The San Francisco school board recently introduced a resolution with the intent of disbanding the district’s Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, which would do a great disservice to students. Five of the seven school board members appear to be backing it.
As students, we have seen the beneficial effects of the program on our peers. We have met and known individuals whose lives have been changed as a result of the confidence, pride and leadership instilled in them by JROTC.
To those unfamiliar with the program, JROTC may seem like just a bunch of students parading in uniforms, but to the JROTC cadets, it is a life-changing program. It builds character, increases self-esteem, fosters a desire for excellence, strengthens friendships, promotes camaraderie and enriches students’ lives. It provides instruction in development of life skills, leadership, civic duty, fitness, first aid, substance-abuse prevention and overall awareness. It makes them stronger and more capable people.
Supporters of the measure claim that the presence of JROTC in our schools acts as an endorsement of the military’s homophobic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. We do not dispute that the policy is homophobic and discriminatory, but the JROTC in San Francisco is in no way discriminatory. Students of all races, genders, religions and sexual orientations can participate in the program. Although it would be impossible to hire openly gay or lesbian instructors since all instructors are veterans, San Francisco JROTC instructors have been known to encourage nondiscriminatory and accepting environments at their respective schools.
While it is understandable that proponents of this resolution want to pursue social justice by cutting off ties with a discriminatory organization, removing JROTC, a program that encourages students to be better citizens and people, is clearly not the way. Not only would the district lose subsidized instructors, classroom technology, textbooks and transportation paid for by the federal government, it would also deprive the students of the right to choose whether they want to participate in the program. Shouldn’t the 1,625 students in the program have a say?
We hope the supporters of the measure know that we and most of San Francisco are very much supportive of the overall goal of the resolution — to stop discrimination — but we think eliminating JROTC will not affect the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. In fact, the elimination of JROTC will only negatively impact our students, resulting in the loss of a program that truly works and gives an opportunity to explore and to grow.
We commend the school board for its efforts to end discrimination, but we firmly object to the means by which they are attempting to reach this goal. We believe JROTC should be left alone and that the school board should consider more pragmatic means of impacting national politics.
Alan K. Wong, the former student delegate to the San Francisco Board of Education, graduated from Lincoln High School in 2005 and now attends UC San Diego. Diana Suen is the current student delegate and a junior at Lowell High School.