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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Why Doesn't JROTC Count as Physical Education? Oh, Right! Because we Hate the Army

Posted By on Sat, Jun 28, 2008 at 8:23 AM

By Benjamin Wachs

We all know the real reason the San Francisco School District voted to cripple the high school’s ROTC program. But what about the fake reason? Are we all caught up on that?

According to the school district, Thursday night’s vote to strip the JROTC program of its status as a Physical Education credit has NOTHING to do with the school board’s visceral hatred of the military. No they say, they were forced to refuse to count JROTC training as a PE credit because … the JROTC training “doesn’t align with the California PE standards.”

Seriously? That’s your excuse? OK San Francisco School District, I’ll bite. How? In what way does JROTC training not conform to California’s rigorous, rigorous standards for PE?

Mark Sanchez, the school board president and one of the board members who voted to take away the PE credit, admitted he doesn’t know. “I don’t know the specifics,” he told me. And that’s funny because he had to vote on the issue JUST LAST NIGHT.

Am I crazy for thinking that if somebody is told “army training doesn’t count as physical education” they’d ask “why not?”

“I went on our professional staff’s recommendation,” Sanchez told me.

Three school district spokespeople I talked to – none of whom would go on record – were at a loss to explain it to me either. They did promise that they could reach someone who would be able to explain it, but that this might take several days.

It was Friday, you know: People are out of the office.

So, to be clear, according to the school district there are only one or two people who actually know why JROTC doesn’t qualify as a PE credit, and none of them are on the school board. Just fills you with confidence about our children’s future, doesn’t it?

To be fair, however, the California PE standards to put this...hilarious. It’s easy to see how junior military training just wouldn’t be funny enough.

According to the State Education Department, California has 3 “overarching” PE “standards.” They are:

1) Students demonstrate knowledge of and competency in motor skills, movement patterns, and strategies needed to perform a variety of physical activities.

2) Students achieve a level of physical fitness for health and performance while demonstrating knowledge of fitness concepts, principles, and strategies.

3) Students demonstrate knowledge of psychological and sociological concepts, principles, and strategies that apply to the learning and performance of physical activity.

Think junior military training improves motor skills, promotes physical fitness, and teaches you how to learn physical fitness in a group setting? I’d say there’s a better than average chance.

That all sounds reasonable – and it would be if the state stopped there. But there are also dozens … literally dozens … of specific points that the state says students at the high school level need to be walked through. These include:

“Examine the physical, emotional, cognitive, and scientific factors that affect performance and explain the relationship between those factors.”

“Identify and evaluate personal psychological responses to physical activity.”


“Recognize the value of physical activity in understanding multiculturalism.” (I’m NOT making this up).

The San Francisco school district, according to a statement it sent me, interprets the standards this way: courses must teach

(1) Effects of physical activity upon dynamic health,

(2) mechanics of body movement,

(3) aquatics,

(4) gymnastics and tumbling,

(5) individual and dual sports,

(6) rhythms and dance,

(7) team sports,

(8) combatives for boys.

Wait … “combatives for boys?” Yep: even without ROTC, boys in 10th grade PE learn how to fight. They just don’t defend their country, so it’s okay.

Now if you want to be nitpicky enough with standards as absurd as the state’s, then yes … you can find a reason to disqualify anybody (JROTC cadets aren’t examining their personal psychology as it relates to physical activity deeply enough!). Even, I’d wager, the SF school district.

But … come on … based on any reasonable set of expectations - and certainly based on the “overarching standards” the state has set - there’s no way JROTC training doesn’t qualify as PE. More importantly, if you’re trying to inculcate a life-long habit of physical activity in your students … emulating the military is about the best you can do.

The school board doesn’t have to like it – in fact, I can sympathize with their desire to protect kids from what has turned into an aggressive military recruitment machine during a time of war, but come on: do we really want to teach our kids that the best way to get what you want is to come up with a bad excuse and then cynically manipulate the rules? Really?

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Benjamin Wachs


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