As never before, military recruiters are exploiting the impoverishment of our public schools. Everywhere school systems are suffering from a lack of resources, and are happy to accept assistance from any quarter — even if it is the US military. An often overlooked consequence is the threat to student privacy.
The military’s influence begins with the acquisition of student contact information. For the unwary, it’s an invisible process. Part of the No Child Left Behind Law directs schools to release student contact information to the Armed Forces — unless the student has explicitly requested otherwise. We see this as a violation of student privacy; we believe recruitment should be limited to the recruiting stations in most towns, and should never take place in our schools.
The automatic release of student contact information is only one means by which the military supplies its recruiting pipeline. Perhaps even more significant is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, a high school aptitude test offered at no charge to school systems by the military. Even those who have “opted out” of the automatic release of contact information risk having recruiters learn their addresses, phone numbers and test results.
If the ASVAB is given, parents and students should be notified in advance, and should be given the choice to opt out of taking it. Also all students must understand that it is a voluntary test. Those students who want to take the test should sign up in advance. Students who do not should be permitted to attend classes as usual on that day.
How remarkable that school boards in Maine were nearly unanimous in rejecting the collection of student Social Security numbers (now withdrawn by the state) while not questioning the transmission of student contact information to the military. Is it appropriate for schools’ federal funding to be dependent upon their cooperation with the military?
Unfortunately, many Americans continue to uncritically accept military recruiting of their children without question — even if it violates the need for individual privacy, ordinarily a cardinal principle.
Of course, there are more overt aspects to military influence in our public schools. Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, or JROTC, units have proliferated dramatically over the last 40 years, from 1,200 units nationwide in 1967 to nearly 3,500 today, particularly in “economically or educationally deprived areas.”
Often, students participate in lieu of physical education classes, an especially tempting option for school districts because physical education programs can be quite expensive. It’s common for public military high schools to require four years of JROTC participation, but recently some nonmilitary high schools have begun to mandate participation as well.
On the positive side, some of Maine’s high schools have adopted a clear, written policy determining recruiter access to students.
For example, Morse High School in Bath has a student initiated policy, agreed to by school officials, that allows recruiters to meet with students only by appointment and only in the guidance office with no distribution of recruiting materials outside the guidance office.
Some schools have added to their policy that recruiters may visit the school only two or three times a year or on career days. AFSC Maine urges all Maine high schools to adopt this clear policy so that recruiters are no longer a presence in school hallways, cafeterias and classrooms.
If we agree that schools must foster rigorous and independent critical thinking skills,don’t we need to address those influences that tend to impose ideological blinders on high school students? Students benefit from weighing all kinds of information when faced with important decisions. We believe that inquiry and dialogue are vital for students, especially in making choices that can profoundly affect their futures.
We hope Maine families will encourage teachers to invite speakers from groups such as the American Friends Service Committee or Veterans for Peace to classes or meetings of student groups.
We are aware of the pressure put on schools to comply with federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind act but we believe compliance can occur without depriving students of open discussion of the issues.
Jim Brokaw lives in Brunswick and volunteers with the American Friends Service Committee Program on Youth and Militarism.