Military has too much access to schools
Balance needed on recruiting information
Where have all the young men [and women] gone?
Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn….
(from “Where Have all the Flowers Gone” by Pete Seeger)
As the battles rage in Iraq and potential hot spots loom elsewhere, military recruiters have to drum up a constant supply of new recruits. This is big business. They may need as many as 150,000 recruits this year for the all-volunteer armed forces, and they will spend over $2 billion — almost $14,000 per recruit.
Where will they find all these young men and women? On the streets? In the unemployment lines? No. Most will be found in our high schools.
Training manuals for recruiters tell them how to “penetrate the school market”, how to “cultivate coaches, librarians, administrative staff, teachers,” and other “centers of influence” who can help them in their quest for new recruits.
Students and parents report that recruiters can be relentless in their pursuit of young men and women, sometimes refusing to stop even after repeated requests. Surprisingly, school officials often go out of their way to help, even when this may not be in the best interests of the students. Here are some of the ways that high schools in this area help recruiters:
- High schools turn over students’ names, addresses, and telephone numbers. The “No Child Left Behind” Act requires schools to provide this information, but only after they notify parents and students that they have the right to have their names removed from the list. Ask the school in your community: Does the school clearly inform students and parents that their information will be given to recruiters unless they opt out. Does the school make it easy for parents or students to opt out?
- Schools allow the military to give tests during school time. Many schools give the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test each year. It is designed to identify potential recruits and is actively promoted by recruiters, but it is of little or no value except to those who want to enlist. The military administers and scores the test and gives students’ names, contact information, career interests and test scores to recruiters (even if they opted out of the list). [Schools have the right to use ‘Option 8’ that keeps all information from recruiters, but the vast majority of schools allow all information to go to the recruiters. If the school gives the test, does it make clear it is for people who may want to enlist in the military, and that students do not have to take it?
- Schools allow recruiters to solicit students in the school. Although private employers are typically restricted to a career day or individual appointments in the guidance office, many schools permit recruiters to have a table in the lunch room. In some schools, recruiters are there every week with literature and gifts. (The law requires only that they be granted the same access as employers and colleges.) What is the school’s policy about giving recruiters access to students?
- Recruiters present a one-sided picture of military service as a career option. Recruiters have monthly quotas to fill, and some will paint a romanticized picture of seeing the world, learning valuable skills, and earning money for college. Unfortunately, many recruits experience a far different reality, but once they are in, it’s too late to reconsider. Students need to hear the facts and learn about nonviolent ways to finance an education, learn needed skills, and develop their leadership potential. Does the school provide equal access for alternative information?
- Schools should make sure students understand that the use of military force is controversial. Many people believe that joining the military is a good way to serve one’s country and that war is necessary, or at least a necessary evil. Others believe there are alternatives to war and bloated defense budgets that take money away from education, financial aid for college, job training, and health care; they believe there are better ways to serve one’s country. If there is no debate, the powerful pro-military system simply perpetuates itself. Does the school encourage open discussion and debate on such issues? Does it invite knowledgeable people to present alternative viewpoints?
The founders of our nation recognized open discussion and debate as the foundations of democracy. As educational institutions, schools have a responsibility to help their students get the information and perspective they need, especially about controversial issues such as military service. Schools should ensure that students have the facts that recruiters fail to mention, and information about nonmilitary career options and nonviolent ways to resolve international conflicts.
It’s our duty, as parents and members of the community, to make sure our schools live up to this responsibility.
Peter Crownfield of Bethlehem, a former school administrator, is coordinator of the youth and militarism program for the LEPOCO Peace Center, which visits schools to provide information about ways to serve one’s country and finance a college education by working for peace and justice