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.


  1. Q McCall  

    August 11, 2009 at 4:32 PM

    This is an interesting article...thanks for sharing...

    I agree with you that Zirin's claim that this is Orwellian is more alarmist than accurate.

    Furthermore, I find it odd that he used a study that judged the value of JROTC fitness instruction against another curriculum instead of a standard of health. The issue is not necessarily curriculum elements but the fitness of the students who go through the curriculum. One could hypothesize multiple different paths to "fitness" in the long-term depending on how a given curriculum is taught.

    But the really shocking thing about this decision that Zirin managed to miss is the fact that SFO public schools banned the military from advertising in their schools years ago. In that regard, this does seem like a contradictory decision because the military has to find a way to teach in schools but simultaneously not promote the military...? That's the oddest part of this...

    Otherwise, I'm all for increased fitness in schools.

  2. Evan Sellers  

    August 11, 2009 at 4:35 PM

    Here in South Carolina students are allowed to take either PE or JROTC for their PE credit. I don't see a problem with it at all. If students have a choice I don't see were there could be any legitimate concerns. And I am even pretty left leaning myself. :)

    By the way, I really enjoy and appreciate your website coach. I have been a loyal follower for awhile now. Our students start Monday and I will begin off season conditioning and 3 man work-outs soon. How about a blog post on strength training and individual skill workouts?

  3. Unknown  

    August 11, 2009 at 8:42 PM

    Back in the dark ages, think Cold War years under the Carter Administration, I took part in Naval JROTC during my high school years.

    Yes, the retired Naval Commander and the retired Chief did talk to us about considering joining the Navy as a career or just a single contract.

    But the Chemistry teacher tried to talk me into majoring in chemistry, the biology teacher did the same and my history teacher successfully got me to major in history.

    I got a great deal out of my JROTC experience that I would not have been able to learn in any other educational experience.

    And no, our Chief, whom we all thought walked on water, and Commander Wirt were NOT war mongers. Chief has seen duty in the Brown Water Navy, think Swift Boat,during Vietnam, and Commander Wirt had seen a lot of show downs with the Soviets during the Cold War. They were all too well aware of the potential for bad things to happen - they also shared these experiences with us as part of our classroom instruction.

    I lean towards all kids having a year of ROTC in high school. It would do a great deal to introduce self-discipline to a lot of kids who need it. And no, I am not a warmonger. Just someone who had a very positive experience in a JRTOC program who would do it again.

    Kevin S.

  4. day-n-nite  

    August 12, 2009 at 12:24 AM

    I wish my high school had some sort of JROTC program when I was there. I surely would've done more pushups than I did in the school's PE program.

    Does Zirin not see that the ROTC program would just be another OPTION?

    I graduated high school in 2003 and joined the Navy in 2007. I really wish I would've had some physical conditioning besides the occasional pickup hoops game between high school and my enlistement, but I really wish fitness was a bigger focus in school.

    Just my 2 cents.
    PS in the picture you picked, the third dude from the front should be disqualified for doing a pushup with his butt in the air like that...nevermind maybe those are Army pushups ;) ...haha Go Navy!

  5. bruchu  

    August 13, 2009 at 11:29 AM

    Thanks for all the comments, I share most if not all of your views.