Federal Way School District’s retiring superintendent Tom Murphy gets kudos for obtaining results. Nevertheless, educators and parents tend to compare their local schools favorably to other schools. 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 challenge parents of unsuccessful kids to motivate underachieving students. Such ideas do not endear Charlie to many Federal Way residents — especially those that formulate educational policy. We cannot improve students’ futures without talking 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 kids. They volunteer for many activities and acquire scholarships and character.
Two Federal Way high schools have ROTC. Some educators oppose ROTC programs on high school and college campuses. One local principal reportedly changed his mind when he saw the positive results. Two Federal Way high schools are presently without ROTC programs.
Cost is one objection to ROTC programs, but football and hip-hop are expensive, too. Do they produce as much character? Character isn’t just a word deployed to raise funds for sports programs. Our community and the nation’s security depend on character in tomorrow’s leaders. Let’s aim for ROTC in all our high schools.