by Marc Norton
Mar. 31‚ 2009
The sponsors of AB 351 tell the tale. Assemblywoman Mary Salas is
from that most military of cities in California, San Diego.
Assemblyman Michael Duvall is a Republican from Yorba Linda in Orange
County. San Francisco's own Assemblywoman Fiona Ma has now joined
forces with these two legislators to lead the Pentagon's latest
surge, this time not into Iraq or Afghanistan, but into Sacramento.
Tomorrow, the Pentagon's youngest recruits, the youth from JROTC
(Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps), will hold forth before the
TV cameras on the steps of the State Capitol. They will be there to
support the Salas/Ma/Duvall bill that would allow school districts to
give Physical Education (PE) credit to JROTC cadets, reversing
bipartisan efforts in recent years to strengthen PE standards in the
face of the declining physical fitness of our youth.
The JROTC troops will also be there to support Ma's AB 223, which
would have the state legislature require San Francisco to keep the
JROTC program in our schools, a clear violation of every precedent
about local control of education. Should Ma's bill become law, San
Francisco will be the only city in the country that is required by
law to hand over its 14 and 15 year old students to the Pentagon's
favorite military recruitment program.
Both bills will be up for a hearing before the Assembly Education
Committee tomorrow afternoon.
Retired US Army Colonel Gerald E. Webb, in his capacity as President
of the Association of the United States Army, San Diego Chapter, has
written a letter in support of AB 351. His support is no surprise,
but one might be surprised by his reference to a "recent letter of
concern from Secretary of Defense Gates" which allegedly "indicated
that JROTC has been given physical education credit in California
historically." We don't have access to that letter, at least not yet,
but the apparent intervention of the Pentagon's boss in support of AB
351 and JROTC, the very man charged with leading the surge into
Afghanistan, ought to raise a few eyebrows.
"There is no good reason for the Pentagon to drive educational policy
in California," says Marko Matillano, the coordinator of Military Out
of Our Schools in San Francisco, the organization that is leading the
charge to let JROTC close up shop in San Francisco in June, in line
with school board policy since 2006.
It is true enough that JROTC has historically used PE credit as a
recruiting tool. PE credit has been handed out like candy to freshmen
and sophomores looking to avoid gym class. But no one ever did any
real studies about the relationship of PE to JROTC. Until recently,
that is, when the San Diego school district sought to study this
question, apparently hoping to bolster the case for giving PE credit
to the military program. Unfortunately for the JROTC spin doctors,
the San Diego study actually "demonstrated that JROTC students fell
well behind students in regular PE," according to San Diego analyst
Rick Jahnkow of The Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities. Oh well.
Ironically, Assemblywoman Ma issued a press release just last week
citing "obesity" as the "most common disorder among teens." The
epidemic of obesity among our youth has been one of the major reasons
for tightening up PE standards in recent years, the very same PE
standards that Ma, Salas and Duvall now seek to relax on behalf of
The reason for the Pentagon's desire to insure that they can entice
young students into their military program with PE credit is
displayed clearly in San Francisco. When PE credit was withdrawn from
JROTC this school year, enrollment plummeted by over two-thirds, from
a recent high of 1,600 students to 500. Most of those 500 are seniors
and juniors who first got into the program as freshmen, back when
they got PE credit. The JROTC enrollment among freshmen last year was
meager, a total of 74 among the seven high schools offering the program.
"We're watching the San Francisco situation very closely," said
Curtis Gilroy, an official in the Defense Department's office for
personnel and military readiness, according to an Associated Press
report late last year.
Ma's legislative partner in the Pentagon's onslaught on California
education policy, Republican Assemblyman Duvall, is doing more than
watching closely. On the very same day that he signed onto AB 351, he
introduced two other bills. One of these bills seeks to "provide
equal access to military recruiters at public school fairs." Ma's
repeated statements pretending that JROTC is not a military
recruitment program stands in stark contrast to her ally's eager
promotion of military recruitment in our schools. Duvall's other bill
of the day would make it illegal to use "the names of fallen soldiers
on political paraphernalia [think T-shirts] without the consent of
the next of kin." God forbid that we might find out the names of
fallen former-JROTC cadets.
Duvall would undoubtedly love the San Francisco Examiner, the most
outspoken supporter in the city of the Pentagon's efforts to preserve
JROTC. The paper has run a slew of supportive articles in recent
weeks. For those with short memories, the Examiner also proudly
endorsed Republican John McCain for President not long ago. Despite
the fact that the Examiner tabloid is clearly way out of sync with
San Francisco voters in regard to party loyalty, it may end up being
the only daily in the city before long, if the San Francisco
Chronicle folds as has been widely predicted.
The Examiner last week ran an editorial titled "Keep JROTC a free
choice for high schoolers." This is an unfortunate choice of words,
as JROTC is far from free. Official school district figures clearly
demonstrate that the program costs school district taxpayers about
one million dollars per year.
In these tough economic times, million dollar bills don't grow on
trees – unless you are the Pentagon, of course. It is startling that
the Pentagon, with its way-north-of-$500 billion budget, has the gall
and the juice to foist most of the cost of its JROTC program onto
local school districts.
Last week, testifying before the San Francisco school board, it was
the youth from HOMEY (Homies Organizing in the Mission to Empower
Youth) who best spoke truth to power about JROTC. "Teachers are being
laid off, programs are being cut, schools are being closed," said
Alexandra, "and you want to give us a military program? The military
has a track record of targeting people of color and people from poor
"We need education," said Eric, another speaker from HOMEY, "not
someone to teach us it is ok to kill for the government. Where is
JROTC when my homies get killed?"
It ought to be a fascinating hearing on Wednesday.
If you want to let the Assembly Education Committee know what you
think, their contact info is here. I'm sure they would love to hear
from you. Let them know you oppose both bills, because they violate
local control, because they dangerously weaken PE standards, and
because the Pentagon should not be driving educational policy in California.
For more info, check out the No Military Recruitment in Our Schools