Thursday, February 09, 2023

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A. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines: Leaving No Child Behind

While public school officials have tried to push out at-risk youth because of their supposed threat to school safety, many of the same children are being aggressively lured into a life of violence by the government. A further twisted irony of the No Child Left Behind Act is that it requires high schools that receive federal aid to supply military recruiters with the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of their students. Although the Act contains an opt-out provision that permits parents to block such information from being shared, many do not know about this right. In addition, the Act requires schools to provide military recruiters with the same access to students as employers and colleges. But access, many argue, has evolved into overreaching and coercion. As a result, such provisions have permitted armed forces to target some of the nation's most vulnerable students, even more directly endangering their lives.

When Congress was debating NCLB's Recruiter Access provisions, one of the Act's sponsors, Representative Pete Sessions, made clear that the idea was to connect the military with students believed to have no other opportunities, whether it be college or other directions . . . . Reports of recruiter saturation of poor and minority schools in recent years abound. California high schools with a high concentration of low-income Latino students, as in East Los Angeles, have been choice targets for military recruitment, while more affluent high schools in the area have been passed over. Similarly, in New York City's predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods, such as Bushwick where over a quarter of its residents live below the poverty line, high school students have contended with badgering by military recruiters both on and off campus.

Outside of the urban setting, recruiters have hit poor rural schools hard. Nearly half of all recruits come from rural communities, where economic opportunities often are scarce. In the small town of Martinville, Virginia, for instance, military representatives see Magna Vista High School, where half of the students qualify for free lunch, as an anchor for their conscription efforts. In fact, school officials provide recruiters a list of seniors to contact, and encourage upperclassmen to take a vocational test required by the military. Although many of these same youth scored poorly on this test, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), the military has accepted them into their ranks.

In the wake of our post-September 11 War on Terror--declared the same year President George W. Bush signed NCLB into law--the military has increasingly directed its attention toward at-risk and marginalized students. Such practices have drawn sharp criticism. According to Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy L. McConico, the Army began a recruitment push following our invasion of Iraq that seems controversial at best and grossly unethical at worst. Desperate for bodies to deploy, the Army lowered its recruiting standards in three key ways in 2005: (1) in assessing into its ranks a larger percentage of recruits who have not earned a high school diploma; (2) by increasing the number of recruits who are cognitively-challenged; and (3), by waiving earlier prohibitions against recruits who possessed criminal records. Thus, contrary to closing the education gap in this country, it seems NCLB and its effects have helped to push the neediest students onto our front lines.

Although such children are not old enough to sign a contract, purchase cigarettes, or vote, all branches of the U.S. military permit youth as young as seventeen to sign up for active duty with the consent of a parent or guardian. They additionally sponsor Delayed Entry Programs (DEP), in which young people sign agreements to enter the military at some future date. According to one website, which individuals affiliated with the U.S. military appear to run, one of the benefits of DEP is that an individual can delay his or her reporting date for up to 365 days to coincide . . . with personal plans such as high school graduation. The Army also informs youth entering the Army's DEP that if they refer other youth to enlist on a delayed basis, they can increase their own pay grade and rank once they become active-duty members. Although the DEP reportedly allow teens to change their minds about entering active duty, numerous accounts suggest youth are being misled, harassed, and even threatened with legal action when they attempt to do so.

Students, parents, teachers, and others offer accounts of poor and minority youth being pressured and misled by recruiters in others ways. For instance, the Army's own School Recruiting Training Handbook provides advice to recruiters working in high schools; it suggests that they should not visit schools during the first days of the school year as school officials may resent an early invasion by recruiters. From there, however, it recommends they engage in aggressive recruiting tactics, such as delivering doughnuts to the staff once a month, volunteering to train the football team during practices, seeking permission to eat in the lunchroom with students to develop relationships, and participating in school activities targeted toward minority students, like Hispanic Heritage Month. Female students of color in Brooklyn, New York report that recruiters flirt with them, promise a lot of cute guys if they enlist, and make other empty promises.

During my own travels over the last few years to programs like the Symposium that the Journal sponsored, I have seen hundreds of new recruits walking through airports in fatigues, looking overwhelmed and scared. I have talked to numerous boys with unshaven faces and girls with sparkle nail polish who appear to be heading off to summer camp rather than war. Many seem to have received similar lofty promises. On a recent flight, I sat between four teens heading to boot camp, two of whom were wearing high school graduation t-shirts. They shared stories of incentives they had been offered to enlist. Some said they were promised $5000, while others were assured $10,000. However, it seems none had actually received the money. In addition, the only woman in the group shared her hopes that she would be stationed in Hawaii, as her recruiter had suggested to her. On another flight, I sat next to a teenager from a small town in Louisiana who was returning home at the end of boot camp because his wife had given birth. He indicated it would be a short visit prior to being sent overseas. He, too, shared with me concerns about statements recruiters made to him, and he complained that he had yet to see the $10,000 he had been promised.

Even more outrageous conduct targeting at-risk youth has been documented. In one well-publicized incident, a Colorado honors student posed as a dropout who was addicted to marijuana. Not only did recruiters encourage him to create a fake diploma from a fictional school to meet stated military requirements, but they were caught on tape encouraging him to purchase a detox kit to help cover up the fact that he might test positive for drugs. Another retired recruiter has admitted to having teenagers lie about medical conditions and deny having juvenile court records in order to satisfy enlistment requirements.

These examples of recruiters' willingness to dupe even the most vulnerable of young people into enlisting clearly stems from the pressure recruiters are under to produce bodies. Since the declaration of the War on Terror, many recruiters have been pushed to work thirteen-hour shifts, seven days a week, to try to lure at least two youth a month to join their ranks. Those failing to meet quotas have been verbally abused by commanders, punished with time away from family, and threatened with their own further deployment. This kind of atmosphere, pushing some recruiters so far as to forge signatures to help youth enlist, clearly has taken its toll. A staggering number of military recruiters--seventeen in all-- have taken their lives since we declared our War on Terror. According to the former girlfriend of one recruitment officer who served in Iraq and committed suicide in 2008, He was morally opposed to putting more young men into that situation, where they could be injured or killed or see the things he'd seen. Despite these tragic tales, recruitment of vulnerable youths continues in a variety of ways.

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