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To the editors:

Philadelphia’s children deserve better options than Junior ROTC. It is crucial that we oppose CEO Paul Vallas’ plan to expand Junior ROTC from its current eight neighborhood high schools to 22.

Junior ROTC amounts to a retired or current military officer teaching subjects such as military history and army drill to 14-18 year-olds, 54 percent of whom are students of color nationwide. It is also “one of the best recruiting devices that we could have” according to former Defense Secretary William Cohen, since around 50% of the high school students wind up enlisting in the military.

What’s in it for the schools? No one really knows for sure. Unproven claims that graduation rates increase with military discipline lure some schools into trying it.

JROTC technically does bring in resources from the Department of Defense (in the form of text books, uniforms, etc.). But in the end it often costs the schools more money than it brings in. The nearly 3,000 high schools that house JROTC have to pay for infrastructure modifications and a portion of the instructor’s salary. And it is widely known that money, classroom space, and teacher hours are devoted to Junior ROTC at the expense of art, music and other programs.

Perhaps most disturbing is that some JROTC students were given pro-war bumper stickers and encouraged to attend pro-war rallies by their instructors during the first Gulf War. Examples like these illustrate that when Junior ROTC programs claim to teach leadership, they are really talking about obedience.

Philadelphia is the home of the Liberty Bell. Let’s give our 14-18 year-olds the liberty to grow up as kids, not soldiers.

Lincoln Ellis

Philadelphia

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