Friday, October 10, 2014

Nobel Peace Prize honors the rights of all children to education

What good news to hear that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 has been awarded jointly to Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India.  At 17 years old, Malala Yousafzai is the youngest recipient ever of the Nobel Peace Prize.  She has championed education rights for girls and, even though she is a victim of gun violence, she has taken a strong stand of nonviolence in confronting violence and inequality.  Kailash Satyarthi has focused his work on ending child labor and child trafficking.  Both Nobel recipients share a passion for the right of children to education and the right to not be exploited by adults.

We at SOY also believe that children should not be subject to military recruitment in schools when they are younger than 18 years old.  As Malala has said and proven through her own life, the power of education is stronger than the power of a gun.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Rethinking Schools: feature article on JROTC

An excellent article published in the current Fall 2014 issue of Rethinking Schools:

The Military Invasion of My High School

The role of JROTC

Air Force JROTC students from Buena Park High School, Coronado, California, 2006.
U.S. Navy photo by Hermes Crespo
“Will you please write me a letter of recommendation for the Navy, Ms. McGauley? You’re my best class.” Thanh was enrolled in the recently established Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) at our high school and he, like many of my students, was enamored with the military’s alluring promises of a magic carpet ride away from poverty and uncertainty.
My heart ripped as I listened to Thanh’s plea. I want to do what is best for my kids. I want to support and honor them in making their own informed decisions. But, given the impact of JROTC at our school, I felt very uneasy about the balance of information students like Thanh were receiving about enlistment in the U.S. military. After much discussion with Thanh, I wrote an honest letter, emphasizing his sensitive poetic nature and his commitment to fairness. The Navy eagerly welcomed him.
The sprawling campus of Reynolds High School (RHS), the second largest high school in Oregon, rests atop a ridge at the entrance to the scenic Columbia River Gorge in tiny Troutdale, 17 miles east of downtown Portland. When I first started teaching here 23 years ago, Reynolds was an almost all white, working-class, conservative, sub-rural community, culturally distinct from its larger urban neighbor. As Portland has become more gentrified, lower rents have attracted numerous low-income families—immigrant, African American, Latina/o, and white. Today, the Reynolds School District is a high-poverty, culturally diverse district with two of the poorest elementary schools in the state—perfect prey for military recruiters who win points for filling the coffers of the poverty draft.
During the Vietnam War era, much was written about JROTC’s role in teaching military training; today JROTC high school (and even middle school) programs incorporate a broader curricular agenda and are expanding rapidly. Yet, within the education community, little has been written about the implications and effects of JROTC in schools.
The potent presence of the military at RHS shines a floodlight on educational inequity. One sees college recruiters walking the halls of affluent Lincoln High School near downtown Portland. At RHS, college recruiters are few and far between, but military recruiters, JROTC commanders, and ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) testers clamor to establish daily contact with potential recruits.
All too often I hear the refrain: “Well, the military is a good option—or perhaps the only option—for many kids.” As educators, we must ask critical questions: Whose interests do we ultimately serve by welcoming the military into our poorer schools? Is it really in any of our students’ best interests? What are the qualifications of the instructors? What does the JROTC curriculum actually teach our students?


The National Defense Act of 1916 established JROTC to increase the U.S. Army’s readiness in the face of World War I. The ROTC Vitalization Act of 1964 directed the secretaries of each military branch to establish and maintain JROTC units for their respective branches. In the 1990s, the programs began expanding rapidly throughout the country. Today, there are approximately 3,500 Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard JROTC units in schools in the United States and its territories. Last year, Congress instructed the secretary of defense to expand further and to report on “efforts to increase distribution of units in educationally and economically deprived areas.”
JROTC is not about education. But by housing recruiters and JROTC in public schools and offering them carte blanche privileges, we provide them a cloak of legitimacy. Militarism was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “giant triplets” of societal destruction (along with racism and extreme materialism), yet today it appears as a legitimate component of the educational system—most often at underfunded schools.
At our school, JROTC is an actual school within a school, one that offers four levels of classes for which students earn full credits. It meets state requirements for career training. At RHS and many other schools, it is accepted as a substitute for physical education. Our JROTC instructors have also given make-up credit for writing and study skills classes, using online programs in the main JROTC classroom. The RHS program is directed by Brian James, a retired colonel from the Oregon Army National Guard, who tells me he looks forward to being able to offer health, history, and government credits as well.

Promoting Gun Culture at School

RHS has embraced school-based initiatives, including a commitment to restorative justice and peer mediation, that teach and encourage students to resolve conflicts nonviolently. JROTC’s militarism runs counter to these programs. Schools across the country are employing a variety of methods to curb bullying and violent incidents, create safe learning environments, and teach peaceful means of conflict resolution. JROTC’s introduction of weapons training, its partnership with the NRA to sponsor marksmanship matches, and its modeling of authoritarian militaristic solutions to problems contradict the schools’ stated opposition to violence.
Critics have been successful in getting JROTC to discontinue the use of live weapons in schools on a national level, but units continue to use air rifles for target practice at RHS and numerous other schools. Organizing makes a difference. In San Diego, for example, the Education Not Arms Coalition, made up of students, teachers, parents, and community groups, successfully removed target practice with air rifles from San Diego JROTC programs in 2009.

One School’s JROTC Story

In 2011, a former RHS principal, with the support of the school board and many staff members, laid down the red carpet for JROTC to create a program at our school. The JROTC contract requires the hiring of a minimum of two retired officers for the first 150 students enrolled as cadets. After 150, another instructor must be hired for each additional increment of 100 cadets. James and other retired military personnel teach courses in military science, called Leadership Education Training (LET), during the school day.
Three full-time JROTC instructors lead 13 sections of LET 1, 2, and 3 to 280 students. Last year, a new principal tried to make the JROTC class loads comparable to other teachers’ loads by laying off one of the commanders. Although the effort failed, James says he does not plan to ask for additional staffing at this time: “Even though I won that fight and she’s gone, it’s political. I’m a laid-back kind of guy, but if you push me into a corner, I’ll fight back and I’ll win. . . . I brought in the superintendent and the school board, the mayor of Troutdale, and the commander at Fort Lewis. We’re all still here, and she’s gone.”
James adds that they really should have a fourth officer since their “job is bigger than a teacher’s. We teach, mentor, and coach kids, and we take them on excursions. We take them to Florida and other places for rifle competitions.” Every teacher I know teaches, mentors, and coaches students; and if we had the Pentagon’s money, we would take them on many more excursions.
At RHS today, student loads for most non-JROTC teachers hover between 180 and 220 students (more than twice the load of the JROTC instructors) with class sizes in the 30s and low 40s. JROTC cadets often take LET in place of physical education, and a single PE teacher would normally support 250 or more students. If JROTC were eliminated at RHS, the district would hire fewer than half as many teachers to replace them—although it would be wonderful for our students if we, too, had student loads of 70 to 90. In general, the federal subsidy covers less than half the total salaries and none of the employment taxes or benefits for JROTC instructors. Schools wind up using extra money from their budgets to, in effect, subsidize a high school military training/recruiting program for the Pentagon.
JROTC instructors are not certified in the same way as other school district teachers. In some states they are not required to have more than a GED (although the commander must have at least a BA). Generally, the military decides who is qualified to be a JROTC instructor and then presents them to the school district for hiring. According to James, each of the three JROTC instructors at RHS has at least a BA. He says getting certified to teach in the program is “a double whammy because we have to be certified by both the state of Oregon and the Army.” (There is no required teacher training; Oregon simply requires JROTC instructors to take a test on the history of discrimination in Oregon.)

Teaching Militarism, Not Critical Thinking

The Reynolds LET 1 course description apprises students that they will learn “leadership, follower, and citizenship skills.” JROTC is military training. Instead of teaching toward a just and peaceful world, military training emphasizes dominance and nationalism. In fact, once students enlist in the military, they are no longer guided by the United States Constitution. Rather they are governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The Pentagon contracts with Pearson to write JROTC curriculum, including social studies, health, and leadership textbooks. The local school district has no control over their content. No process exists for regular certified staff to review JROTC materials for appropriateness, accuracy, or conformity to educational standards.
Teachers focused on social justice are critical of the historical perspectives of many mainstream textbooks. But, because the JROTC curriculum is focused on developing leaders for the U.S. military, there is a specific danger to these texts. For example, Lesson 2 of the LET 3 textbook is titled “Ethical Choices, Decisions, and Consequences.” The authors compare and contrast the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. They state that the sole cause of the Vietnam War was containment of communism: “American military personnel began deploying to Vietnam in 1954 to strengthen the country against communist North Vietnam.” The authors cite then-President Johnson’s 1964 statements that North Vietnam attacked a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin as the impetus for the broader war, ignoring overwhelming evidence from declassified documents that there was no such attack.
The narrative continues: “The United States went to war in Iraq as part of its global war on terrorism.” In the same paragraph, the authors introduce Osama bin Laden and explain the creation of al-Qaeda “to dislodge American forces in the Middle East.” The implication is clear—Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were working in cahoots to attack the United States. To further cement this alleged relationship, which did not exist, they quote George W. Bush: “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.” Nowhere in the case study or various historical timelines do the authors indicate that both Hussein and bin Laden were at one time strongly supported by the United States. Describing the arguments for the second Gulf War, the text notes a “lack of indisputable evidence” (as opposed to the presence of manufactured false evidence) that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
In outlining alternatives to these military invasions, the authors identify the only potential consequences as unacceptably negative. In the case of Vietnam, they cite the “domino theory,” which predicted one country after another becoming communist threats to the United States. In the case of Iraq, they quote then-President Bush without additional commentary: “We cannot wait for the final proof—the smoking gun—that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”
Lesson 3 is on “Global Citizenship Choices, Decisions, and Consequences.” The authors discuss intelligence as a tool of U.S. foreign policy: “The CIA focuses mostly on countries it thinks might be unfriendly. . . . Sometimes intelligence agencies have helped overturn the government of a country. . . . For example, the CIA took part in overthrowing the government of Salvador Allende. The United States government thought Allende was not favorable to our national interest. Like defense, diplomacy, foreign aid, and trade measures, intelligence is an important tool of foreign policy.” There is no questioning of the U.S.-led coup against the democratically elected president of Chile, nor is there any discussion of the consequences and implications of the decision.

“The greatest purveyor of violence...”

The sole mission of the U.S. military is to prepare for and fight wars. JROTC in middle and high schools, ROTC in colleges, the ASVAB test, military partnerships with schools, research and development programs—all are designed as tools for fulfilling this goal. Military recruiters and JROTC personnel are notorious for not disclosing the whole truth and for making seductive promises—verbally and in writing—that can be broken at any time. For example, students and staff are often told that undocumented students will receive legal citizenship papers if they enlist. This is false. By law, undocumented immigrants may not enlist in the U.S. armed forces, or even enroll in JROTC. (Documented immigrants may enlist and can receive citizenship status for doing so if they fulfill all requirements. Last spring Pentagon officials approved a policy that would allow a limited number of undocumented young people “with critical language or medical skills” and who came to the United States as children to enlist in the military, opening a pathway to eventual citizenship.)
JROTC is a component of the U.S. military apparatus, what King called the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”—and nothing about the current world situation would encourage him to modify that statement. As educators, we need to teach students to read the world, to question, and to critically analyze the history of U.S. militarism. And we must get JROTC out of our schools.  
In June, after this article had been accepted for publication, an avid (and apparently mentally unstable) JROTC student at RHS armed himself with a semi-automatic rifle and pistol, a knife, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. He fatally shot one student and injured a teacher before police cornered him and he took his own life. This tragedy highlights the importance of closing down programs that feed violent tendencies in vulnerable students and contradict school-based efforts to teach nonviolent conflict resolution.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Slate on the Hong Kong demonstrations: "The world's politest protesters"

Great article from Slate for today, Gandhi's birthday:

The World’s Politest Protesters

By  and 

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Hong Kong student protesters help recycle garbage during a quiet moment at the protest site on Oct. 1, 2014, in Hong Kong.
Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
The protest movement that has sprung to life in Hong Kong now represents the most serious challenge to Beijing’s authority since the Tiananmen protests of 1989. Beijing is obviously worried: Earlier this week it banned the photo-sharing site Instagram and ramped up censorship on the popular Chinese social media site Sina Weibo to unprecedented levels. 
But while the threat to Beijing’s power is real, the danger isn’t evident on Hong Kong streets: Rather than presenting scenes of smashed shops or violent confrontations with the police—the sort of images we have grown accustomed to in Cairo, Ukraine, and other sites of popular protests against oppressive regimes—the photos from central Hong Kong show smiling students sitting around doing their homework, passing out donations of food, and meticulously picking up litter—even sorting out the recyclables. What, then, is different about these Hong Kong demonstrators? And how might their almost exaggerated politeness help them against the notoriously severe Chinese Communist Party?
The answers to these questions can be found in the appropriately titled “Manual of Disobedience.” Published online several days before the Occupy Central campaign was set to begin, the document (written in Chinese and English) is part how-to guide and part philosophical mission statement. It details the movement’s tactics, the rules for nonviolent protest, the legal codes that may be violated, and the exact procedure to follow should someone be arrested. It also implores protesters to “avoid physical confrontation, but also to avoid developing hatred in [their] heart,” and explains that the protests must be a model of the values that they are striving to see in their society, namely “equality, tolerance, love, and care.” The protesters understand that these values will not only help win over sympathizers, but lay bare the illegitimacy of the regime if it moves against them with excessive force. These aren’t youthful idealists; these are savvy political operators who understand the secrets of successful nonviolent resistance.
The proof of this fact is playing out in the streets of Hong Kong right now. After the protesters’ first attempt to block the financial district was met with volleys of teargas from riot police, the people in the street did not fight back, leaving society shocked and emboldened by the authorities’ outrageous use of force. The next day, thousands more people turned up with signs supporting the students, condemning police tactics, and calling for the resignation of Hong Kong leader C.Y. Leung. Although it may seem obvious that a protest movement must win popular support to combat oppression, it is no easy feat, and something we have seen movements in dozens of countries fail to accomplish. The staunch adherence to nonviolence Occupy Central has demonstrated takes preparation, training, and discipline—a combination that’s very rare for many movements.
Most of the time, organizers aren’t prepared to handle the crowds that surge into the streets, and with no way to maintain calm and cohesion, too many movements have been derailed by a few thrown rocks or smashed storefronts. Governments seize on the smallest acts of disorder or violence as excuses to crack down. However, Occupy Central’s organizers seem to have come prepared. By issuing the manual and attempting to train their activists, they have maintained a united front and warded off the pitfalls that plague too many social movements.
If, as many people fear, mainland authorities crack down Tiananmen-style, the training and the discipline the protesters have displayed will serve them well, galvanizing support and isolating the Chinese authorities. On the other hand, if Beijing realizes the dilemma it faces, it will have no choice but to negotiate with Hong Kong’s protest leaders, a show of weakness that may ultimately inspire more yearning for democracy and even further protests. For now, while it is amusing to watch the most polite protesters in the world keeping up with their schoolwork and keeping the streets clean, their politeness actually demonstrates why they have become such a powerful force to reckon with.No one has a crystal ball for knowing what Beijing will do next. Right now the government appears to be set to try to wait the protesters out, hoping that their presence and the disruption of daily life will eventually alienate the movement from wider society. However, Occupy Central has positioned itself well, almost no matter the outcome.
Srdja Popovic is the co-founder and executive director of CANVAS, and the author of the forthcoming Blueprint for Revolution.
Tori Porell is a program officer at CANVAS.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Jacob David George, our brother

A news story headline from February 2013 that is part of our SOY display reads "VA: Suicides hit 22 per day."  That statistic just hit home in a terrible way when we learned that beloved Iraq Veterans Against the War member, singer-songwriter, bicycle activist, peacemaker Jacob David George, took his own life this week.  I remember meeting Jacob when he rolled into Austin by bicycle to attend the IVAW convention in July 2010.  His energy was contagious.  He crisscrossed the country on his bicycle to speak about his 3 army tours in Afghanistan and the moral injuries he sustained as a result.  His efforts to speak candidly about his pain and about his own views on the war were very meaningful for those who heard him speak and sing.

Jacob tried many kinds of treatment for his combat-related post-traumatic stress injuries.  He said that throwing his Army medals away during the IVAW protest at the NATO Summit in Chicago was one of the most healing actions that he had experienced.  He also returned to Afghanistan on a delegation with Voices for Creative Nonviolence to offer solidarity with the Afghan Peace Volunteers there.   The long term cure for war trauma is preventing war in the first place, and that was what Jacob was trying to do.  We mourn his death and the war that caused it.

Here are the lyrics to his song, "Support the Troops"

  “we just Need to support the troops"
is what they tell me

well, this is from a troop
so listen carefully

what we Need are teachers who understand the history of this country
what we Need is a decent living wage, so people ain’t cold and hungry
what we Need is bicycle infrastructure spanning this beauteous nation
what we Need are more trees and less play stations
what we Need is a justice system that seeks the truth
what we Need are more books and less boots

what we Need is love

for every woman and man
from southern Louisiana
to the mountains of Afghanistan

Now, it's true
The troops need support
the support to come home
they need treatment and jobs
and love for the soul

war ain't no good
for the human condition
I lost a piece of who I was
on every single mission
and I'm tellin’ you,
don't thank me for what I've done

give me a big hug
and let me know
we're not gonna let this happen again
because we support the troops
and we're gonna bring these wars to an end

Jacob’s poem appeared in After Action Review, a collection of writings by vets published by Warrior Writers in 2011. He also transformed it into a song that he traveled around the country singing to the thumping strings of a banjo. With other vets, he did cross-country bicycle rides for peace. He liked to call himself “a bicycle ridin, banjo pickin, peace rambling hillbilly from Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.”

A selection of Jacob George’s songs, from a collection called “Soldier’s Heart,” that he performed with a country band in Arkansas in 2013, was recorded in “Support Your Troops: A Special Report”:

Thanks to Jan Barry for posting these lyrics on his website

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

SOY launches new semester with tabling at Austin HS

Our first tabling of the new school year was great!  We really enjoyed being able to talk with students at Austin HS today during lunch.  Our list of what to do for a free t-shirt grew longer, as we added another couple of activities, such as asking students to write their ideas for how to help stop and prevent war.

We provided our usual brochures on military realities, alternatives to military enlistment, and an assortment of stickers, paper folders and reprints of the comic book-style story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that was produced by the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  Students were up to the t-shirt challenge and we appreciated their ideas toward International Day of Peace (coming up on Sept. 21).  Their responses to the question, "What could help stop or prevent war?" were these:

Results of the Penny Poll were almost equally tied priorities for Health Care, Education and the Environment (72, 72 and 71 pennies in those jars, respectively), 52 pennies for Humanitarian Aid and 42 pennies for the Military.

It was good to see this poster for a Global Student Leaders Summit on environmental sustainability and the announcement about the Spring 2015 trip to Costa Rica as part of that.  Austin HS has an Academy for Global Studies.  We agree that knowing more about the world is part of the solution!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Youth Conservation Corps - a rewarding summer job

This summer, my cousin, Yusuf, a high school student in Pennsylvania, had a great job.  He worked with the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) for 8 weeks, full-time at Valley Forge National Park.

YCC connects young people between the ages of 15 and 18 with work projects that help protect public lands in our national park system.  The Corps was founded in 1970.  Applicants are chosen by lottery, so previous park experience is not necessary.  Pay is federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher.

I asked Yusuf about his summer job:

Q:  How did you learn about the program and how did you apply?

I first learned about the program, the Youth Conservation Corps, from a friend of mine who was thinking about applying.  When I learned the name of the program, I simply did a google search on the YCC and clicked on this link 

Q: What kinds of park work would a typical day include for you?

The first half of the day would usually consist of doing invasive plant removal in various locations around the park.  However, mornings were also dedicated to repairing the various Riparian Buffers around the park's major stream.  Two other days were dedicated to assisting the maintenance team at the park by repairing and replacing all the informational signs scattered around the park.  The second half of the day was almost exclusively dedicated to removing the invasive species of crayfish from Valley Creek and tallying the number of natives species found in the same creek.  Every Friday was an "education day" or field trip.  The Park Service arranged tours of other parks, museums, an aquarium, and a canoe trip.

Q: Did you work as part of a team, usually, or on your own, or both?

Everyone worked together as part of a team, if someone started to stray from the group, our supervisor would call them back and we would resume work.

Q: What are a few highlights from your summer?

The camaraderie among the group by the end of our job was the best part of working with the YCC.  At the beginning of the job, none of us knew each other and we barely spoke, but by the end we had come up with so many inside jokes and specific memories linked to particular people in the work crew. 
​It should be noted that there is another group very much like the YCC called the Student Conservation Association.  We worked with our local branch of the SCA many times over the course of the summer.  It might also be a little easier to find an SCA group than a YCC group because the SCA is more widespread.  

So, if you are in high school and looking for a summer job that would help protect our environment and give you good job experience, consider applying to the Youth Conservation Corps.  Thanks, Yusuf! 

photos from the Valley Forge National Park flickr site 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bernice King advises a way forward with nonviolence

 great piece by Rev. Bernice King, CEO of  the King Center for Nonviolence in Atlanta, GA