During the summer, while most students, parents and teachers were busy doing other things, the principal at Mission Bay High School, together with the San Diego Board of Education, were hurriedly going through the motions of approving Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps for the Pacific Beach school. At both the July 23 and August 7 board of education meetings, the issue was not even listed as an agenda item, but rather buried in a list of budgetary points. The situation was only given any attention at all because John de Beck, the school board member representing the neighborhood around the school, had questions regarding the cost of the program.
Learning of the plan to sneak in MCJROTC, Project YANO attempted to get out the word. Despite the short notice, community members, parents and students arrived to speak out at the July 23 board meeting. Nine spoke against JROTC, making many important points to the unreceptive and nonobjective board (several board members have military connections themselves). For example, Pentagon-produced textbooks do not go through the standard review process and have been found to contain many ethnocentric stereotypes and subjective generalizations. JROTC instructors are not even required to have a college degree, and none of the strict new credential rules that other teachers are being subjected to under the No Child Left Behind Act apply to the military instructors. Also, money used to finance JROTC siphons away funds that could be used for other badly needed programs. JROTC is not a college prep class, but rather a P.E. credit. Students, already exposed to too much hate and violence, will be taught to use weapons.
Eight spoke in favor of JROTC, including the parent/teacher organization president, an area superintendent, and the since fired district chief administrative officer, retired Rear Admiral Jose L. Betancourt, who was convicted recently of trying to influence the awarding of a military contract when he joined a private company soon after retiring from the Navy. Given extra time to speak at the end of the discussion, MBHS Principal Seelos and her head counselor claimed that the program would help “at risk” students, when in fact the program attempts to filter out students with behavior and academic problems. Also, in referring to a pro-JROTC study from 1999, Seelos selectively highlighted data that deemphasized the military recruiting function of JROTC, while ignoring the fact that 44% of the cadets surveyed in the study had indicated they planned to join the military after high school. Seelos also announced that she had actively lobbied the Marine Corps and was proud of the fact that Mission Bay would be the first school in the district to have this program (some schools in the district have Army, Navy or Air Force JROTC).
Two weeks later, at the August 7 board meeting, there were again many speakers opposed to the MBHS plan. Since Principal Seelos was not even present at the meeting, she probably knew that it was a done deal. And it was. Silently, with no response to the speakers, the board voted 4-1 to approve Marine Corps JROTC for Mission Bay. Only John de Beck voted against it and expressed his concerns about sending our young people to Iraq.
The week before school opened, when students were arriving over a three-day period to see their tentative schedules, community activists and students picketed outside the school and handed out a flier titled “Students Not Soldiers.” Many arriving parents were receptive and appreciated receiving a different perspective regarding JROTC. Many were concerned that their children may have been assigned to the program. Several students claimed that they had been placed in JROTC without being consulted and were going to ask to be taken out.
When a TV news crew arrived, Ms. Seelos commented to the camera, “It’s just another choice.” Yet there are serious questions about how students were assigned, whether they understand what the program is all about, and whether other important programs at the school have been sacrificed in order to accommodate JROTC. Forty busloads of students are now brought to Mission Bay High from other parts of San Diego each day. Seventy-five percent of the student body consists of students of color. Many are immigrants. Many would give anything to be accepted by U.S. American mainstream society — just what recruiters and JROTC instructors are looking for.
During the first two weeks of class, it appeared that enrollment in JROTC was quite a bit lower than Seelos had hoped. She had bragged to the board earlier that nearly 100 students had expressed interest. Evidently, some of those students changed their minds and the count appeared to be about 65. Possibly the pickets and fliers had some effect. Perhaps peer pressure or parental pressure was strong, or perhaps informed students were making better decisions. We can only hope that numbers do not reach the required 100 students needed to keep the program going!
Informed and concerned students are beginning to organize and spread the word about boycotting JROTC. They are attempting to identify those classmates who have been placed into JROTC and may not have been given the “choice” that Principal Seelos alludes to. “No to JROTC” t-shirts are being printed. Another hope is that concerned and angry parents will come forward. Parents believe that our schools are doing everything in the best interest of their children. Unfortunately, most are completely unaware of the intense recruiting that goes on daily and of the fact that their children are being pushed into JROTC.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)