No Child Left Behind By Military Recruiters
The No Child Left Behind Act which went into effect last week has some surprising implications for high school students. Buried deep within the funding benefits is Section 9528 which grants the Pentagon access to directories with students names, addresses and phone numbers so that they may be more easily contacted and recruited for military service. Prior to this provision, one-third of the nation's high schools refused recruiters' requests for students' names or access to campus because they believed it was inappropriate for educational institutions to promote military service.
This portion of the Department of Education's initiative to create better readers, testers and homework-doers is a departure from the previously federally guaranteed privacy protections students have traditionally known. Until now, schools have been explicitly instructed to protect the integrity of students' information -- even to guard students' private information from college recruiters. Students must consent to releasing their personal data when they take college entrance exams.
However, since September 11th , educational institutions have slid down the slippery slope in doling out student information when solicited by the FBI and now the Pentagon. Only one university -- Earlham in Indiana -- declined to release student data when approached after the terrorist attacks last fall.
The No Child Left Behind act paves the way for the military to have unimpeded access to underage students who are ripe for solicitation for the military. This blatant contradiction of prior federal law is not only an invasion of students' privacy but an assault on their educational opportunities as well. Too many students are lulled by the siren songs of military service cooing promises of funding for higher education. Too many students have fallen between the cracks due to underfunded educational programs, underresourced schools and underpaid teachers. They are penalized in their educational opportunities for the systemic failure to put our money where our priorities ought to be: in schools.
It is critical that students, schools and school districts have accurate information regarding this No Child Left Behind Act in preparation for the forthcoming military solicitation. First, the Local Educational Agency (LEA), not individual schools, may grant dissemination of student information. When recruiters approach individual schools, the administration should refer them to the school district office where they are supposed to visit in the first place.
In some cases, the recruiters on site have coerced employees at individual schools to sign previously prepared documents stating that in refusing to release student information, they are not in compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act and risk losing federal funding. All requests for student information should be referred to the school district's office and not left to the discretion of individual school employees. School boards, Parent-Teacher Organizations and Student Council/ASB groups can mobilize to support the administrations who are not willing to distribute private student information.
Second, students or their parents may opt themselves out of this recruitment campaign. So as not to be in violation of the previous federal law which restricts disclosure of student information, the LEA must notify parents of the change in federal policy through an addendum to the student handbook or individual letters sent to students' homes. Parents and students can notify their school administration and district in writing of their desire to have their records kept secret.
The San Francisco School District has maintained a policy of non-recruitment by the military and is leading the nation in their efforts to educate parents and students on their right to privacy. As advocates for their students, the district is sending home individual letters to parents outlining their options for protecting their child's information.
At the heart of this argument over students' records and privacy is the true purpose and meaning of education. Is the goal of education to provide a fertile field of students ripe for the picking by the military which will send them to the front lines of battle, potentially never to return? Is the essence of education to dichotomize the availability of quality education between those with ample finances and those with no financial mobility?
Or is education meant to develop students' minds, hearts and talents through self-discovery and academic exploration? Does education aim to promote critical thinking skills, empathy for others, understanding of individual roles in community service, and a sense of global connectedness? Was education designed to be an equitable opportunity for all students?
A newspaper from the U.K., The Scotsman, recently interviewed a young American woman on an aircraft carrier in the Middle East. Eighteen-year-old Karen de la Rosa said, "I have no idea what is happening. I just hear the planes launching above my head and pray that no one is going to get killed. I keep telling myself I'm serving my country."
But is her country serving her?
The relationship between militarism and education is evident. The current Department of Education budget proposal for 2003 is $56.5 billion. The recently-approved Department of Defense budget is $396 billion, nearly seven times what is allocated for education, and more than three times the combined military budgets of Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Cuba, Sudan and Syria. An escalated war in Iraq could add more than $200 billion to the defense budget as well.
Students are continually guilted into shouldering the burden of responsibility when they do not succeed in school and all too often accept as inevitable their fate of being sucked into military service. The Leave No Child Behind Act is a wake up call to students to reclaim their privacy, to reinvest their energy into demanding quality education and to remind their leaders that stealing money from education to pay for military is unacceptable.
Leah C. Wells serves as the Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.