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The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Is Not a Substitute for Education

JROTC has been overlooked by education researchers.

Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps students wait to enter a Veterans Day parade on November 11, 2009. (Photo: Katie Spence)

Delving into the underbelly of the US military, longtime antiwar activist Pat Elder reveals how military recruiters are assisted by the Department of Education, the film industry, the video game industry and mainstream media in order to fuel never-ending war — using the country’s most vulnerable young people as fodder. Get the book Military Recruiting in the United States by donating to Truthout now!

In the following excerpt from Military Recruiting in the United States, Pat Elder discusses how many states allow Army instructors to replace teachers in “educating students.”

The Army is specifically asking schools to allow its untrained instructors to meet the curricular requirements of physical education, performing arts, practical arts, civics, health, and government within the confines of its Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program. Where is the public indignation? Where are the unions? The policy is causing an academic train wreck.

Florida allows JROTC to substitute for physical science, biology, practical arts, and life management skills. For instance, students at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, Florida who take JROTC for two years satisfy both the physical education and fine arts requirements for graduation.

It’s deeply troubling that state schools throw the arts under the bus in favor of classes that foster strait-jacketed military indoctrination.

At Spaulding High School in Barre, Vermont, students may satisfy a .5 credit requirement for US government by taking JROTC for a semester. The kids in Vermont may never come to understand the phrase, “We the People.”

It’s the same at Eagleville High School in Eagleville, Tennessee. The Volunteer State provides a glimpse into how the process of accepting JROTC as a legitimate academic course works. In Tennessee students may substitute:

  • Two credits of JROTC for one credit of wellness required for graduation.
  • Three credits of JROTC for one-half unit of United States Government required for graduation.
  • Three credits of JROTC for one-half unit of Personal Finance.

Tennessee education officials deliberated on the changes in 2014 pertaining to substituting JROTC for the required and rather complex Personal Finance course standards along with the efficacy of allowing military retirees without an appropriate subject credential to teach the contents of the course, rather than state-certified teachers. The record from the Tennessee State Board of Education provides insight into their decision to grant the waiver:

In order to determine the best policy option to address this discrepancy, the Department of Education reviewed the Personal Finance course standards, researched the JROTC programs in Tennessee, and met with supervisors and teachers of multiple JROTC programs across the state. The Department found that JROTC instructors could meet all of the Personal Finance course requirements within the third year of JROTC, if they have received training on the Personal Finance course requirements.

The measure was adopted. Aside from JROTC instructors, all other teachers must be licensed to teach Personal Finance. Only teachers who are certified in Economics, Business, Marketing, and Family and Consumer Sciences meet the employment standards.

Personal finance is extraordinarily important in the lives of American school children. We examined the complexity of the Military Enlistment/ Re-enlistment Contract in the 1st chapter and the genesis of a culture that produces high school graduates who cannot understand or negotiate the complex contracts and agreements that increasingly run their lives.

Tennessee’s Personal Finance Course Standards are quite impressive and cover, in detail, subjects including: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) credit card agreements, consumer protection standards, writing argumentative essays, consumer credit, investment strategies, and identity theft, to mention a small sampling. Army Instructors without the necessary professional training and credentials are unqualified to teach Personal Finance.

In 2014, California became the first state to allow JROTC instructors to apply for official authorization to teach physical education in their JROTC classes. The measure was strongly opposed by PE teachers, who saw the act as an affront to their profession.

All California students must take a minimum number of PE classes; whereas JROTC is an elective. Students often register for PE to satisfy graduation requirements, rather than registering for the military course. Allowing JROTC instructors to teach PE provides a new lease on life for JROTC. Instructors must pass two tests, one in basic academic skills and another in knowledge of physical education.

An examination of high school PE and JROTC classes, by Kathryn Anne Holt and others of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, compared four JROTC classes with four PE classes, and found that students were engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity 60% of the time in physical education and 24% of the time in JROTC.

SHAPE America, The Society of Health and Physical Educators, is the nation’s largest membership organization of health and physical education professionals. The group is committed to insuring that all children have the opportunity to lead healthy, physically active lives. SHAPE calls on school districts to prohibit students from substituting JROTC for PE class time or credit requirements.
Meanwhile, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition prominently cites several disturbing statistics on its website:

  • Only one in three children are physically active every day.
  • More than 80% of adolescents do not do enough aerobic physical activity to meet the guidelines for youth.
  • Children now spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen (e.g., TV, video games, computer).
  • Only about one in five homes have parks within a half-mile, and about the same number have a fitness or recreation center within that distance.

Nonetheless, 23 states allow JROTC to take the place of physical education classes: AL, AZ, AR, CA, FL, GA, IL, IA, KY, LA, MA, MI, MS, MO, NE, NV, NM, OH, SC, TN, TX, WV, and WI.

Eleven of the states are from the old south, a region of the country steeped in military traditions. The region also boasts the most overweight population in the country. Mississippi, for instance, is “the fattest state again,” according to the Washington Examiner.

Eight of the ten “fattest states” in the nation allow students to skip PE classes in favor of JROTC.

Responsible school systems do not grant physical education credit for JROTC. This practice serves the narrow interests of the military but fails to address many of the standards, indicators, and objectives of physical education curricula. PE standards encompass exercise physiology, biomechanics, social psychology, and motor learning. There are numerous cross-curricular connections among PE and other disciplines.

Like the ASVAB Career Exploration Program and other recruiting operations in the schools, JROTC is extraordinarily deceptive. Military programs would be less welcome in the schools if the Pentagon fessed up about its true intentions. The Army describes the JROTC program this way:

JROTC is a program offered to high schools that teaches students character education, student achievement, wellness, leadership, and diversity. It is a cooperative effort between the Army and the high schools to produce successful students and citizens, while fostering in each school a more constructive and disciplined learning environment. The outcomes of the JROTC program are:

  • Act with integrity and personal accountability as they lead others to succeed in a diverse and global workforce
  • Engage civic and social concerns in the community, government, and society
  • Graduate prepared to excel in post-secondary options and career pathways
  • Make decisions that promote positive social, emotional, and physical health
  • Value the role of the military and other service organizations

JROTC is marketed as some sort of value-driven social work program for segments of society that need remedial courses in things like character, emotional development, and personal integrity. High school websites that describe the program routinely say JROTC is not a recruiting program.

Elda Pema and Stephen Mehay, researchers from the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, recognize JROTC as a program that trains youth for military service. They wrote:

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Military Recruiting in the United States

Pat Elder reveals the tactics used by military recruiters to lock the US’s most vulnerable young people into contracts of life and death.

Click here now to get the book!

Although it is similar to vocational education and School to Work programs, JROTC has been overlooked by education researchers. This oversight may stem from the perception that military science classes represent extracurricular activities that do not affect employment, a perception fostered by the US Department of Education’s classification of high school military science classes as ‘enrichment/ other’ rather than vocational education (Levesque et al., 2000).

This designation contradicts the Department of Education’s own definition of career technical education as classes that teach skills required in specific occupations or occupational clusters. More important, this classification misrepresents the scope and content of JROTC. The curriculum, the use of military instructors, and the close link with the employer are clear indicators of the program’s vocational orientation. Military science ‘concentrators’ (students with at least 3.0 Carnegie credits) receive an advanced pay grade if they enlist. About 40% of such concentrators enter the military (Taylor, 1999), which is similar to the 43% of vocational students who find jobs in training-related civilian occupations (Bishop, 1989).

Copyright (2016) by Pat Elder. Not to be republished without permission of the author.

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