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Thousands of Teens Are Being Pushed Into Military`s Junior R.O.T.C. Give this article

Thousands of Teens Are Being Pushed Into Military`s Junior R.O.T.C. 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.

Junior Reserve Officers` Training Corps programs are supposed to be optional, but some schools have made the course a requirement. Credit...Zack Wittman for The New York Times

DETROIT — On her first day of high school, Andreya Thomas looked over her schedule and found that she was enrolled in a class with an unfamiliar name: J.R.O.T.C.

She and other freshmen at Pershing High School in Detroit soon learned that they had been placed into the Junior Reserve Officers` Training Corps, a program funded by the U.S. military designed to teach leadership skills, discipline and civic values — and open students` eyes to the idea of a military career.

In the class, students had to wear military uniforms and obey orders from an instructor who was often yelling, Ms. Thomas said, but when several of them pleaded to be allowed to drop the class, school administrators refused.

J.R.O.T.C. programs, taught by military veterans at some 3,500 high schools across the country, are supposed to be elective, and the Pentagon has said that requiring students to take them goes against its guidelines.

But The New York Times found that thousands of public school students were being funneled into the classes without ever having chosen them, either as an explicit requirement or by being automatically enrolled.

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.

Andreya Thomas, 18, a college student, said that, as a high school freshman, she was required to join the J.R.O.T.C. program at Pershing High School in Detroit.

Credit...Emily Elconin for The New York Times

The role of J.R.O.T.C. in U.S. high schools has been a point of debate since the program was founded more than a century ago.

During the antiwar battles of the 1970s, protests over what was seen as an attempt to recruit high schoolers to serve in Vietnam prompted some school districts to restrict the program.

Most schools gradually phased out any enrollment requirements.

But 50 years later, new conflicts are emerging as parents in some cities say their children are being forced to put on military uniforms, obey a chain of command and recite patriotic declarations in classes they never wanted to take.

In Chicago, concerns raised by activists, news coverage and an inspector general`s report led the school district to backtrack this year on automatic J.R.O.T.C. enrollments at several high schools that serve primarily lower-income neighborhoods on the city`s South and West sides.

In other places, The Times found, the practice continues, with students and parents sometimes rebuffed when they fight compulsory enrollment.

“If she wanted to do it, I would have no problem with it,” said Julio Mejia, a parent in Fort Myers, Fla., who said his daughter had tried to get out of a required J.R.O.T.C. class in 2019, when she was a freshman, and was initially refused.

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J.R.O.T.C. classes, which offer instruction in a wide range of topics, including leadership, civic values, weapons handling and financial literacy, have provided the military with a valuable way to interact with teenagers at a time when it is facing its most serious recruiting challenge since the end of the Vietnam War.

While Pentagon officials have long insisted that J.R.O.T.C. is not a recruiting tool, they have openly discussed expanding the $400 million-a-year program, whose size has already tripled since the 1970s, as a way of drawing more young people into military service.

The Army says 44 percent of all soldiers who entered its ranks in recent years came from a school that offered J.R.O.T.C.

High school principals who have embraced the program 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.

A corkboard to which are pinned dozens of black-and-white name tags used by former J.R.O.T.C. students.

Name tags of students who have been part of the J.R.O.T.C. program at South Atlanta High School in Georgia.

Military officials have said their research shows that J.R.O.T.C. students have better attendance and graduation rates, and fewer discipline problems at school. Credit...Zack Wittman for The New York Times

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