The Military Invasion of American Schools
Ed Hedermann, Rick Bickhart
War Resisters League
New York, New York
CSPG’s poster of the week illustrates a map of the scores of Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs in American schools in 1985. Unfortunately, the number has exploded since then.
ROTC is a college-based officer commissioning program that produces officers for most branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. During the Viet Nam War, Committees Against ROTC formed on campuses throughout California and the nation, and student activists pushed ROTC programs out of many colleges and universities. Some ROTC buildings, including Stanford University and Kent State University, were torched. Banning ROTC became illegal in 1994, under the Solomon Amendment, which permits military recruiters to access personal information of students age 17+ who have not “opted out.” If a higher education institution withholds this information, they are denied federal funding.
This government overreach was expanded to high schools by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, which “amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by requiring high schools that receive federal funds to provide certain student contact information to military recruiters upon request and to allow recruiters to have the same access to students as employers and colleges” (CRS Report). The ESEA was signed into law in 1965 as part of President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and “offered new grants to districts serving low-income students” (US Department of Education). Therefore, the linking of the ESEA (now ESSA) to the NCLB Act solidified the virtual drafting of low-income, majority non-white students into the armed forces.
In recent years, this appalling attempt to recruit youth into war has become mandatory in many schools that are attended by primarily low-income students of color. Over half of Junior ROTC (JROTC) students nationally are youth of color. A dearth of funding for public education has resulted in fewer electives in schools—this vacuum has been filled by mandatory JROTC classes. The classes not only provide textbooks for the school that are little more than pro-war propaganda and spread false information about historical events, but many instructors have also encouraged students to participate in fundraising activities for the National Rifle Association (NRA)! Additionally, there have been at least 114 allegations of violence or sexual abuse by instructors over the last ten years.
In 2022, the US government spent only 7.3% of its budget on Education, with only 10% of that small percentage going towards K-12 education. Meanwhile, it spent 13.1% of its budget on National Defense. Defunding education is bad enough. The government must stop using our tax dollars to train youth that war is a viable option for their—and our—future.