Few people know about Section 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act, but it can be a killer.
Known as the Military Recruitment Clause, it requires public schools to give information about students to military recruiters. Schools, of course, are eager to perform this service to the armed forces since failure to comply carries the risk of losing federal aid.
Inviting the military into public schools by itself might not be a problem, but recruiters are increasingly faced with stepped-up needs for fighters in Iraq and declining enlistment at home. This causes some recruiters to use high-pressure sales pitches on teenagers to fulfill their quotas.
As the New York Times put it in an editorial Jan. 4, "Military recruiters can blitz youngsters with uninvited phone calls to their homes and on-campus pitches replete with video war games." Recruiters are also known to target the most vulnerable young people, minorities and the rural and urban poor who have fewer choices for jobs or higher education.
Though the law gives parents the right to opt-out of military contact on behalf of their children, most parents don’t know much about this or other details of No Child Left Behind, a law designed to hold schools more accountable to taxpayers. Parents who do not want their children solicited by the military must put their opt-out request in writing to ensure that the high school does not provide a student’s address and phone number.
When a high school does give notice to parents about their right to privacy from federal intrusion, that notice is likely to be buried in obscure language. You might find it in an official student handbook, coming somewhere after a dozen or so pages detailing zero-tolerance policies for violence in school, parking regulations or grading procedures.
Perhaps if parents knew about the deceptions that are common in recruitment tactics, they would ask the military not to contact their children. Consider the story of New Jersey substitute teacher Sue Neiderer, just after her son was killed in Iraq. She told reporters that the recruiters constantly pursued her son, promising that he would not be on any front lines and that the Army would pay off his debts. She recounted that when her son, Seth, told the recruiter that his mother had questions about signing up, the recruiter said: "Aren’t you man enough to sign on the dotted line yourself? Who wears the pants in your family?"
The U.S. military spends many millions of dollars annually on recruitment, and much of that targets high-achieving, low-income youth. Nearly 40 percent of the American deaths in Iraq are people of color, such as Lori Piestewa, the Hopi mother of three who became the first woman to die in combat in Iraq.
She wanted to be the first in her family to go to college, but not wanting to take advantage of others to make ends meet, and having been a high-ranking ROTC student in high school, she signed on the dotted line when asked to do so. Although ROTC stands for "Reserve Officer Training Corps," she, like most ROTC students, went to a country where the front lines are everywhere — even in a mess tent — and where she died in action.
Besides not sufficiently informing parents about their right to sign a form that would prevent recruiters from calling on students at home, public schools also tend to violate Section 9528’s requirement for giving students equal access to alternatives to military service.
Section 9528 is a sad indication of what is happening in our schools under the guise of education, but on paper, at least, it gives parents and students certain rights regarding choice and informed consent. Now is the time to emphasize those rights, and to make sure young people and their parents know what military service means.
I served this country as a Marine, and I know that military service is not just about the promise of future education, the cool uniform, the amazing technology of modern warfare, or even about loving one’s country and wanting to help it. It is ultimately a question of life and death. A young person fresh out of high school needs to weigh carefully the crucial decision to go into battle.
Don Trent Jacobs, also known as Wahinkipe Topa-Four Arrows, is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He teaches at Northern Arizona University and the Fielding Graduate Institute, two schools that graduate the highest number of American Indian students in the country. He lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.
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