I remember meeting a girl named Katia Ortiz. She was a junior in high school, probably 16 years old. She was in JROTC. Katia would hide from me the days she was forced to wear her Marine JROTC uniform. She was embarrassed. I asked her why she was in JROTC. She told me her counselor had placed her there for the physical education credit and that there was no other class available. So there was Katia, a week into the semester of JROTC, learning how to march and being bombarded with military propaganda. There was no more room in the 11th grade English classes; she was stuck until the following semester. “JROTC will have to do for now,” her counselor said.
Katia’s situation is no surprise or abnormality. There is a lack of academic and college preparatory courses in our public high schools. If more students decided to take the courses required to apply to colleges in California, there would not be enough space, books, or teachers for them. This contributes to the increasing military recruitment in schools.
In 2006, at Mission Bay High School in San Diego, where 75% of the students are youth of color, there was a highly promoted college-preparatory AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination). A section of the school was set aside for the AVID Academy, which consisted of a network of teachers supporting students fulfilling academic requirements. Mission Bay had an AVID coordinator, an AVID counselor, and more than 120 students in the AVID Academy.
In 2007, when JROTC was introduced at MBHS, the AVID Academy was cut. Our AVID counselor was transferred to another district and the students were placed into other classes. Only a few students remained in AVID, which was taught by an English teacher. Nancy Cruz, a recent graduate of Mission Bay, says, “We were the ones instructing our teacher on how to teach AVID because there was no real AVID teacher any more.” Also in 2007, advanced placement (AP) classes were removed. I had been planning to take AP Spanish but I couldn’t since it was cut. Instead, an exclusive International Baccalaureate (IB) program was implemented. I could not take IB Spanish because it was restricted to 11th- and 12th-grade students only. Most of the students in these IB classes had been in previous advanced or seminar classes, something most students (especially students of color and low-income) never get offered. So if you weren’t already part of a seminar class, it was unlikely that a counselor would mention IB to you. That same year an AVID classroom was closed down. A wall was removed to combine it and another classroom for JROTC, and a shooting range was built there.
By 2008, the single remaining AVID class had disappeared from the master schedule. If it weren’t for a student sit-in, it would have probably been cut for good. Even though the principal said she would hire an AVID coordinator a year ago, as of June 2009 this has not happened. Right now there is a single AVID teacher, who is really an English teacher, and only two AVID classes, which remain isolated from the campus and receive no promotion from the administration.
What happens in schools is that more vocational courses start appearing. Classes like woodshop, business management, and silk-screening prepare students for the workforce. And as soon as these students graduate they enter it, failing to reach college. And if they don’t go into the workforce, they go into the military.
Cheira Tapia, a graduating senior at Mission Bay High, told me recently that she plans to join the Marines. Cheira is not in JROTC. In fact, Cheira has completed the high school classes that make her eligible to apply at any public university. “It’s too hard and too expensive,” she says. “I won’t make it in college. Plus, the Marines don’t even go to war.” The lack of support and guidance are the cause for Cheira’s reasoning. The attention that students get is very minimal -- almost none. The gap created by what the school fails to offer is filled by the deal the military gives. JROTC suggests possible financial help for college. It all sounds very attractive to a low-income student. But what they fail to say about their deal is that the individual sells his or her life to the military for a total of eight years. But how would a 15-year-old kid know that or even realize the gravity of the situation? How would the kid’s family know that if they only speak Spanish and all the material that JROTC provides is in English?
By law, schools are required to allow as many military recruiters at high school campuses as college recruiters. But in our schools military recruiters are the only ones who visit. I questioned a recruiter once. I asked him where he got the most recruits. He told me that low-income schools were where they most visited. “Students need a way to make money after high school and this is an easy way,” he said. I asked him about the scholarships and in every response he failed to mention the military service that is mandatory to complete.
I often see military propaganda around schools. I see it in the library. I see it in the counseling office where the scholarship information is supposed to be. I see Army fliers in the career center. I see Navy calendars in many classrooms. I see a Marine sticker on my principal’s office door. And that’s when I wonder, “What is the focus of my school? What is it that they really want from me?”
With more academic courses and support there would be no space for military propaganda. With more AVID classes and college visitors, military recruitment would not be successful. But without the right classes for students, without the guidance, students become the prey of the military.
David Morales is a 2009 graduate of Mission Bay High School
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/)