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We Need to Get the US Army Out of High Schools

A society that teaches violence is a violent society. We need to get the JROTC out of our schools.

US Army JROTC students wait to march in the 248th annual St. Patrick's Day parade March 17, 2009 in New York City. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

A smattering of information has been revealed about Connor Betts, the misogynist twenty-four-year-old who killed nine people and injured twenty-seven in Dayton earlier this month.

One of them was that he was in the Bellbrook High School Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program, according to a classmate. We know little about Betts’s time in the program, the training he received, or what impact it had on him. But it’s worth mentioning that we have thousands of kids in America getting military training at school.

An estimated 500,000 high schoolers at 3,400 schools are enrolled in the JROTC, administered jointly by the military and each local school district. Students enrolled in JROTC classes are assigned ranks, taught military comportment and demeanor, and required to wear military uniforms. In most cases, students also receive training in military skills like marksmanship using school shooting ranges.

The Pentagon insists that JROTC is not a recruitment program, but a practical curriculum that teaches integrity and discipline — as innocuous as sports or physical education. But between 40 and 50 percent of students who complete three years of JROTC enlist in the military upon graduation, in part because JROTC graduates can receive enhanced pay and preferential benefits.

JROTC units are supervised by retired military officers who are exempt from civilian teaching certification requirements. To retain federal funding, each JROTC unit must maintain enrollment of 100 students or 10 percent of the student body — leaving the program vulnerable to organized student and parent boycotts.

Shooting Ranges Have No Place in Schools (Obviously)

About 2,200 schools offer hands-on marksmanship training, according to data from the Civilian Marksmanship Program, a government-chartered entity that collaborates with JROTC units to create and maintain school shooting ranges. Until about 2000, students were usually trained on .22-caliber rifles, but nowadays instructors use pellet guns.

There have been efforts to end this practice. After the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley disbanded the thirty-three “rifle teams” that had previously operated in that city’s public schools. In 2009, the San Diego Unified School District banned marksmanship training after years of sustained protest from students and parents, removing the eleven shooting ranges that had previously operated at public schools in that city.

ASVAB Is Not Healthy for Children or Other Living Things

Under the guise of the innocuous-sounding “ASVAB Career Exploration Program,” the Department of Defense administers the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to some 655,000 students in twelve thousand schools each year. The explicit purpose of the ASVAB test is to identify high school juniors and seniors as candidates for targeted recruitment — but often the test is marketed to school guidance counselors (and students) as a generic career aptitude test.

In more than a thousand high schools around the country, students are actually required by school policy to take the test, often without parental knowledge. While schools may choose to administer the test without sharing the results, it remains very difficult for students and parents themselves to opt out of the ASVAB data-sharing process. In about 92 percent of cases, ASVAB results are shared immediately with the military.

They’re Keeping Tabs on Your Kids

The Department of Defense database known as “JAMRS” (for “Joint Advertising Market Research & Studies”) contains the names of some 30 million people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, for the purpose of targeted military recruitment.

Top secret until 2005, a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union forced JAMRS to stop storing social security numbers, but the database still contains information like students’ full names, addresses, grade-point averages, and ASVAB test scores. The lawsuit also failed to prevent JAMRS from storing race and ethnicity information, likely due to the military’s long-standing interest in recruiting black and Latino students.

Creating JAMRS required compiling data from sources like the Department of Motor Vehicles and the College Board, as well as purchasing data from consumer marketing corporations — all at an estimated cost of about a billion dollars. Thanks to the ACLU lawsuit, students can now have their name and data placed in a “suppression file” by filling out an opt-out form. But there is no way for students to completely delete their names from JAMRS.

It’s Not Just High School

In recent years, the Department of Defense has turned more of its outreach focus toward children much younger than high schoolers.

“DoD STARBASE,” a program founded in 1993 and funded through the military’s recruitment budget, brings fifth graders to tour military facilities and introduce them to military careers.

“Mission: Readiness,” a nonprofit controlled by retired generals, pairs military personnel with classrooms of pre-kindergarten children (four-year-olds) to promote physical fitness and exercise. The organization, which received its start-up cash through President Obama’s 2014 budget, was founded in response to concerns about the battle-readiness of young enlistees.

The military sucks up billions of dollars every year that could go to funding education. The least it could do is stop indoctrinating our kids in the joys of warfare.