Monday, November 06, 2006

Just Saying "No" To Junior R.O.T.C.

After 90 years, it looks as though the powers-that-be are about to pull the trigger on Junior R.O.T.C. in San Francisco's high schools:
A majority of the seven-member San Francisco Board of Education is poised to end the district's 90-year relationship with the U.S. military and its widely popular Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, with a vote expected next week.

The proposal before the board on Nov. 14 would phase out the 1,600-student program after two years, with no new cadets added after this semester.

Four board members -- Dan Kelly, Mark Sanchez, Eric Mar and Sarah Lipson -- oppose the program on two grounds: the military's stance on gays and the desire to keep the armed forces out of public schools.

Kelly, the only board member running for re-election in Tuesday's vote, has fought to eliminate the program during his 16 years on the board.

"I don't think the military should be involved in civilian life," said Kelly, a self-described pacifist who served two years in prison for resisting the Vietnam draft.

"I know that children, the students, like the program," Kelly said. "I know they enjoy it. That doesn't necessarily mean it's doing a good thing for them."

About 10 percent of the students in the seven participating high schools are enrolled in the district program, which includes one for the Navy and six for the Army. Students often enroll for two years to get state-required physical education credits needed to graduate.

Each year, about 30 seniors in the district's Army programs say they are interested in pursuing some form of military service after high school, according to an annual Army survey conducted nationally.

The program costs nearly $1.6 million per year. The military pays $586,000, or half the salaries of 15 instructors -- all of whom are retired military personnel rather than certified teachers. The district pays the other half of salaries and $394,000 in benefits.

JROTC instructors and students say the program is barred from recruiting students. Recruiters, however, can.

Last month, two men in Army brown camouflage, whom students identified as recruiters, arrived at Galileo High School one day to see JROTC instructor Steve Hardee. School administrators quickly asked them to leave, Hardee said, but not before the men tossed eager students copies of the video game America's Army: Special Forces. The game includes combat scenarios that encourage teamwork to improve chances of survival. The military developed the game, available online for free, as a recruiting tool.

Board member Sanchez said he's opposed to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays, which he says discriminates against homosexuals in the hiring of JROTC instructors.

But JROTC supporters and students said the policy doesn't prevent gay students -- or gay instructors -- from being part of the program.

"It is absurd to think in this day and age there are no gays in the military," third-year cadet Steven Schwenka told board members during a recent public meeting. "If San Francisco wants to be an example to the world, they would allow the program to continue to practice openness and tolerance."

Most critics acknowledge that the JROTC helps reduce dropouts. Students learn leadership and problem-solving skills, first aid, money management, geography, civics and how to be a team player, among other topics -- some of which they learn in other required classes. Opponents say all that can be done without the military.

Still, there is no guarantee the district would create an alternative.

Sanchez and other board members want to create a task force to develop ideas. Yet a district budget analysis found that without military funding, the district could replace the 15 instructors with nine teachers -- enough to staff the extra physical education and elective courses the students would need, but not enough to also create another leadership program during or after school.
Regardless of what the board may think of the military or America's involvement in the Iraqi Civil War, we believe that the kids are being done a disservice by this decision.

Military service offers both high school and college graduates rewarding careers in a variety of fields. It's too bad that the San Francisco Board of Education has chosen to hurt students by tossing-away this popular program in order to satisfy their own personal agendas.
See our latest EduPosts and this date's Extra Credit Reading.