2005-09-29 / This Week's Attitude

School Funding Comes With Military Recruiting Agenda

This Week
By Neil S. Friedman

With the war in Iraq dragging on and American KIAs nearing the 2,000 mark, military recruiting has faced with record shortages this year. What’s more, that situation is unlikely to change in the immediate future and as long as the U.S. is mired in war that is steadily becoming more and more unpopular.

In order to combat the military’s deficiency there’s a tactic being used, courtesy of a little known provision in President George Bush’s 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. Created to provide education funding under specific federal guidelines, some wily elected official(s), no doubt pressed by a belligerent White House official, managed to insert a clause into the legislation that mandates school districts to provide military recruiters with students’ names, home telephone numbers and addresses or risk losing millions in education subsidies.

Perhaps when the legislation was enacted, most senators and congressmen, especially liberal-minded ones, overlooked or ignored the part that gave military recruiters the privilege of contacting imminent high school graduates. Incidentally, that same information was also mandated for college recruiters, which may be why it was included without much protest, despite the obvious privacy issue.

Of course, anyone who would have honorably voted against the legislation, merely due to that single provision, would have consequently been questioned about the motive and branded anti-education.

It’s also important to know that not one member of the House or Senate currently has a child serving in the military and it is unlikely that, regardless of whether or not they support the Iraqi conflict, they would advise their children to volunteer in these uncertain times.

As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert pointed out, “other people’s children” are fighting this war.

Herbert also wrote that the Army issued a manual — “School Recruiting Program Handbook” — to guide military personnel in their pursuit of wavering prospects. The manual, he noted in a June column, also suggests several approaches to seek out recruits, including contacting football coaches to offer training assistance in exchange for access to players and getting involved in homecoming activities for personal contact with students.

While the volunteer Army was adequate for the nation’s peacetime military requirements, it seems to have reached its limits since the Iraqi war began and as it has grown more out of favor.

Furthermore, it appears as recruiting quotas fall short, even those who still support the war would rather their children not enlist, knowing that whatever benefits military service may offer it does not take priority over the hazards of combat duty.

For years the volunteer army was an alluring option to young Americans whose families could not afford to send them to college or who lacked sufficient grades and the drive to pursue education after high school. By volunteering and receiving enlistment bonuses and other incentives, recruits could learn a trade that could lead to a career when their four-year hitch ended or be guaranteed funds for a college education after they served. That appeal was diluted when service in Iraq also became an unwelcome prospect.

To present the military with a larger recruiting pool, the access provision was inserted into the No Child Left Behind legislation. Public high schools receiving federal financing under the act must comply with the law. Unless a parent or student returns an opt-out form distributed at the beginning of the school year or, in New York City, notifies the Department of Education in writing by October 14, that student’s personnel records will be available to military and college recruiters.

It certainly goes against the American concept of safeguarding confidentiality, which is why the issue has attracted interest from the New York Civil Liberties Union, which opposes what it considers a blatant invasion of privacy and has issued a pamphlet entitled, “No Child Left Unrecruited.”

There’s nothing wrong with recruiting, but when it comes to the armed forces it’s likely that while persuasive military recruiters explain the great opportunities to potential candidates and they purposely avoid alluding to the perils of military service.

After informing candidates about “all they can be” in the Army, high school students possibly at the crossroads of their lives, should also be made fully aware of the inherent risks that come with putting on a uniform.

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