Russia’s recent deployment of military forces into Crimea has precipitated talk about a “new cold war.” Those of us who lived through the old cold war may recall that it was an era of unchecked militarism in which challenges to expansion of military influence often did not meet with success. Obscured by the specter of the new ideological and political struggle was a recent setback for militarism and at least a temporary victory for efforts to curb the intrusion and influence of the military in the public schools of California. (See update at bottom.)
On February 14, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing rejected a proposal to amend Title 5 of the California Education Code. The proposal would have established a special authorization for holders of Designated Subjects Teaching Credentials in Basic Military Drill and Reserve Officer Training Corps. The defeated change would have authorized military instructors, usually retired members of the armed forces, to teach physical education in California high schools. The former military personnel would be exempt from holding a bachelor’s degree, the minimum degree usually held by public high school teachers and a prerequisite to earning a teaching credential in California, and could obtain a “special authorization” by way of passing a state test focused on subject content. As reported by Meredith Adams of EdSource, “JROTC and military drill are high school electives that use Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard curriculum covering fitness, leadership activities, civics and U.S. History, among other topics. California has 350 JROTC high school programs, each with a minimum of 100 students. The rule change also would have affected instructors in the California Cadet Corps program who a hold a credential to teach ROTC or military drill.”
The rejection of the proposal was surprising given that it had been recommended by the commission’s staff and consultant. It was strongly supported by the commission’s chair, Linda Darling-Hammond. Moreover, it had garnered support from JROTC-affiliated personnel and students. For example, a principal in the Mt. Diablo school district, in a letter to the commission’s consultant, declared that JROTC provided an “excellent alternative to traditional physical education programs.” It met “the same physical activity requirements mandated by the state for a PE program”; thus, granting a special authorization to JROTC-credentialed instructors would “further legitimize this already-accepted practice.” In addition, it was claimed, “the special PE teaching authorization would provide flexibility in the schedule of students who could not enroll in JROTC due to mandated graduation requirements as well as offer academy students more options in their high school experience and help alleviate overcrowding in traditional PE classes.”
The principal’s case for approval of the proposal, framed in terms of benefits to students and schools, proved unconvincing, as did the rationale offered by the Credentialing Commission staff. It was revealed that affording benefits to students and schools would not be the only potential or intended outcome of the approval. The staff urged the adoption of the amendment, claiming, as reported by Adams, that: “Increasing student course options would make it easier for JROTC programs to meet required enrollment numbers.” The minimum required by law is either 10% of the student body or 100 students. Although a seemingly modest numerical target in a state where high school student populations frequently exceed one thousand students, it was not being met even in districts with expressed administrative support for JROTC programs, such as the Mt. Diablo School District.
Prior to the commission’s hearing on February 14, the commission’s public announcement elicited 204 personal opinions in support and zero organizational opinions. In contrast, opposition to the proposal was articulated in 166 personal opinions and five organizational opinions. The opposition sentiment was reflected in the commissioners’ 6-4 rejection vote.
Opponents of the proposal spanned the range from physical education teachers, to professors of kinesiology and exercise science in public and private colleges and universities, to students, future educators and other citizens from throughout California. Organizations in opposition included state-wide educators’ associations, such as the California Teachers Association (CTA), and grassroots organizations typified by the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (Project YANO).
Foes voiced numerous concerns about the proposed action, questioned the fairness of granting a special authorization to individuals without training in physical education, and noted that the physical training conducted in JROTC did not meet physical education standards. They also stated that the goals of JROTC were not the same as those of physical education and objected to allowing the military to be part of the educational system. Some chastised the commission for considering a proposal that disadvantaged teachers in training and reminded the commissioners of their responsibility to make decisions that would provide California students “with well-prepared and exceptionally qualified teachers.” Still others vehemently opposed the use of the amendment as a vehicle for enabling JRTOC programs to meet their enrollment targets.
As the 6-4 vote indicates, members of the commission were divided over the proposal. The opposition from throughout California served to buttress the positions of the oppositional commission members and debunked the myth that militarism is of concern only to a handful of activists.
As at least one opponent noted, the battle over the special authorization is likely to continue in California. Given the strong support for the concept by the chair of the commission, it is conceivable that in the future the outcome may be different. For now, the victory is a reminder of the potential of coalition building and the necessity of informing and educating specific communities. Among the supporters of the measure were many Spanish-surnamed individuals. If this can be considered a proxy for ethnicity, it suggests that supporters are members of the Latino or Filipino communities, two growing populations with long-standing traditions of military service and frequent targets of military recruitment. Without sustained and targeted education on the issues, these communities may prove to be fertile ground for other similar initiatives.
Isidro D. Ortiz is Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at San Diego State University; a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, he is an advocate for equal educational opportunity for students from low-income backgrounds.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: After the February 14 vote, commission staff engineered a review of the decision and succeeded in convincing the credentialing commission to put the issue back on its agenda when it meets June 19-20. Letters should be postmarked no later than May 13 to oppose granting a special authorization for JROTC instructors to teach physical education. Point out that the commission has a responsibility to not grant such an authorization unless it first reviews the actual content of the JROTC curriculum and determines whether or not it is even possible for its instructors to teach physical education that meets state standards. Mail letters to:
Commission on Teacher Credentialing
Attn: Tammy Duggan
1900 Capitol Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95811-4213
Also email a copy of your letter to Tammy Duggan at email@example.com
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/)