The City’s bizarre ban of free choice

The San Francisco Board of Education has engaged in a bizarre abuse of political correctness since 2006, when it voted to kill the voluntary Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. This self-righteous attack strangely resembles an inside-out version of the plot for free-spirited-teen movies such as “Footloose”— stories in which uptight adults cluelessly attempt to ban a popular teen activity such as break dancing or skateboarding.

The school board majority in famously tolerant San Francisco ruled it was no longer acceptable for as many as 1,600 high school students to choose participation in a partially military-funded cadet program that has been offered in The City for 90 years. Although education is supposed to prepare students to make good choices, only choices politically acceptable to the school board can be selected.

The board found it irrelevant that an active student minority enjoyed JROTC enough to sign up for it each year with parent support. For a variety of kids who may not be drawn to other extracurricular activities, the program has provided for decades a positive blend of physical activity, leadership development, motivational focus, field trips and community service.

Opponents of JROTC paint the program as a stealthy military plot to induce naive teens into armed forces enlistment. But JROTC statistics show this is apparently not succeeding among San Francisco students — fewer than 2 percent of the local program graduates enlist in the military. More than 90 percent go on to college, where their JROTC participation looks good on applications.

There are other incentives for kids to join JROTC. Nearly 20 percent said they enrolled to avoid gym class. And one-quarter of JROTC participants drop out after fulfilling required physical education credits. Also, the most popular JROTC activity in The City is marching band — hardly a bloodthirsty option.

The “Footloose”-type story line demands an emotion-packed public meeting at which the teens and their sympathizers fervently plead the cause. Then, after authorities reject their entreaties, the kids create some imaginative plan to win their case in the court of public opinion. That is exactly what is happening in San Francisco.

December’s board hearings won JROTC a reprieve until June 2009 while a committee tries to develop a suitable replacement program. On Monday, the board approved testing a new ethnic-studies program in two schools.

The Examiner is fine with ethnic studies as an enrichment option, but substituting it for JROTC seems as promising as offering broccoli in exchange for a hamburger.

Meanwhile, students from the seven JROTC schools are out trying to gather 7,200 voter signatures by July 7 to place a nonbinding measure of public support on the November ballot. Reportedly, they have already collected more than 1,000 signatures. We wish them luck. After all, since when are politicians supposed to choose for students and parents what can be taught in our schools?

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