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Originally published Friday, July 29, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Danny Westneat

Military classes are off course

In Seattle, the public schools are hostile territory for the military, as parents shoo away recruiters and are pushing to bar them entirely...

Seattle Times staff columnist

In Seattle, the public schools are hostile territory for the military, as parents shoo away recruiters and are pushing to bar them entirely.

In the suburbs, though, the armed forces are welcomed for more than just visits. They're teaching some of the classes.

Two high schools in Federal Way will debut Air Force courses this fall. Students as young as 14 will wear uniforms, march in drills with decommissioned guns and get schooled in military history, customs and technology.

Course materials are mostly created by the Air Force, and the classes taught by retired officers. Costs will be split between the Air Force and the school district.

Federal Way is the third King County school district to ask the military to set up shop as part of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). Kentwood High in Covington has a program taught by the Marines; two Issaquah high schools have courses taught by the Navy.

JROTC is a fixture in schools across the South and is rapidly expanding in the North.

"We applied for them to come here, and they looked at the general attitude of the community before they agreed," said Debra Stenberg, spokeswoman for Federal Way schools, explaining why there's been no controversy about it.

Seattle is overly viperous toward the military. It's a vital institution, as well as a major source of jobs, and Seattle's schools ought to educate kids about both. Let the Army set up a booth at career day. It's better they buttonhole kids there, where they can be supervised.

But ensconcing the military inside school walls, and subsidizing it with school dollars, is over the line the other way.

Backers say JROTC is mostly about citizenship and discipline, with military subject matter secondary. They also insist it's not about recruiting.

Federal Way officials were drawn to it because it features courses in aerospace technology, a subject the schools couldn't offer otherwise.

I can see the allure, especially for a school district on Boeing's doorstep.

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But what other government agency, corporation or special-interest group gets to design what is taught in a public-school classroom, and then run the classes themselves?

Take this fall's first course. It features the role of the military in history, taught by an officer using material provided by the military. That's like having a course on environmental policy taught by Greenpeace.

It's also clear that a goal of JROTC is to groom future enlistees. Students are given information on how to sign up. The Defense Department testified to Congress in 2000 that JROTC is one of its premier recruiting devices.

Armed-forces recruiting is essential. Without it, we'd have a draft. Schools must by law allow it, but it's their duty to supervise it, not subsidize it.

There's a war on. Education devoted to exploring diverse points of view about war ought to include bringing the armed forces into our classrooms.

They shouldn't, however, be handed the keys.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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