(NewsNation) — A recent report from The New York Times found that thousands of public school students are being automatically enrolled in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which opponents have described as a troubling trend that must cease.
The JROTC programs are taught by military veterans at some 3,500 high schools in the U.S. and are supposed to be elective. The Pentagon has said requiring students to take the course goes against its guidelines, but the Times found that students are either being required to take the classes or automatically enrolled in them.
A review of enrollment data showed that dozens of schools have made the program mandatory or funneled more than 75% of students in a single grade into the classes, The Times reported.
Proponents say the program teaches discipline and leadership, while critics argue it’s being used as a recruitment tool for the military and prioritizing obedience over critical thinking.
An effort to implement automatic enrollment in Chicago schools was derailed when activists and an inspector general’s report caused the school district to backtrack. A Chalkbeat investigation found that the automatic enrollment was happening over the last two years, and Chicago Public Schools said it would end the practice. A social worker and peace advocate, Jesus Palafox is one of the people who worked on the campaign against automatic enrollment in Chicago.
“You can learn discipline, you can learn certain skills not just in a military structure, but you can get that from an arts class or other programs. Why not include those other options?” Palafox said Thursday on “CUOMO.” “If we are really talking about options for kids, let’s have other programs, not just a structure that is hierarchical, militarized and predominately in communities of color.”
Among schools where at least 75% of freshman were enrolled, The Times investigation found more than 80% of them were composed primarily of Black or Hispanic students. That was higher than other JROTC schools and schools without JROTC programs
“Last year, Congress asked the Department of Defense to diversity its enrollment for ROTC, but in this case it was not that Latinos or Black students were not part of it, it was kind of the opposite,” Palafox said. “Minorities were overrepresented.”
In response to The New York Times investigation, a Pentagon spokesperson said the military doesn’t ask high schools to make JROTC mandatory and schools shouldn’t be forcing students to take it.
“Just like we are an all-volunteer military, this should be a volunteer program,” Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman said.
In Chicago, the school district’s Office of Inspector General’s report suggest a multitude of factors for the automatic enrollment, including principals wanting to use federally subsidized instructors to save money.
Palafox contended the practice ultimately results in higher spending by districts.
“One thing we should keep in mind is that most JROTC instructors are not academically prepared or have the education credentials to teach in a classroom,” Palafox said. “Most of them are retired officers, and by far, you require more instructors than regular teachers. So, it is costing the school district more even though it’s subsidized by the Department of Defense.”