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 Militarization of our Schools

The Pentagon is taking over our poorer public schools. This is the reality for disadvantaged youth.


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Signs of a Coming Push to Further Militarize Schools

Rick Jahnkow -

In May 2013 the Military Times newspapers carried an article titled, “Services Prepare for Scant Recruiting Year.” It began with the following sentence:

Finding recruits to join the military in 2014 could be increasingly challenging, even with declining recruiting goals, defense and service personnel officials are warning Congress.

It went on to say that it is hard to see the problem because the active-duty military has been meeting its goals for quality and quantity of recruits, but then the Army Reserve missed its goals in the first quarter of fiscal 2013. The article also reported that on April 17, Jessica Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel readiness, warned the Senate Armed Services Committee of a possible future recruiting problem due to the improving economy.

Wright’s statement to the committee pointed out that “a slow economy makes recruiting less challenging,” but “signs of economic improvement” could soon end the current optimistic recruiting environment and, together with other factors, lead to recruiting difficulties.

Some of the other factors Wright cited:

  • Fifty-seven percent of parents, teachers, counselors and other authority figures don’t recommend the military to young people.
  • A fifth of youths 12-19 years old are overweight, and the trend is getting worse.
  • A higher number of youths is going to college directly from high school.

One senator asked if the military “was having to do anything unusual or extra” to meet personnel quotas. Frederick Vollrath, another Department of Defense undersecretary, replied, “Currently, recruiting is on track and in good shape.” But then he warned that the situation easily could change as the unemployment rate continues to go down.

When such statements are made to Congress, there is a historical basis for us to be alarmed: they could very well be intended to lay the foundation for a campaign similar to the one in the late 1990s, which eventually led to a dangerous, unprecedented expansion of military involvement in the K-12 school system. Another push to further militarize educational institutions may now be on the horizon and could have serious consequences.

To understand the implications of the Pentagon’s recent statements to Congress, consider what happened 15 years ago. In 1998, the 4.6% unemployment rate was the lowest it had been in 28 years and there was a serious enlistment shortfall. When Congress held hearings on the recruiting crisis, a number of individual recruiters testified and made exaggerated claims about uncooperative schools preventing them from doing their jobs. The fact that they were recruiters should have been a tip-off, but congressional committees did not call any witnesses who might contest their claims, some of which were blatantly false. Furthermore, there was no mobilization of activist groups that could have pointed out that recruiters were failing not because they lacked school cooperation, but rather because of the low unemployment rate that typically makes military recruiting very difficult.

Over the next two years, members of Congress debated various proposals to punish school districts if they didn’t give recruiters access to student lists and secondary school campuses. By 2001, the unemployment rate was rising again and recruiters were no longer having trouble meeting their quotas. Nevertheless, the momentum that started with misleading testimony by recruiters lingered and led to the passage of a recruiter access bill, although it did not include any concrete penalties for noncompliant schools.

When September 11 changed the political climate, legislators cited the earlier (exaggerated) recruiter claims and successfully amended the pending No Child Left Behind Act with a provision that would deny federal funds to a secondary school if it did not give military recruiters student contact lists and the same campus access that is given to college and civilian employer representatives. The law made possible an unprecedented military assault on civilian control of the K-12 school system.

Schools can still block military access to student contact information, but only when individual students opt out. And campus access can only be restricted if it is applied to college and civilian employer representatives as well. Counter-recruiters in some areas have led campaigns to use the openings that remain for recruiting restrictions, but they have affected only a relatively small number of students nationwide.

In the near future, when the improving economy begins to have the usual dampening effect on enlistment rates, we could easily see another attempt by recruiters to make schools a scapegoat for their failures, just as they did in 1998-1999. Congress could, once again, feel the irresistible urge to show their loyalty to the armed forces with legislation that would further erode the autonomy of civilian schools. There could be any number of focal points for such legislation, but two key examples come to mind:

1. Congress could prevent schools that use the military’s aptitude test -- i.e., the ASVAB -- from withholding test results from recruiters. Offering the test free to thousands of secondary schools is public relations gold for recruiters. There is an option for schools to block the automatic release of test results to recruiters. The number currently choosing this option is relatively small but slowly growing. Congress might decide to sacrifice the PR benefit of granting schools a choice and tell them that the test is only available if recruiters get the results. This would also be a way to get contact information for students who have opted out when their schools release student lists under No Child Left Behind.

2. Congress could punish secondary schools for not including the Junior Reserve Officer Training Program (JROTC), a military indoctrination and recruiting program. These classes, taught by Pentagon-approved retired officers, currently exist in 3400 mostly public high schools and include over half a million students. Schools must shoulder the majority of the cost, but the military provides textbooks and a partial subsidy for staff salaries. In 2008 a proposal was made by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) to deny schools all federal funds if they failed to allow the military branches to establish, maintain or operate JROTC units. It was not allowed to advance in the Senate that year, but because JROTC is recognized as one of the Pentagon’s most effective recruiting tools, it’s conceivable that this proposal could come up again in the context of a recruiting crisis.

As the unemployment rate shrinks, these and other possible attempts to impose a greater military presence in our schools could be just over the horizon. If they do materialize and succeed, the next stage of school militarization could bring disastrous long-term consequences for the political and social well being of not just the U.S., but the rest of the world. It’s up to us to be vigilant and ready to mobilize to prevent it!

Information source: The, May 2, 2013.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (




Rick Jahnkow works for two San Diego-based anti-militarist organizations, the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities and the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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