The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen."...  ... George Washington.

Commentary of the Day - June 11, 2005: No Child Left Unrecruited.  Guest commentary by Eric R. Eaton.

Forget the specter of a reinstatement of the military draft.  In reality there is already an insidious attempt in effect to reap more potential soldiers.  Some call it "no child left unrecruited."  A little known provision of the No Child Left Behind Act, passed by Congress in January of 2002, requires that high schools disclose the names, addresses, and phone numbers of junior and senior students to recruiters of the armed forces, or else risk withdrawal of federal funds from their district.  This also applies to private schools receiving federal funding.  It is up to the parents of individual students to provide a written statement requesting that this private information not be disseminated.  Thus far only obscure independent media have bothered bringing the issue to light.  The topic is receiving a little more press of late for at least two reasons.  There is an attempt being made to change the wording of that part of the No Child Left Behind Act, and reports from the Pentagon show that Army recruitment is down despite all the weapons available for soliciting our youth.

How did a mostly well-meaning education reform bill get hijacked by the Department of Defense to gain greater access to our youth?  According to a story by David Goodman in the November/December, 2002 issue of Mother Jones, the Pentagon complained to congress in 1999 that recruiters were denied access to schools on over 19,000 occasions, and claimed up to fifteen percent of the nation's high schools were unfriendly when it came to military recruiters.  Twenty-five percent of schools supposedly refused to provide student directory information to recruiters, but all of these statistics remain largely undocumented and unsubstantiated.  Further, over the course of the 1990s, the number of high school graduates who said they intended to join the military dropped from 32% to 25%, and the cost of recruiting one individual doubled from $6,000 to $12,000.  In response to these trends, Representative David Vitter (R-Louisiana) sponsored the provision that is now known as Section 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act.  He is quoted as denouncing the "problem schools" as having 'demonstrated an anti-military attitude that I thought was offensive.'  The coercive nature of the amendment itself could also be considered offensive, as bluntly summarized by John Shimkus (R-Illinois):  'No recruiters, no money.'

Fortunately, not all congressmen share the views of Vitter and Shimkus.  In an interview on the syndicated radio program "Democracy Now!," which aired Friday, March 18, 2005, Representative Jim McDermott (D-Washington state) described his plans to amend that portion of the act such that opting out would be the default option.  He is supported in his efforts by Representatives Mike Honda (co-sponsor), Pete Stark and Lynn Woolsey of California.  He held a press conference on the steps of the capital building on Thursday, March 17, to announce a petition drive for this bill.

In an odd alliance, Rep. McDermott has partnered with the punk band Anti-Flag to publicize the petition drive.  Anti-Flag is no stranger to grassroots activism, having joined with Punk Voter during the 2004 election campaign, registering hundreds of thousands of young people to vote at its concert venues.  The musical act will be on the road again shortly to promote awareness of these covert recruitment tactics, and to circulate petitions.

Once students learn about these practices, there is often quick opposition and action.  At McDermott's press conference, a high school student from New Jersey related that student activism at his school resulted in 90% of the student body taking the opt out avenue.  Such cases are the exception that proves the effectiveness of the rule.

Currently, school staff are not required to disclose the access the Pentagon has to a student's private information, but even when they do, the notification is often lost in the shuffle of paperwork every parent must go through at the beginning of the school year.  Miss the deadline for opting out, and you are out of luck.  This is not to say principals and counselors remain collectively unconcerned.  Bruce Hunter, the chief lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators, sees the beginning of a slippery slope, whereby various corporate and private interests could eventually demand the same access that the Pentagon already enjoys.  In Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California, districts already bar recruiters from school campuses, citing discrimination by the military against gays and lesbians.  Left unspoken is the vulnerability of racial minorities and the economically disadvantaged who are disproportionately recruited with the promise of a future college education that might be financially out of reach otherwise.

Ironically, there is little evidence that any of this is working to the advantage of recruiters.  According to a Reuters' News Service Report on March 6, 2005, the Army claims it is six percent behind in its recruitment targets over all, with the Army Reserves being down by about ten percent, and the National Guard down a whopping twenty-six percent.  [Ed. note: Recent news reports indicate that Army has continued to miss recruiting goals.  In March the goal was missed by 31%, in April the gap was 42%, and in May the gap was 25% (based on a goal that was lowered from 8,050 to 6,700 new recruits.)]

Although changes in the No Child Left Behind law to protect the privacy of student information may not pass, parents can take affirmative steps to opt out of the requirement that information about their children must be given to recruiters.  Many organizations offer online information and sample opt out forms for parents to submit to school officials.

© 2005, Eric R. Eaton
Eric Eaton is a freelance writer and entomologist from Portland, Or, who now resides in Tucson, AZ.  More of Eric's writing can be found on his web site: Bug Eric.

The IP comments: The IP's take on this issue is somewhat, though not entirely, different than Eric's.  The all-volunteer U.S. military, which has been in existence for the last 30+ years was instituted in reaction to the Vietnam experience in which a largely conscripted force was used to fight an unpopular "policy" war.  We were fortunate that during most of this 30-year period following Vietnam the country was not faced with a protracted conflict.  The relatively small, highly professional, all-volunteer force of regular, reserve, and National Guard troops was able to meet the challenges of limited combat situations with excellent results from a military perspective.  During that period service in the military often was an attractive choice for young men and women -- mostly from families with limited means -- who wanted the educational opportunities and other benefits that came with military service.  The benefits were substantial and the risks were not that high.

Iraq, however, has become another unpopular "policy" war that has put enormous stresses on our relatively small all-volunteer forces.  Many Marine units now are engaged in their fifth tour of duty in the country, and many Army units are in their third tour of duty.  In addition, large numbers of reserve and National Guard units have been deployed for extended periods of time.  In essence, only a very small segment of American society -- those in the all-volunteer military and their families -- have been called upon to sacrifice.  These largely are the sons and daughters of the poor and lower middle class who have been called upon to fight in Iraq.  We don't see very many sons and daughters of the wealthy and well connected volunteering for service these days.  That fact has not been lost on the parents of high school students who are being recruited.  They may not be wealthy or well connected but they can see the news reports, and they realize that military service today carries with it substantial risk.  Increasingly, they are becoming unwilling to contribute their sons and daughters to a war with insurgents that seems endless.

The fact that recruiting efforts have had to be tied to a program that was intended to improve the quality of K-12 education speaks volumes.

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