Can We Expand Air Force JROTC in Federal Way Schools?

Federal Way High School ROTC Programs Build Character

By Mark S. Knapp

Federal Way School District’s retiring superintendent Tom Murphy gets kudos for obtaining results. But educators and parents tend to compare their local schools favorably to other schools. Just as most folks dislike politicians or lawyers but tend to favor their own local officials and personal attorney, most people deny that their own local schools may be failing their students. Raising the issue of an “achievement gap” can get a critic labeled as a crank or worse.

Former school board member Charlie Hoff suggested at a recent board meeting that we should challenge parents of unsuccessful kids to motivate underachieving students. He cited a study by anthropology professor, John U. Ogbu, that suggests how- even in affluent communities where only well-to-do families reside– African-American students are underachieving:

“No matter how you reform schools, it’s not going to solve the problem,” he said in an interview. “There are two parts of the problem, society and schools on one hand and the black community on the other hand.”

Ogbu’s conclusions relate to a study of blacks in Shaker school district, equally divided between blacks and whites. Black students have lagged behind whites in grade-point averages, test scores and placement in high-level classes. In 1997, black parents invited Prof. Ogbu to examine the district’s 5,000 students to analyze the achievement gap. Ogbu’s stated:

“What amazed me is that these kids who come from homes of doctors and lawyers are not thinking like their parents; they don’t know how their parents made it. They are looking at rappers in ghettos as their role models, they are looking at entertainers. The parents work two jobs, three jobs, to give their children everything, but they are not guiding their children.”

Such ideas do not endear Charlie to many Federal Way residents — especially those that formulate educational policy. But we cannot improve students’ futures without talking honestly about race, unions, politics and parents in ways that are going to make some professional educators look down their noses.

I recall telling a pastor in Southern California that our churches would attract and retain youth if we challenge kids to prepare for life the way we train soldiers. I suggested that the teenagers in the backseat, three boys that spent most of their time playing video games, should learn to shoot.

One of the youngsters, a 15-year-old sophomore, suddenly announced: “I already do that! I am in Marine ROTC and we go to Camp Pendleton every summer where I shoot targets at 500 yards.”

I asked whether others in his ROTC unit could shoot as well and was surprised to learn that they all could shoot bull’s-eyes at that distance.

Thomas Jefferson wrote to his teenage nephew:

“As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives (only) moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun, therefore, be the constant companion to your walks.”

Thus, I think Jefferson’s educational policy would have young men and women shooting alongside adults. The curriculum could include navigation and other survival skills that impart a sense of purpose, leadership and responsibility. Team sports provide some of these qualities. But nothing carries quite the quality of discipline and calm purpose that comes with handling a gun.

I didn’t ask the pastor’s nephew about his grades. Japanese-American cultural attitudes probably motivate him in ways that many Americans lack. For example, most of the kids that participate in our Kiwanis Club’s high school Key Clubs are Asian-American kids. They volunteer for many activities and acquire scholarships and character.

Two Federal Way high schools have ROTC. Opposition to ROTC programs on high school and college campuses is intense in some parts of the country. I am not sure how many JROTC programs exist in Seattle area high schools; the next closest programs to Federal Way are in Lakewood and Tacoma.

One local principal reportedly changed his mind when he saw the positive results. Two Federal Way high schools presently offer ROTC programs; i.e., Federal Way High School and Todd Beamer.

I understand that the only time the Junior ROTC members handle firearms is when they drill with World War II vintage M1 Garands- still possibly the most effective battle platform ever designed. If we have such weapons available in Federal Way it is almost criminal not to get some of our students (starting with Air Force Junior ROTC members) out to the range shooting them.

We invite feedback from students, PTA, educators and any folks that care about youth, schools and military preparedness. I am told that any proposals for actual shooting programs (rather than the marching in formation with military weapons that presently occurs in our local JROTC program) has almost no chance of getting onto the Federal Way agenda.

Many Boy Scouts still get out to the range and shoot but that is because the BSA is not subject to the deadly bureaucratic gauntlets that exist in our public school systems.

In fact, many American schools still have shooting ranges that are now used for storing excess junk. There was a time that shooting sports were an accepted extra-curricular activity promoted and cherished in high schools around the nation. Justice Scalia recalls how he would transport his .22 caliber rifle back and forth to school on the New York City subways. Now he would be rushed by a SWAT team! Just speaking out about legitimate gun issues on campus can get a student in hot water.

Cost is one objection to ROTC programs, but football, basketball and hip-hop teams are expensive, too. The Air Force picks up part of the tab but the Federal Way School District also bears some of the cost.

Do playing ball and hip hop produce as much character as the discipline of shooting sports? Is character just a feel-good word deployed to raise funds for sports programs? Our communities and the nation’s security depend on character in tomorrow’s leaders. Let’s aim for ROTC in all our high schools.

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