High Schools Mandating JROTC Enrollments Leaving Some Parents Worried About Militarized Indoctrination

Sgt. Scott Schmidt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Think of any public high school in America today, it’ll probably remind you a bit of your high school days since the roles stay the same even though the fashion may change. You’ve got the jocks to the left, the goths and nerds to the right, and of course a bunch of military recruiters trolling around the grounds during lunch and free periods searching for fresh faces to fill those increasingly difficult recruitment quotas.

Unfortunately, my high school didn’t have many military recruiters roaming about like yours probably did, especially since we didn’t have the option of signing up for JROTC as an elective, which is a recruiter’s paradise to grab eager and potential enlistees.

The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) is an elective that is basically like a military-lite option for kids interested in that lifestyle. It teaches them discipline, physical fitness, and leadership skills they can take with them whether they choose the military or a civilian career after graduating

However, an investigation has disclosed that some high schools are mandating enrollment for their Freshmen and some of their Sophomores, leaving some parents worried that their kids are being targeted for military recruitment. The question is, is that necessarily a bad thing?

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Welcome to JROTC!

The mission of JROTC is to teach teenagers leadership skills, critical thinking under stress, civic values, with the added benefit of possibly recruiting some kiddos after they’ve tasted that sweet military structure. The program is funded by the military to the tune of $400 million a year, but not from the recruiting arm of the DOD, but actually the education directorate.

While the program is not officially intended to be a recruiting tool for the military, the Army has reported that 44% of new soldiers who entered in recent years came from the JROTC program. The program is not available at every high school in the country but currently is offered in 3,500 high schools and, as I mentioned before, is meant to be an elective. 

However, the New York Times has discovered that dozens of schools have made their programs mandatory, with some clocking it at 75% of students in a single grade enrolled. The cities that seemed to have the most significant uptick in mandatory enrollments are:

  • Detroit
  • Los Angeles
  • Philadelphia
  • Oklahoma City
  • Mobile

So why this new push to mandate some military discipline in the lives of young teenagers?

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Killing Two Birds With One Class

It’s essential to remember that it’s not the government mandating these enrollments, but the schools themselves. Pentagon spokesperson Commander Nicole Schwegman explained in an interview that “Just like we are an all-volunteer military, this should be a volunteer program.”

Some of the school districts have had to resort to these mandatory enrollments to fill the gap caused by staffing issues in other mandatory courses. It has become increasingly difficult for schools to find teachers for physical education and health classes, so they’ve been using JROTC to fill the void.

While those two subjects might not immediately make you think of the military, the JROTC curriculum is built to teach a level of physical discipline and proper grooming standards. Additionally, the military subsidizes instructor salaries, provided the schools maintain a certain enrollment level.

This allows some schools to save money on not hiring physical education and health teachers and instead spend that money elsewhere. It seems like a reasonable way to squeeze every dime for what it’s worth, provided they spend it on primary education needs like math and English teachers versus on Critical Race Theory and Gender Studies courses.

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Problematic?

Some parents are unhappy with students being forced into JROTC and have raise some interesting concerns. For example, some parents view mandating enrollment as a way to indoctrinate their kids into following a more militarized thought process versus becoming independent free thinkers.

Others went so far as to link it to “brainwashing,” as Jesus Palafox, who worked on the campaign against automatic enrollments in Chicago, suggested. Public school, in general, doesn’t teach teenagers to be independent free thinkers; honestly, I don’t think they ever did. 

 

“A lot of recruitment for these programs are happening in heavy communities of color,” said Palafox. Yet again, an interesting question bubbles up, is that a bad thing?

Exposure

Suppose you are a regular reader of my work. In that case, you know that I am highly critical of the United States military and the Pentagon at large. After 20 years of service, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of military service and I am well known for hoping my kids don’t follow in my footsteps.

This particular investigation is fascinating as it paints mandating enrollment into JROTC as something that is detrimental or something that should cause concern. On the other hand, there are a lot of positive traits that are elevated in JROTC.

Studies have shown that it tends to motivate struggling kids and can be a nice diversion for kids who might otherwise be easy targets for drug use or violence. It has also been shown that JROTC students tend to have better attendance records and graduation rates with fewer discipline issues than their peers.

An Air Force officer, fellow mother, and a friend had sent me the New York Times article and posed an interesting counter-question

“We expose kids to art and music; why is it bad to expose kids to the military?” my friend asked. “It might make better Americans.”

With suicide currently the second leading cause of death in Americans ages 15 to 24, and 20% of high school students reporting having thoughts of suicide, perhaps having to take a class that is all about teamwork and camaraderie would help this next generation feel less lost and isolated. The military has its flaws for sure, but one thing you can always count on is feeling as though you belong to something.

Why wouldn’t we want to push a program that teaches self-discipline, pride in country, and responsibility to America’s next generation of leaders? Perhaps we are too busy preparing them to be victims and activists.

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