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San Francisco Schools to Become Demilitarized Zones with Phase-Out of JROTC
by Pat Gerber
Wednesday Nov 15th, 2006 1:41 PM
The San Francisco Board of Education voted last night to phase out its JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) program over a two-tear period. It is believed that this is the first time any school district has eliminated an existing JROTC program.
November 15, 2006

San Francisco Schools to Become Demilitarized Zones with Phase-Out of JROTC

by Pat Gerber

The San Francisco Board of Education voted last night to phase out its JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) program over a two-tear period. It is believed that this is the first time any school district has eliminated an existing JROTC program.

This is a precious victory for the peace movement, and it provides a template for how activists in other parts of the country can demilitarize their schools.

Here is a list of arguments that were offered by members of the public during the comment segment of the meeting, plus a few arguments that would have been presented if time constraints had not limited the number of speakers:

Counter-recruitment – The presence of JROTC on campuses provides a recruiting advantage to the military that is not available to other potential employers. This violates the school district’s policy of providing equal access and to all employers and granting preferential treatment to none.

Civil rights – The Pentagon’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is discriminatory. All forms of intolerance are morally wrong and fundamentally un-American, and their effects are harmful to society at large as well as to the individuals who are on the receiving end of sub-standard treatment. Prejudice against people based on sexual orientation is as much an abomination as any other flavor of bigotry.

De-militarization of campuses – The militarization of culture, which has historically accompanied wars here and in other countries, is undesirable and should not be promoted in our schools.

JROTC encourages students to join the military -- Those who deny that JROTC funnels students toward military careers are presumed to be unaware of the Pentagon’s belief that JROTC and college ROTC constitute one of its best recruitment strategies. One recent high school graduate spoke movingly about a classmate who returned from Iraq without legs, making the point that JROTC contributed to his friend’s being put in harm’s way.

JROTC discourages thinking for oneself – The State of California educational guidelines require schools to teach critical thinking skills. The military requires its personnel to obey orders without thinking, which is the antithesis of the schools’ mission.

Purpose of education – We are not educating our youth so that they can suffer lifelong damage, physical or emotional, as a result of participating in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stop-loss orders and multiple deployments increase the probability that a soldier will suffer some form of injury. While no one knows exactly how many are affected, strong anecdotal evidence leads to the conclusion that many, quite possibly most, military personnel who are sent to war zones are irreversibly damaged as a result of their service.

Not postponing this decision – A speaker who favored retaining JROTC asked Board members to join him on a trip to Washington, D.C., to consult with Barney Frank (an openly gay member of the House of Representatives who was just elected to the Senate) about changing the Pentagon’s policy regarding LGBT servicemen and women. The counter-argument was made that if this man succeeded in his effort, then the Board could address the question of whether to bring back JROTC at that time.

Gang prevention – An argument was made that JROTC prevents students from joining gangs or otherwise getting into trouble. The Board will examine other programs that help students by providing leadership preparation, self-esteem training, or other benefits.

Cost – The school district will not suffer financially if JROTC is eliminated. Also, while it is assumed that an undetermined number of students derive a high degree of personal benefit from participating in JROTC, it is not certain that spending scarce education dollars on this represents the highest and best use of that money. No one has yet performed a cost-benefit analysis to calculate whether JROTC delivers better value on a per-dollar basis than other activities, e.g. afterschool programs aimed at preventing violence.

The Board of Education members who voted in favor of eliminating JROTC San Francisco’s schools are (in alphabetical order) Dr. Dan Kelly, a Vietnam War resister; Sarah Lipson, a mother of school-aged children; Eric Mar, a very smart progressive thinker; and Mark Sanchez, the openly gay Commissioner who first proposed this idea. They deserve our applause and our thanks for their courageous stand.