San Francisco Bay Guardian
June 9, 2009
Copyright © 2009 Marc Norton
Right-wing San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders jumped into the JROTC end-game with an opinion piece on Sunday.
In April, Saunders, who endorsed
John McCain for President, opined that
"In Obamaland... the left chants, 'torture doesn't work...' But common sense tells you that techniques like sleep deprivation [and] waterboarding... work, at least some times."
In her latest rant, Saunders recounts the
pro-JROTC mythology at length, but her
real play is to torture the truth with the claim that the California Board of Education has "said local school districts have the authority to offer PE [physical education] credits for JROTC."
What the California Board of Education actually did was revise its Physical Education Framework to say that JROTC classes "may not" meet PE standards, instead of "do not" meet PE standards.
But, "if a district desires to award physical education credit for courses such as JROTC, marching band, cheerleading, and drill, it is the responsibility of the district to determine how each particular course, as conducted in its district, supports a course of study for grades nine through twelve... and substantially meets the objectives and criteria" for state PE curriculum and credentialing requirements.
San Francisco school district officials responsible for the physical education program have repeatedly and publicly stated that JROTC does not and can not meet current state PE requirements.
Those who have followed the JROTC story know that bipartisan efforts in the state legislature have tightened up PE standards in recent years because of the crisis of physical fitness among our youth, particularly among low-income youth and youth of color. That is why PE credit has been withdrawn from JROTC programs all over the state, including San Francisco.
In fact, a recent report from San Diego compared physical fitness records of students who took PE and those who did not. Fitnessgram results for JROTC students actually declined during the same period that results for students in PE increased. The Fitnessgram is the test students generally take in the 9th or 10th grade to show their progress in physical education.
Despite all this, the Chronicle, in Monday's article by Jill Tucker, repeated the half-truth that "state education officials recently confirmed local school boards can choose to offer P.E. credit for the military course."
Just last week, the state bill that would have expressly allowed PE credit for JROTC,
AB 351, was derailed, yanked off the Assembly floor, and sent back to committee. The sponsors of this bill -- Mary Salas (D-San Diego), Michael Duvall (R-Yorba Linda) and San Francisco's very own Fiona Ma -- also had to admit that they couldn't get the two-thirds vote required for "urgency" status.
If it is already legal to give PE credit to JROTC cadets, why have proponents been so adamant about trying to pass this bill?
Why the big push to find some way to grant JROTC cadets PE credit?
If JROTC is really so popular, then students will take it, just like students take any other elective. When my son played Junior Varsity baseball at Lowell, he had to take PE also, and still found time to succeed in his academic classes.
But the fact is that many freshmen and sophomores have historically taken JROTC primarily to get out of PE. JROTC supporters know this very well.
JROTC boosters like Saunders aren't content to just give students a "choice" to be part of this military program. They want to promote JROTC, using PE credit as bait to funnel students, particularly low income youth and youth of color, into a military track.
I will agree with Saunders, however, that the current proposal to grant PE credit to JROTC cadets through "independent study" is "onerous and unnecessary," but for different reasons.
It is onerous because it is really an attempt to wiggle through state laws on "independent study" and set up a system where, with a wink-and-a nod from school district officials, JROTC instructors oversee a make-believe PE program for JROTC cadets.
And it is unnecessary, because for all the effort it will require on the part of school administrators, bureaucrats and lawyers to set up and administer this phony program, it would be a lot easier to just tell JROTC cadets to take regular PE classes.
JROTC instructors should not be allowed to lure 14 and 15-year-old freshmen and sophomores into the program with the promise of getting out of PE.
This is particularly repugnant in this historical period, when the illegal war and occupation in Iraq is far from over, and the doomed-to-failure war in Afghanistan and Pakistan is ratcheting up. Just last week we reached the sad milestone of 5,000 deaths of U.S. military service members in these two wars. Tens of thousands more U.S. soldiers have become living casualties of these wars, as have hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghanis and Pakistanis.
Recently, the organization Courage to Resist publicized a little-known scheme of the Pentagon to boost its troop levels: the "Individual Ready Reserves" (IRR), is a "form of involuntary service that has been fueling troop supply for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan... The IRR is composed of troops who have finished their active duty service but still have time remaining on their contracts. The typical military contract mandates four years of active duty and four years in the IRR... at any point, IRR members can be recalled into active duty... Since September 11, 2001, about 28,000 IRR members in the US Army have been mobilized [and] 3,868 Marines involuntarily recalled..."
That's how desperate the Pentagon is to find troops to fight its ongoing military adventures around the globe. Those who tell you that the same Pentagon won't go after JROTC cadets are just whistling Dixie.
David Zirin, a sports writer for SportsIllustrated.com and author of A People's History of Sports in the United States, writes that "It is appalling to consider that JROTC would be used as a substitute for Physical Education. The historic mission of PE is to promote teamwork, fellowship, and healthy habits that will last a lifetime. There are few things less healthy than war."
The San Francisco school board is expected to vote on giving PE credit to JROTC cadets at its meeting tonight.
Saunders, the torture lady, says that JROTC students are "earning their stripes" and
deserve PE credit. It figures. I say Saunders and her enablers at the Chronicle have earned the Abu Ghraib torture-the-truth award.