The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Chicago Public School Students Forced into ROTC

Jun 6, 2022

Hundreds of students at working class high schools are enrolled in ROTC programs, that is, training programs for the U.S. military. The programs are supposed to be optional, but at five high schools, the City’s Inspector General found that all or nearly all freshmen were automatically enrolled in the program. All five schools are in low-income Black or Latino neighborhoods.

For years, Chicago has had the largest high school ROTC enrollment in the country—Daley and Lightfoot both highly tout the program. While politicians talk it up, Chicago Public Schools as a whole remain seriously underfunded.

ROTC programs, in a perverse way, help fill the gap. Students in an ROTC class do not need to take Physical Education. And the salaries for ROTC instructors are not paid by the school—the money comes instead from the school board and the military. So a principal who sends all of their students into ROTC is able to not hire a Physical Education teacher, and use the money they save elsewhere. The pressure to do this is highest at schools in poor neighborhoods—it’s not a coincidence that this happens at Bowen and Fenger, rather than Northside and Lane.

The practice encapsulates our society’s attitude toward education for the working class. The public school system is allowed to rot, and the military is brought in as a kind of “savior” to fill the gap. Working class students are left with an education that channels them to become cannon fodder for U.S. imperialism, and the wars it wages abroad.