Hey, recruiters, leave those kids alone

Teachers unions, other public education advocates, parents, administrators and students are gearing up for a big fight on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law that will happen this year. Some will be rightfully advocating that high stakes testing, the main component of NCLB, is fundamentally flawed. As PWW writer Deb Wilmer put it in last week’s issue, “Schools are becoming little more than test-prep factories that suck the life out of children and those responsible for their education.”

Still others in the NCLB fight will focus on the paltry federal funding for education, especially special needs education, and the government’s back door pushing of vouchers and other privatization schemes.

These are critical fights.

However, there’s a small but important piece missing so far. And that’s the opportunity to get rid of the sweeping access that military recruiters have to our kids.

Buried in the No Child law is a little known provision that requires schools to give over students’ names, addresses and phone numbers to the military — unless the students’ parents request — in writing — that their child’s information not be given. This wholesale giveaway of kids to the grasp of the military is camouflaged with equal access wording. That is, military recruiters get the same access to students as colleges.

Well, there’s a big difference here between encouraging a high schooler to go to college and letting the military have a crack at her or him. It’s called war — and an unjust, illegal war in Iraq at that.

Since the Iraq war, recruitment numbers have been down. So the Army in particular has been worried about this trend, and has given bigger bonuses to recruiters and relaxed recruitment rules, accepting dropouts, known drug abusers and members of racist or other hate groups. There are also reports that recruiters mislead and lie to students about a host of so-called benefits from joining. This includes misinformation on college tuition aid and even promises that a new recruit will never see combat.

My husband and I just filled out our second “opt-out” form for our son. We fill it out every year. The first year we had to ask the school office for the form and urge them to get it out to the parents because parents don’t know the access that recruiters have, nor do they know about “opting out.” I faxed it to the Board of Education hoping that somebody on the other end will actually take my son’s name out of the database. Who knows? And what a burden it is for parents.

Peace activists have organized grassroots opt-out campaigns. Often this means going to a local school and passing out the form with a leaflet explaining the law and how to opt out, or groups meeting with local school governing bodies to push the opt out form or curb the recruiters. High school students also have organized in their own schools to raise awareness about military recruitment.

Without such campaigns, thousands of parents wouldn’t have known about the far-reaching ability of the military to — with federal government assistance — conscript our kids. Nevertheless the opt-out campaign is not efficient enough to reach the millions it needs to reach. What is needed is a campaign to strip out from No Child the provision that gives such broad access to our kids. Peace activists have to join the fight shaping up around No Child reauthorization. Those in motion already on No Child should talk about abolishing this recruiting rule in their demands. Public schools should not be factories that produce cannon fodder for wars based on lies.

By joining together we can borrow a phrase from Pink Floyd: Hey, recruiters, leave those kids alone.

Teresa Albano (talbano @ pww.org) is editor of the People’s Weekly World.