Monday, June 13, 2005

No soldier left behind

Most people would object if elementary, middle and highschools had special indoctrination classes in how to properly smoke a cigarette or use intravenous drugs. Yet we don't object to the instructing children for the purpose of getting ready for war, one of the world's number one public health problems.

Consider Chicago public schools, now home to the country's largest Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) program (Jennifer Wedekin, In These Times). The curriculum is allegedly leadership and character building in a voluntary after-school program. Yeah, right .
Proponents of the programs tout leadership training and character development. But critics quote former Defense Secretary Gen. William Cohen, who described JROTC as "one of the best recruiting services that we could have." Rick Mills, the director of Military Schools and JROTC for the Chicago Public School system, dismisses these concerns. "These kinds of programs would not be in schools if there weren't kids who wanted it, parents who supported it and administrators who facilitated it," he says.

Joanne Young, a sixth-grade teacher at Goethe School in Chicago, recently wrote a letter to the local school council protesting the implementation of the cadet corps in her school. "I was told that it is not a military program, yet every aspect of it is military," she wrote. "This program is training our students, as young as 11-years old, to march in formation and carry guns. ... Students could be suspended for bringing something that appears to be a weapon to our school, yet we are handing them fake guns for this program." Young, like many other teachers, feels that leadership and discipline could easily be taught in other types of after-school programs.


In 2002 the Bush administration passed the No Child Left Behind Act with a small, unpublicized provision: Section 9528, "Armed Forces Recruiter Access to Students and Student Recruiting Information," requires high schools to give all student contact information to the military. Most students aren't aware they can opt out by filling out a form.

Ranjit Bhagwat, an organizer for Chicago's Southwest Youth Collaborative, has worked with students at Kelly High School in Chicago to inform their classmates about the provision and how to opt out. The Kelly group, founded in January, has already convinced more than 10 percent of the school's population to sign the opt-out petition. Bhagwat says the group targeted military recruitment because the students felt the military's presence in their school was an issue that needed to be addressed. "They had a problem with the fact that there were a lot of lies the military told," he says.
The military can't meet its recruiting requirements nor the country djinn up enthusiasm for its adventures. So we have this. It calls up chilling images of Hitler Youth parading around with fake guns in the 1930s.

We're not there, of course. Yet.