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April 2000
making soldiers image New Army JROTC Curriculum Old Problems
by Catherine Lutz 1 | 2 | 3

In April of 1995, the American Friends Service Committee published Making Soldiers in the Public Schools: Analysis of the Army JROTC Curriculum. The Army updated Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) textbooks in 1997 (December 5,1997), although those textbooks have not necessarily reached many or even most JROTC classrooms. The new text, "Leadership Education and Training 1" (LET 1), used in 9th and 10th grade classes, contains the most substantial revisions since 1989 (July 24, 1989). We compare the old and new versions of the curriculum.

The changes have made the curriculum even more clearly oriented toward recruitment and public relations for the military than before.

In a few respects, the changes are clearly meant to neutralize criticism of the JROTC curriculum (in Making Soldiers in the Public Schools and elsewhere), particularly by removing at least some ethnic/racial slurs from those earlier texts. In many more respects, the changes have made the curriculum even more clearly oriented toward recruitment and public relations for the military than before. The new curriculum makes even larger claims for the program’s benefits and encourages JROTC cadets to advertise it to others. No significant changes were made to the general tenor of the curriculum, and so it remains highly propagandistic, authoritarian, simplistic, and riddled with historical inaccuracy.

WHAT’S NEW

  • Claims that the positive effects of taking JROTC will last a lifetime.
    The text says that the program can build character in ways other high school classes cannot ("Speaking of character, the JROTC program has it – JROTC offers many opportunities for teamwork, advancement, and self enrichment that are not available in other high school courses." LET-1, p. 3). This disparages the work of high school teachers in other subjects and undermines the prospect for learning in those other contexts. It claims the program can boost self-esteem, graduation rates, communication skills, and reduce drug use rates, and that it can make students better Americans. The revised version makes broader and more specific claims, while the earlier one simply says it provides many benefits to the individual.

  • The section on military career opportunities has been expanded.
    It is more extensive than that on civilian career opportunities.

  • A lengthy section on leadership has been added.
    It promotes as desirable the authoritarian idea that leadership is defined as influencing others to accomplish the mission rather than more egalitarian, conscience-based, or consensus-based views of leadership.

  • History sections are introduced with new reminders that they are not meant to cover all topics in U.S. history.
    "Remember, as the unit title suggests, we are presenting only an overview of American history. Detailed information on these topics is covered in subsequent leadership education and training levels and, of course, in your high school social studies classes" (p. 245). However, the JROTC text continues to present its historical material as an accurate synopsis of central themes in U.S. history. This is particularly problematic when some school districts allow JROTC credits to substitute for social studies credit.

  • Historical error and a right-wing political agenda are reflected in the selection and presentation of facts and historical statements.
    Some additional errors introduced by the changes include:

A. The claim that international terrorism is a central public preoccupation as the century ends. Public opinion surveys show people are more concerned about health and medicine, the education of their children, taxes, violence in their neighborhoods, and so on. In any case, domestic terror in the most murderous instance in Oklahoma City – committed by two Army veterans – has killed more Americans than international terrorism.

Several new classroom projects encourage students to promote the JROTC program among other students.

B. The claim that the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima because it did not want "the war with Japan to continue for months, or possibly even years, which would result in the loss of additional American lives" (p. 258). Top U.S. decision-makers in fact knew that the war was almost over, and that Japan had offered to surrender if the emperor would not be deposed, which ended up being the actual terms of Japan’s surrender.

C. The new edition also eliminates mention of the fact, present in the first edition, that the hydrogen bomb could destroy a major city and millions of people, giving an even more distorted view of modern warfare which does not show its devastating consequences for human life and the environment.

  • Several new classroom projects encourage students to missionize or promote the JROTC program among other students.
    Project #1, for example, requires students to make a JROTC marketing brochure. It says "the JROTC instructor staff may use your brochure to ‘sell’ the Army JROTC program to other students" (p. 68). This is a rare teaching device in other course work, including comparable optional courses, such as band. Teachers of those subjects rely on the intrinsic rewards of their subjects to draw students, or do not have enough resources to support the additional students that successful promotion would bring in. In addition, positions students can fill in a JROTC unit include the Battalion Public Affairs Officer, who is instructed to disseminate propaganda in the school newspaper and community on a regular basis ("to create an outstanding image of the cadet battalion," p. 297). These parts of the curriculum are consistent with the military recruitment and public relations goals of the JROTC program, which the text passes on as a student responsibility.

  • Political agendas have sharpened in the treatment of the gun control controversy.
    The text minimizes the significance of popular desire for such controls, which surveys show are preferred by the great majority of Americans. Where the older edition says many people are fighting for gun control laws, the new one says, "select groups of people are fighting for gun control laws." This new wording suggests that discredited interest groups are behind this movement rather than large numbers of average people. Where the older text said, "The Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms," the new text gives a more extensive interpretation: "This amendment prevents the government from prohibiting the ownership of weapons by citizens, and it protects their right and duty to serve in the armed forces" (p. 281).

  • Racial stereotypes have been introduced in the textbook's new sections on brain function.
    For example, it cites research that claims African-Americans and Indians are right-brain dominant (associated with the preference for having a good time rather than being on time, and being active rather than thoughtful) and whites are left-brain dominant (associated with logic and rationality rather than intuition and preference for art or athletics over intellectual pursuits).

  • All units on drilling with guns and marksmanship have been deleted from the core first year textbook.
    This change has been made in response to criticism of the program. It should be noted that many JROTC programs continue to have marksmanship components; however, these sections have been removed from the core first year texts designed for use in all programs.

  • New sections have been added.
    A short discussion of service learning through JROTC projects has been added. A new section on "Working Out Conflicts" is included. It focuses on understanding the causes of violence and conflict and on communication skills useful for identifying and resolving conflicts. This perspective on conflict is absent in the understanding of war, the military, and international relations contained in other sections of the text.
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