Allowing the military mindset to have free rein in schools is a dangerous idea. S.T. Patrick argues, if we are going to demilitarize our kids, we must also redefine the meaning of both “hero” and “heroic.”
By S.T. Patrick
When a school shooting occurs in America, the reflexive conventional wisdom is to look at gun control, further regulating the weapon. That would be feasible and even logical if the weapon controlled the individual. However, acts are the end result of thought processes, thought patterns, and social indoctrination. Therefore, we, as a society, should look with diligence at those factors that have normalized violence, a rigid adherence to dominance, and a twisted view of authority in our high schools. The militarization of public schools has done much to normalize a way of thinking that stresses violence as an effective means to an end.
While in ninth grade at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS), Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland shooter, was a member of JROTC, the Army’s Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. Cruz wore his JROTC polo shirt while being arrested. It was something of which, on that day, he was proud. In the spring of 2017, Marksman 1st Lieutenant Diaz won first place in the Florida State JROTC championships in an event called “Standing Rifle.” The JROTC program at MSDHS in Parkland advanced to the Florida state championships again in the spring of 2018 without a significant public challenge, just months after the shooting and months after the anti-gun protests began.
While actively promoting JROTC, Florida schools also have strict anti-gun and anti-weapon policies. It’s like forming a basketball team while simultaneously banning all sports equipment on school grounds.
After a major lobbying effort from the U.S. military, states responded by adding JROTC programs to a much larger percentage of public schools. Today, over 1,600 schools have marksmanship programs, with students as young as 13 enrolled. Florida has been especially receptive to JROTC programs, allowing entrants to substitute the JROTC curriculum in place of life management, physical science, physical education, art, and biology.
The commitment of Florida’s Department of Education to JROTC is now so entrenched that it includes JROTC coursework being weighted as an advanced placement course. While Broward County, Fla. requires that all teachers hold a teaching certification, a bachelor’s degree, and some sort of master’s-level coursework within a required number of years, many JROTC “teachers” are retired enlisted soldiers who possess no such credentials. Many have little or no college education.
The late peace activist and alternative historian John Judge fought for decades to end the militarization on high school and college campuses around America. If a recruiter was allowed on a nearby campus, Judge would push for an opportunity to set up a table nearby. He would tell high school and college kids why they shouldn’t get involved with JROTC or enlist in the U.S. military. At the 2014 Celebration of the Life of John Judge, friend and anti-militarization activist Pat Elder spoke about how Judge influenced his own work.
“He spoke of a poverty draft and starving a wicked war machine of its most vital resource. And he never strayed from his most fervent nonviolent stance,” Elder said. “John’s life was an epiphany for all of us. He opened my eyes to the Pentagon’s invasion of our high schools, and he taught me how to resist it. He understood the inherently unfair arrangement between recruiter and recruited, especially the psychological training and the advantage recruiters have. I initially saw it in terms of military recruiters lying to my sons and my daughters in the high school lunch room. But John helped me to connect the dots.”
If we are going to demilitarize our kids, we must also redefine the meaning of both “hero” and “heroic.” If we keep applauding as uniforms carry bags through airports, if we insist on attaching heroism to every militarized police officer, and if we continue thanking every enlistee for their “service,” then we will continue to glorify the same forces that wreak havoc worldwide. When we train our kids to shoot well and adhere to a strict military mindset in their most vulnerable psychological years, are we training elite killers who will shoot at designated enemies beneath the country’s flag, or are we training kids who will shoot at their own designated enemies from the school library? As a teenager, where do those paths cross and what dangers are inherent?
To be clear, JROTC are not fathers in Montana who speak to their sons and daughters about conservation, a love of the land, and a grateful respect for all wildlife and nature. These are the first steps of enlistment, a long-perfected public relations tactic to recruit students at young ages.
S.T. Patrick holds degrees in both journalism and social studies education. He spent 10 years as an educator and now hosts the “Midnight Writer News Show.” His email is [email protected].