This morning's New York Times features two long articles on the spread of junior ROTC programs in high schools, especially (although not only) in urban high schools. The presentation of the articles testifies to the woke sensibility that dominates the Times, starting with their titles: "Thousands of Teens are Being Pushed into the Military's Junior R.O.T.C.," and "J.R.O.T.C Textbooks Offer an Alternative View of the World." The tone of the articles suggest to me just how difficult it will be to reverse trends in the United States that are tearing the nation apart.
The first and more important of the two articles follows the headline with a two-sentence subhead: "In high schools across the country, students are being placed in military classes without electing them on their own. 'The only word I can think of is ‘indoctrination,’' one parent said." The story reports that these programs, taught by military retirees to students wearing uniforms, have become mandatory in some schools, but quickly qualifies that statement as follows: "A review of J.R.O.T.C. enrollment data collected from more than 200 public records requests showed that dozens of schools have made the program mandatory or steered more than 75 percent of students in a single grade into the classes, including schools in Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City and Mobile, Ala. A vast majority of the schools with those high enrollment numbers were attended by a large proportion of nonwhite students and those from low-income households, The Times found." That, frankly, makes it sound as though requiring these courses has a nasty "disparate impact" comparable to school suspensions or incarceration.
The military services have tried to expand the program as a recruiting tool, and I know from other sources that they are facing one of their worst recruiting crises ever. The story's three reporters, however, admit that the program might be doing some good. "High school principals who have embraced the program," they write, "say it motivates students who are struggling, teaches self-discipline to disruptive students and provides those who may feel isolated with a sense of camaraderie. It has found a welcome home in rural areas where the military has deep roots but also in urban centers where educators want to divert students away from drugs or violence and toward what for many can be a promising career or a college scholarship. And military officials point to research indicating that J.R.O.T.C. students have better attendance and graduation rates, and fewer discipline problems at school."
"And military officials point to research indicating that J.R.O.T.C. students have better attendance and graduation rates, and fewer discipline problems at school."
The authors make it clear, however, that they believe the costs outweigh the benefits:
"But critics have long contended that the program’s militaristic discipline emphasizes obedience over independence and critical thinking. The program’s textbooks, The Times found, at times falsify or downplay the failings of the U.S. government. And the program’s heavy concentration in schools with low-income and nonwhite students, some opponents said, helps propel such students into the military instead of encouraging other routes to college or jobs in the civilian economy."
I don't think that any reporter who ever had any military experience would slant the story that way. I spent only four months on full-time active duty while fulfilling my six-year Army Reserve obligation late in the Vietnam era, but that was enough to make me admire what the military could do for its recruits. It taught young men from literally every walk of life how to listen, follow directions, and learn to perform tasks of varying complexity. It also brought people together who otherwise would never have met. My Basic Training company was composed of about 50 percent reservists or national guardsmen like myself, with the remaining 50% of draftees or enlisted men divided about equally between urban black kids and poor whites. About half of our sergeants were black, including the First Sergeant, the senior enlisted man. Not all of them liked me and two of them let me know it, but they judged us on performance. The draft was in effect from 1940 until 1973, with perhaps a brief interruption in the late 1940s, and that coincides with the period in which the lower part of the population was making the biggest economic gains. I do not think it is a coincidence that that period came to an end less than a decade after we gave the draft up.
The decision by some school districts--including Chicago, apparently--to make the plan mandatory would in my opinion do more for their students than any other obvious step. Yet the Times quotes a Latino opponent of the Chicago who called it "brainwashing" and complained that it focused on communities of color. Many people, I know, would argue that attempts to teach that population a somewhat set of values is a form of racism. Obviously I disagree.
The second article mined textbooks used in the program for questionable statements--with varying degrees of success. They complain, first, that one cites the Gulf of Tonkin incident in which an American destroyer was attacked in international waters without mentioning that a purported second attack never took place. They complain that one Navy textbook argues that restrictions on the bombing campaign against North Vietnam might have led to the loss of the war--a claim which I also reject. (They didn't mention another factual error in the same reproduced passage, which misdated President Johnson's announcement that he would not seek another term.) They complain that one other textbook does not discuss the real history of the interpretation of the Second Amendment, that another one holds up Robert E. Lee's military bearing at Appomattox, when he surrendered--not the cause he was fighting for--as an example of military leadership, and that a third one doesn't mention how many Indians died on the Trail of Tears. On three other points the authors really strain for effect. One textbook admits that the US Navy's shootdown of a civilian Iranian airliner in 1988 was a mistake, but tries to downplay how big a mistake it was. The Times criticizes another book for saying that "most of our European allies" supported the US bombing of Libya in 1986, but can cite only two European allies that did not. They disapprovingly quote a long passage on hair requirements for men and women and cite some sexist language about the treatmnent of female troops. And they actually criticize an Air Force textbook for including Kurt Kobain in a list of eight famous personalities who died of heroin, because Cobain, who was indeed a heroin addict at the time of his death, died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound instead of an overdose.
Last but not least, they complain about this paragraph in an Army textbook about diversity. After praising some aspects of diversity, the text continues:
"Others worry that too much diversity will cause us to lose the common ties that bind us as a nation. They fear that social cohesion will erode if one group is pitted against another. This could also damage our ideas about the common good, as people become more focused on their own self-interests. What obligations do you think you have toward people who have social, religious, or political beliefs with which you disagree? Is there such a thing as too much diversity?"
Count me among those "others." I am glad the book is raising those questions.
I do believe that the mid-twentieth century consensus into which I was born reflected relatively strict ideas of how people should dress, behave, act, and even think. Some reaction against those ideas was inevitable and healthy as soon as the threat of the Second World War and the early Cold War began to fade. Yet now, the woke left that dominates academia and major news outlets such as the Times has signed on to the idea that any attempt to teach common values is oppressive. And despite the havoc that that idea is wreaking in their own institutions, they have refused to admit that no institution or nation can survive without some common values. The growth of Junior R.O.T.C. in schools is the best news I have heard about public schools in some time. I hope it continues.