Sports correspondent for the Nation Magazine
August 9, 2009
On the East Coast, when you think of San Francisco, we often imagine
a progressive oasis where ideals of peace and community take
precedent over mindless jingoism and division. That's why I was
deeply shocked to learn that the San Francisco School Board voted 4-3
to allow Junior ROTC -- military training -- to be available as an
option for physical education in the San Francisco public schools.
The historic mission of P.E., dating back to the nineteenth century
and the instituting of public school athletic leagues, is to promote
teamwork, fellowship, and healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
To put it mildly, there are few things less healthy than war.
To see JROTC put forth as a viable option in San Francisco of all
places, is particularly eye opening, given the state of school
budgets around the country. Physical Education programs are being
phased out from coast to coast as emphasis and resources are put
toward standardized testing. When budgets become over-stretched or
underfunded, physical education classes, along with music and art,
are immediately demanded to walk the plank. This is what drove me
from teaching in D.C. public schools; the imperative to teach to the
test and little else.
The idea that the programs of the Pentagon could serve as some sort
of replacement for real physical education is Orwellian. Sure, young
people are often desperate for structured physical exercise to break
up the monotony of the school day. But why not instill in them the
love of participating in sports instead of the military? The two are
San Francisco school board member Rachel Norton wrote on her blog
that she supported the JROTC option because it is a simple question
of expanding exercise options for our kids. She wrote on her Web
site, "So I'm sorry, but I think it's important to allow students as
many alternatives as we can if the outcome is that they will
ultimately learn how to respect themselves, respect their bodies, and
make choices that lead to a healthy, long, and fulfilling life."
Leading "a healthy, long and fulfilling life" and patrolling
Afghanistan don't exactly go hand in hand.
There are several other problems with Norton's argument.
The first is that a recent study by the San Diego school district,
done to support efforts to give P.E. credit to JROTC cadets, showed
instead that students who take part in JROTC actually fall physically
behind their classmates in the basic exercise curriculum, according
to Rick Jahnkow of Project YANO (Youth and Non-Military Opportunities.)
One reason for this is that JROTC is not taught by actual physical
educators. In this era of childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes,
that should hardly be taken lightly.
The second problem with Norton's logic is that she entirely ignores
-- if not obscures -- the political dimension of her decision.
Proponents of the JROTC option want more militarism integrated into
education. They want the Pentagon in the public square. As Marc
Norton (no relation for Rachel), a leading opponent of the JROTC/P.E.
option, wrote to me, "What is revealing about this fight over P.E.
credit is the way that JROTC boosters have abandoned their rhetoric
about giving students a 'choice' to be part of the military program.
Now it is all about promoting the program, pumping up the program,
luring youth onto a military track, particularly low-income youth and
youth of color, using P.E. credit as the bait."
Oftentimes, San Francisco acts as a beacon when it comes to both
healthy lifestyles and promoting peace. It's deeply distressing to
consider that the San Francisco School Board could be dragging the
schools of the United States in the other direction.
First run in the Progressive.