable and desirable. War is seen as a technical endeavor while its morality and human costs go unmentioned. The promotional literature also implies that cadets are more patriotic than other citizens suggesting that militarism is equated to patriotism and that those who exercise their rights of free speech may be less patriotic and even subversive.

JROTC was also seen as emphasizing masculine values suggesting that women can join but they should not try to change the culture. Furthermore, JROTC is a major recruiting tool although this is vehemently denied by its proponents. However, the rate at which its cadets go into the military is much larger than that of the general population. For example, 45 percent of its cadets enter some branch of the service.

The continuation of a program that is defended on the basis that it helps a few kids straighten out or that it is a tradition is highly questionable. There are better ways to straighten out wayward students. Also, slavery and dueling were traditions but this did not mean that they should be perpetuated.The funds that support JROTC are being diverted from other programs that have a wider sphere of influence and a healthier impact on children such as the arts, UPWARD BOUND, peer mediation, field trips, conflict resolution training and the like. A teacher or administrator could be hired for the same amount of money that supports JROTC. The proponents of JROTC counter this by saying that the particular branch of service matches school expenditures. However, the schools still must expend the money. Furthermore, the money of the military comes from United States tax payers. The military has no money of its own.

In concluding their report, Lutz and Bartlett state that "JROTC is antithetical to teaching students how to participate in a democracy, resolve conflicts peacefully, evaluate sources, and think analytically. Militarization of education and other social institutions may even pose a threat to the continuation of our democracy. Expansion of the JROTC program constitutes a proliferation of military influence into what should be a strictly civilian world of education and youth services".

(Dr. Sandy is a Vietnam era veteran, associate professor of education, and consulting school psychologist)