San Francisco progressives are ablaze with optimism that one of the most institutionalized sources of militarization—the JROTC—is now on the verge of being cut out of the City’s public schools. Students who support the program, however, are feeling betrayed by the school district and by progressives who had previously touted the significance of youth voice in all policy making.
The crux of the issues is that the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) does not offer enough leadership programs of its own, and does not sufficiently recruit students to join. This leaves the JROTC as the sole option for youth who are looking for leadership, self-sufficiency, and better education.
JROTC is a national program run by all branches of the United States military. Started in 1916 in the mists of World War I, the program aims at providing leadership opportunities to high school students while promoting good citizenship and academic achievement. Students who enroll in JROTC—which is offered as an elective course—can use the credit to fulfill physical education requirements and have access to activities such as camping and social events. The program also offers a curriculum which covers history, health, civics, college preparation, and more. These offers are all good components of a rounded education which we should be providing
But below the surface of a challenging and fulfilling extra curricular program, the clear purpose of JROTC is to identify and recruit students who could serve in the United State military. Perhaps people forget what JROTC stands for: Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Right there, in its name, the purpose of the program is defined.
And in a city which successfully fought the docking of the USS Iowa battleship at its shore, and formalized its opposition to the Iraq War at the ballot box, subjecting high school students to militarization is seen as a dangerous path to follow.
The resolution, which is to be voted on by the School Board after the November election, calls for a two-year phase out of JROTC. A program which would emulate the positive opportunities offered by the JROTC would then be designed and implemented.
Contrary to popular belief, the costs of running the JROTC are not split evenly between the SFUSD and the Federal Government. According to the SFUSD’s budget analysis, the District is only reimbursed for 43% of the costs, of which most is dedicated to salaries. The budget analysis also concluded that there would be no significant cost in replacing JROTC with conventional physical education courses, barring any facility inadequacies.
Proponents of the JROTC phase-out also point to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy towards the inclusion of gays and lesbians into the armed forces. They claim that this conflicts with the SFUSD’s policy to not contract with any agency which discriminates in any way.
However, student leaders—particularly the SFUSD’s Student Advisory Council (SAC)—are up in arms over both the proposed closure and the perception that the District is not concerned with the will of the students it serves. “There shouldn’t be a discussion on whether or not it should stay,” says SAC President and Mission High senior Alvin Rivera, “The students have voiced that they wish for it to stay.” The SAC has opposed any closure of the JROTC program for three years, and will be discussing the issue at their October 23 meeting. “It serves as a functioning body for the schools well-being,” he added.
Student support for JRTOC seems to not stem from the military aspect of the program. Rather, they are appreciative of being reached out to and brought into a program which has improved the lives of many students. While the SFUSD and the City offer a wide array of programs for students, their recruiting efforts come nowhere close to the aggressive recruitment conducted by the military.
A recent graduate of Balboa High School—who asked not to be named and is personally opposed to the JROTC—said that many students are indifferent to the details of the JRTOC, but see the program’s closure as yet another item within a growing list of opportunities that are taken away, without their input and without any replacement.
The fears students have over the loss of the JROTC program may lie within the belief in the competency of the SFUSD to sufficiently replace the program. The SFUSD’s inability to create effective community-based programs in the past is embarrassing, and the public has good reason to suspect future promises.
The SFUSD has not been deaf to the concerns of students, however. The call for a two-year phase-out rather than an immediate canceling of the program would allow most of this year’s sophomores, juniors, and seniors to complete the program. While the current and future freshmen classes would not be allowed into the program—enrollment will be whittled down each year with no new students being allowed to enter the program—they all have ample opportunities to find other programs.
Of course, for this all to work, the SFUSD and the City must make significant efforts to bring their programs to the students, rather than expecting students to go hunt down different programs themselves.
A major concern is that students who participate in the JROTC program are not hit hard with the military recruitment aspect until late in their senior year—right when questions about paying for college are bubbling up. What this creates is a disconnect between students and adults: adults know about the end goals of the JROTC, and yet students who are in the program don’t see the recruitment, and then feel marginalized by adults when recruitment is discussed.
The SFUSD must address the root cause of support for the JROTC: a lack of other programs that engage youth. New programs should not just be more physical education courses, but with a program includes leadership development, self-sufficiency, and better education. And without the militaristic mindset of the JROTC.