Consider the fact that concerned San Francisco citizens are now gathering signatures for a ballot measure advising the school board to overturn a 2006 vote to shut down the 90-year-old Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program.
You see, the San Francisco school board only recognizes the right to expression with which it agrees. Disagree, and the board will shut you down. If students suffer -- well, that's politics.
Quincy Yu is a leader in the effort to gather the 7,200 signatures needed to put the advisory measure on the ballot. Yu is a native San Franciscan and Stanford MBA whose son attends Lincoln High School. Her son is not a JROTC participant. He plays football. "The kids in JROTC are not exactly the football-player types or those who go in for student government," Yu explained. The beauty of the program is that it provides students the right structure to develop leadership and workplace skills.When the board was preparing to vote to kill the program, Yu told me, "I thought, no way is the board going to do that." There were 1,600 students enrolled -- the number was whittled down to 1,200 today -- in a program supported by parents and educators, in part because it has provided strong role models for minority teens. When the board turned a deaf ear to the pleas of the many people who turned up at public meetings to save the program, Yu said, it "galvanized me."
Michael Bernick, an attorney who was the director of the state Employment Development Department under Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, told me last year, "This is a program that takes a wide variety of students, including a lot of students who don't have other structure and activities, and has very dramatic impact in terms of helping to build that structure, motivation and focus." Mayor Gavin Newsom has long considered the board's anti-JROTC vote to be a major mistake. He supports the ballot measure because, he explained, in this battle, change has to come from the bottom up.
If change can come: The plight of students who benefit from JROTC was less important to the school board than a chance to bash the military. And how are parents supposed to feel when they see the board putting politics before kids? "For those parents who can afford it, they're leaving," Yu noted.
And it doesn't help The Special City's reputation. The vote showed this is the town where free speech is a one-way street and elected officials crush dissent without hesitation. If Ess Eff voters don't muster the necessary signatures first to qualify this measure and then to pass it -- well, who can blame Fox TV's Bill O'Reilly for targeting the city for political-correctness-uber-alles?
The rationale for the board's heavy-handed vote? I kid you not: Board members who denied parents and students the right to opt for JROTC argued that the program did not impart "critical thinking." As if the board supports critical thinking.
Also, opponents argued that SFJROTC was a recruiting tool for a military with a Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy that discriminates against homosexuals. It matters not that the Ess Eff program does not discriminate against gays and lesbians. What does matter is that the San Francisco school board has told the rest of the country that this city is too good for the U.S. military that defends us all.
"I understand that we're in turbulent times with the Iraq War. My instructors have their own feelings about that, and I do, too," Robert Powell, a JROTC instructor at Lincoln High School, told me. "You should go to Washington and fight the guys who are wearing the Brooks Brothers suits."
Sorry, that just is not done here. The San Francisco model is to pummel dissent while the city happily accepts federal tax dollars and then ungraciously disses U.S. troops as robots and thugs.
Today readers from across the city will e-mail me and tell me that, while they oppose the war in Iraq, they are appalled at and embarrassed by the board's heavy-handed vote.
But that doesn't matter. When you elect the likes of Mark Sanchez and Eric Mar, the two board members bolstering this ill-conceived policy as they mount a run for the Board of Supervisors, you are giving the rest of America the middle finger.