There is quite the debate going on since left-wing writer David Zirin's article was posted on the left-leaning Huffington Post the other day talking about the San Francisco school district's decision to allow the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) to run Phys. Ed. (PE) as an alternative to PE classes. Basically, it means that the SFSD will give PE credit to JROTC cadets who choose JROTC instead of regular PE classes. Zirin makes the following argument:
The idea that the programs of the Pentagon could serve as some sort of replacement for real physical education is Orwellian...Proponents of the JROTC option want more militarism integrated into education. They want the Pentagon in the public square.In my personal opinion, I don't have any issue with allowing students the choice to gain PE credit in a JROTC-run program. And the notion that outcomes are any less satisfactory with a JROTC-run program as opposed to a public school run program are fundamentally based on opinion rather than fact. For me, as long as all instructors of the JROTC and public schools are certified teachers of the state or province in question, they really should be equivalent (and in fact the JROTC instructors are certified teachers as the commentors in the HuffPo article point out).
While I share Zirin's opinion that a full substitution of regular PE for JROTC-run cadet is not in the best interests of all kids -- especially if we want inclusive schools that respect the right of some families who object to any form of military-based education due to their religious beliefs -- I think Zirin's cynicism is excessive. Lets be real here, for every JROTC instructor that is a war-monger, ra-ra-ra, hoo-wa type looking to turn every 14-year-old into a GI Joe, I'll find you a public school PE teacher who represents the complete opposite of the picture of perfect health.
Additionally, I think there is a tendency for people who oppose the military to have a naive and overly simplistic view of people who are in the military and the kinds of instruction they receive. Most people who think like Zirin believe that all of those who serve the military were somehow brainwashed into joining the military and are therefore incapable of intellectual and critical thinking. I think Zirin underestimates both the quality and value of a military education. After all, West Point was just ranked as America's top college, higher than Princeton, Yale, and Harvard -- and best of all it is free to attend (well OK not completely free, there is the little issue of that contract you have to fulfill after you graduate).
The real tragedy here is that all around the U.S. and Canada, PE is no longer considered a core subject and is instead being relegated to optional status. If Americans want real health care reform, they ought to think long and hard about these recent changes to education policy. All of these issues are linked, you can't fundamentally change one without changing the other.