By Katie Reilly
October 25, 2017

A private Christian college in Missouri is rolling out a mandatory military science course aimed at encouraging patriotism, making it a requirement for all freshmen.

“We think there needs to be a more intentional program regarding our country and especially the military,” College of the Ozarks President Jerry Davis told TIME on Wednesday. “We don’t think the military has been properly recognized, and students in general need to know more about the place of the military in the democracy.”

The course, called Patriotic Education and Fitness, combines the school’s prior physical education and patriotism requirements and adds more military training, such as rifle marksmanship, land navigation and ropes climbing. The course will also cover military customs and flag protocol. The college strives “to encourage an understanding of American heritage, civic responsibilities, love of country, and willingness to defend it,” according to its mission statement.

“To train a better citizen, so to speak — I don’t think there’s a better way to do that than to remind students of the importance of the military and to be respectful of the country in which we live,” Davis said. “Otherwise this division that we all see in this culture will do great damage to the United States.”

Davis spoke out in September against athletes who have knelt during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police violence, declaring that the school would not play any team whose players don’t stand for the anthem.

Controversy over such protests escalated last month, when President Trump accused players who protest during the national anthem of being unpatriotic and disrespectful. But Davis said the school’s new patriotism course, which was piloted last year, is not a response to those protests.

“I can tell you the students here, even during athletic events, have practiced respect for this country long before it developed” as an issue this year, Davis said. “It’s not something that we just dreamed up as a reaction to something.”

He said he hopes to see other universities copy the new class.

“I think more colleges and universities need to make it their business to be more intentional about teaching about the country, about the military,” he said.

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