Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Junior ROTC Controversy

The San Francisco School Board voted three years ago to banish the Junior ROTC program from public high schools and the teenagers who were in the program fought back.

P.E. classes are sheer torture for some teenagers, either because they're shy or uncoordinated or geeky and prone to bullying.

The JROTC program has long been a perfectly viable way to get out of that torture.

Though every ethnic group in the world seems to be represented in the program, from what I've observed of the San Francisco program, the group is over 90% Asian American. It probably feels like a welcoming, structured club.

Plus, they get to wear cool uniforms and march and play musical instruments while getting exercise. What's not to like?

Its detractors point to the program as an insidious recruiting tool of the military but in San Francisco, 95% of the JROTC students go on to college rather than joining the service. It's poor Hispanic and black students who make up a disproportionate share of military recruits out of high school, which is really where peace activities should be putting their focus.

Tuesday evening at the school district headquarters on Franklin Street, the JROTC students finally won in a 4-3 vote by the school board, and the program was reinstated just weeks before it was set to expire for good.

I hope to see them in yet another parade in Civic Center soon.


Larry-bob said...

I got out of the PE requirement in college by taking modern dance classes.

Civic Center said...

Dear Larry-bob: You had a PE requirement in college? I didn't know there was such a thing, but of course modern dance would have been a perfect alternative. I actually enjoyed PE classes when young because I was in the smart kids "track" in junior high and senior high, and we were all a bunch of neurotic messes who were mostly sick of seeing each other in one class after another. PE had a much wider range of fellow students. Plus, I got to look at naked people in the shower at the end of class, which provided no end of erotic fantasies.

However, I had friends for whom PE classes were torture in every possible way, and I felt quite sorry for them.

Rob Carl said...

On May 18, on a field near Manteca High School, a remarkable thing happened. The Manteca High School JROTC held its annual Sports and Awards Day Ceremony. In any normal year, this would be a memorable event, but would not be particularly remarkable. However, this was not a normal year. You see, in March, the Manteca High School JROTC lost both of its instructors at the same time. So without outside leadership or intervention, the members of the Manteca High School JROTC Battalion not only chose to take responsibility for coordinating, managing, and conducting the annual Sports and Awards Day ceremonies themselves, but also they executed the event flawlessly. From coordinating the outside representatives presenting the awards, to cooking the hot dogs and hamburgers for the participants and observers, they all pulled together as a team and used the leadership and teamwork skills they learned while undergoing their mandatory PE classes (the program is a voluntary substitute for traditional PE). It was not an easy task, since several of the units were undermanned and decisions had to be made about how to reorganize the units in such a way that competitive teams could be fielded. I cannot think of any more compelling evidence of the effectiveness of the JROTC program in building the future leaders of this country than what was witnessed that day.
Now the Manteca High School JROTC unit is in danger of being disbanded for the 2009-10 School year. You see, in the current fiscal environment of cost cutting, it is much easier to cancel a program that doesn’t have a strong internal spokesman (the instructors). The students themselves are trying to voice their opinion, but rarely are the voices of high school kids heard when pennies are being pinched and “adult” decisions are being made. Please help them by writing to the school board, your state, local or federal representatives, or by signing one of the petitions that you might see in the next few weeks. These are kids who have already proven that the program is worthwhile. They are also our future leaders, whether they pursue military careers or not. All too frequently we complain about our leadership, but all too rarely do we actually do something to improve it. This is your chance to make a difference.