San Francisco School Board Allows JROTC

Last month, the San Francisco Board of Education granted a one-year stay of execution to the city’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC), suspending an earlier decision to eliminate the optional high school leadership training program in 2008. It seems the committee charged with finding an alternative to the “discriminatory and homophobic military,” to quote the San Francisco Chronicle’s characterization of board sentiment, found the task too daunting to complete during the last 13 months.

In November 2006, the board’s initial decision to do away with JROTC — after a 90-year presence in San Francisco schools—was an anti-Iraq, anti-military message for President Bush offered at the expense of the 1,600 local high school students participating in JROTC. Never mind the program’s effectiveness at cultivating good citizens and future leaders, much less keeping teenagers off the street and away from drugs and gangs, there was a more important political message to send!

For the 2006-07 academic year, the Department of Defense reports that JROTC participants nationwide graduated at a 12% higher rate then their non-participating peers, earned better grade-point averages and had significantly fewer disciplinary problems. And the 499,585 JROTC cadets around the country performed more than 8.5 million hours of community service.

JROTC costs, on average, $694 per student per year, split between federal taxpayers who underwrite roughly half through the Department of Defense and local taxpayers who cover the rest via school-board spending. Nationwide, 3,360 schools participate in JROTC, and another 700 are on the Pentagon’s waiting list.

JROTC works, undoubtedly to the great consternation of so-called progressives, whose alternatives have a very difficult time competing on the basis of voluntary participation, outcomes or cost.

While history makes clear many reasons for calling the Bay area anti-military, characterizing JROTC as a military recruiting program, much less one that’s pro-war and bent on ruining civilian institutions, is hardly accurate.

Because the enlistment and commissioning rates from JROTC are so low, the Department of Defense does not bother to track them. Among cadets in the San Francisco schools, the Chronicle reports only 16% have expressed interest in pursuing a military career. But why shouldn’t JROTC strongly encourage military service? Why shouldn’t JROTC serve as a recruiting program? Voluntary military service is a noble calling, one that our constitutional system of governance depends upon for the preservation of our liberties.

Are JROTC and our military pro-war? Sure, for those whose interactions with our nation’s defenses have been limited to watching Full Metal Jacket, Dr. Strangelove or listening exclusively to the likes of Code Pink. Our military embodies Reagan’s vision of peace through strength: The stronger and more prepared we are, the less likely those who wish us ill throughout the world will be to attack us.

Further, JROTC focuses on developing students’ core abilities. Army teaching materials challenge students to: 1) “Take responsibility for your actions and choices;” 2) “Treat self and others with respect’” and 3) “Do your share as a good citizen in your school, community, country and the world.” If anything, these principles seek to build up and protect civilian institutions, not destroy them.

JROTC employs retired military NCOs and officers as instructors — the program does not use active military personnel in the classroom. The retirees who teach are typically members of the local community who are merely returning to share and impart their experiences with the next generation in their community.

Code Pink and their comrades in the chorus of San Francisco’s naysayers complain that students should have a “better” choice of things to do than participating in JROTC, yet those complainers have failed, predictably, to provide an alternative.

The recent action of San Francisco’s school board signals an ability to put such damaging rhetoric aside. Now more than ever, it’s time to seize the opportunity to restore JROTC to San Francisco permanently.