Judging from my email inbox and the crowds at the March 24 meeting, the answer to that question is — evidently yes. Last night was my most difficult meeting yet, because it was the evening our resolution to reinstate JROTC hit the agenda. I knew it was coming, I knew a number of people would not be at all happy to see my name as a co-sponsor, but knowing ahead of time you are going to upset or disappoint someone –even if you believe in what you are doing — doesn’t make it any easier to see the disappointment and anger in their eyes when they confront you face to face.
Of course, last night was just the beginning – there are a number of long, angry meetings yet to come and I should get used to it. I am sorry this issue is so contentious, I’m sorry that it’s impossible to find a compromise, and yes, I’ve given up trying to find one. The only way out I see is forward — reinstating the program, calming the supporters down, and continuing to work on alternatives that will give kids who don’t care for the JROTC program and their parents a leadership training option that doesn’t have a military connection. In the end, I hope what will happen is that kids will truly have a choice.
We did make some progress on that latter front, tonight: hidden in the consent calendar resolutions we approved was a contract for $30,000 with a consultant who will write the curriculum for our new SERV program. SERV will train students as emergency responders through a partnership with the City’s Office of Emergency Management. People are pumped up about the possibilities for this program and I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to show that we can build an alternative that offers kids the mixture of public service, physical activity and leadership skills that JROTC proponents value.
I also want to acknowledge that in some circles, among a number of people I respect and care about, my decision to join with Commissioner Wynns in sponsoring this resolution is unimaginable and deeply wrong. By way of explanation, I can only say — I hear you, I understand where you are coming from, and after a lot of thought and investigation I’ve chosen to make an imperfect decision that, from where I sit, helps a lot of kids while hurting none. The data points that are most meaningful to me are:
- The program is voluntary;
- No child is excluded from the program, regardless of sexual orientation, race, ability or other criteria;
- We hire our instructors according to non-discriminatory SFUSD hiring practics;
- The number of children who eventually join the military is LESS among JROTC participants than those who have never taken JROTC;
- Kids who participate say in large numbers that the program helped them gain confidence, leadership and physical abilities they wouldn’t have had otherwise;
- A large number of San Franciscans feel, because of the passage of Proposition V in November, that this issue is unresolved and should be taken up by the Board. Similarly, a large number of San Franciscans feel, because of the passage of Prop. 8 in November, that the issue of same-sex marriage is unresolved and should be taken up by the Courts. It’s not so much that “the voters have spoken,” but rather that in regard to each issue, a large group of people feel disenfranchised by a narrowly-decided, hotly-contested decision.
Also worth mentioning is how JROTC also saves the district money. JROTC qualifies for certain federal funding to operate it, and therefore, we can hire less PE teachers using State/district funding. When the HOMEY kids say that they want more funding for so-called better programs, then JROTC is precisely the answer. With the additional funding from the military, we can fund a program that satisfies PE credit AND have a little extra for other enrichment programs/needs.
It’s all in how you interpret the facts; your argument assumes that students can take anything they want and make their own decisions about what is relevant, but in fact they have very little flexibility about what courses to take once graduation requirements and college entrance requirements are figured in. This year’s enrollment in the program (600 students) was higher than many expected after the Board’s decision last June to remove P.E. credit for the course. You could as easily argue that when we give students the choice about what P.E. to take, many more opt for JROTC. Having talked to many students over the past year, I don’t think they are opting for an “easier” course when they decide (and are allowed the option) to choose JROTC — they are opting for a course that feels more “relevant” to them.
The students were given a choice this year to take JROTC as an elective. They did not choose it because other classes were more relevant to their educational needs. Aren’t they in school for an education and can’t their JROTC “needs” be satisfied with other extra curricular activities? Most jrotc students attend drill and marching band AFTER school. Can’t they continue these after school programs without a military attachment?
I just wanted to chime in with Anna M — I hope you don’t feel too embattled about this issue.
I am not a military fan either, but I don’t think we should remove programs that give students additional opportunities for learning (and honestly, for college scholarships). And while it would be good to have other leadership programs, I don’t see why this existing program shouldn’t continue to be available.
I am by no means a military supporter, but I do think if the kids want this program back give it to them. If you don’t agree with it, don’t join it, but don’t force your ideals onto other people who might not agree with you.