On Nov. 6, 2006, Arne Duncan announced his support for 19 new schools for Chicago’s students. Twelve of the 19 will be charter schools; another three will be “contract” schools. In other words, 15 of the 19 schools will operate outside the Chicago Teachers Union and outside the community guidance of Local School Councils.
One of the planned schools is the Marine Military Academy, scheduled to open in 2007, at 145 S. Campbell. The press release announcing Duncan’s plans describes the school as “the first public Marine Junior Reserved Officer Training Corps (JROTC) high school in the nation.” In contrast, on Nov. 14, San Francisco’s Board of Education voted to eliminate JROTC programs from its schools, through a two-year phase-out. Board member Dan Kelly, who voted to remove JROTC, described it as, "basically a branding program, or a recruiting program for the military.”
The military’s discrimination against LGBT people was also a factor in the decision to ditch the program. In an opinion piece in the Chronicle, board members Kelly and Mark Sanchez explain, “The U.S. military's ‘don't ask, don't tell’ policy toward gays and lesbians prevents JROTC from employing openly gay instructors and bars openly gay students from the preferential enlistment opportunities that are among JROTC's touted benefits.”
Supporters have claimed that JROTC is popular is San Francisco. Kelly and Sanchez point out that popularity shouldn’t be the only or even primary factor in deciding what programs schools offer—the bigger pictures—equity, fairness, justice—also have to be considered. Popular doesn’t equal appropriate, they say.
The claim of popularity may be more hyperbole than truth—San Francisco students formed an independent movement to oust JROTC from their high schools this year, and gathered more than 800 signatures on a petition supporting their position.
What do JROTC programs offer students? Spiffy uniforms, structure, a group, and the promise of help getting through college (if you aren’t queer). San Francisco plans to develop and pilot new programs next year, to address what the city’s families and students will miss when JROTC is gone.
I encourage the city to consider these ideas for its schools:
--Have students design their own uniforms, after exploring the forms and functions of uniforms from the past and present (this idea from fabulous SAIC art educator Maya Escobar; look at uniforms by artist Andrea Zittel and the exhibit RN by Mark Dion and J. Morgan Puett).
--Develop some “secret” clubs that are, conversely, open to all. These should have handshakes, special names (the blue-birds? the spiders?), marching bands and songs, drill teams with pink batons (this idea from every gay pride parade I’ve attended), and weekly meetings with games and snacks.
--Stock every school with art supplies, from kilns and clay and easels and paint, to design software and computers, and keep all the art rooms open and staffed until 9:00 PM.
--Offer scholarships to all students who want post-secondary education.
That would probably end any remaining JROTC-lust in our schools.
Now the question is—can Chicagoans follow the lead of San Franciscans and excise the military from our public schools? Our students need a chance to develop their creativity and critical thinking, not their obedience. And they need to know they can go on to college.
The Chicagoland Coalition Opposing Militarization of Youth has formed a working group to begin exploring the possibilities for opposing the planned Marine Academy. If you are interested in helping with this, contact Neal at NealBetty@aol.com.