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Congress Plants Another Pentagon Virus in Public Education

Rick Jahnkow -

Another hole has been ripped open in the barrier protecting U.S. civilians from the influence of militarism. In December 2001, the U.S. House and Senate gave final approval to an education bill with a provision that severely erodes the right of local schools to control military access to campuses and personal information about students. The legislation, signed by President Bush on January 8, 2002, will go into effect soon as Public Law No: 107-110.

The military access law was part of a larger bill (H.R. 1) that provides various funds for local schools and programs to improve student performance. The bill also extends and changes programs begun under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

Section 9528 of the new legislation states:

Each local educational agency receiving assistance under this Act shall provide, on a request made by military recruiters or an institution of higher education, access to secondary school students’ names, addresses, and telephone listings.

It also directs that

each local educational agency receiving assistance under this Act shall provide military recruiters the same access to secondary school students as is provided generally to post-secondary educational institutions or to prospective employers of those students.

Schools that fail to conform to these requirements will lose substantial federal education funds.

Originally, the Senate version of the bill did not penalize schools for placing restrictions on military recruiting. However, the House version, which sought to coerce schools into cooperating with the Pentagon, prevailed for the most part in joint conference committee negotiations. Some believe the post-September 11 political climate was responsible for this.

On the positive side, there is a stipulation that a secondary school student or the parent of the student may request that the student’s name, address, and telephone number not be released without written consent, and public and private schools will be required to notify parents of this option. This reinforces preexisting law -- the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) -- that grants the right to opt out when student lists are released.

The Secretary of Education has until May 8 to notify all secondary schools of the new recruiter access requirements. It is possible that proposed regulations implementing the law will be published in the Federal Register, with time provided for public comment before final regulations are printed in the Federal Register.
During all of this time, school districts that have restrictive recruiting policies can consider various options for new policies.

One possible response from schools would be to make sure that information about the right of students and parents to opt out when student lists are being given to recruiters is presented to them in a very prominent way and is translated into other languages in large immigrant communities. Forms with check-off boxes could also be issued to facilitate the process of opting out, and their completion could be a required part of annual school registration.

Since schools will be required to give military recruiters the same campus access that is offered to representatives of higher education and prospective employers, schools could also make sure that military recruiters get nothing more than what the other entities are offered. For example, the military could be prohibited from sending speakers to schools unless a forum has been established for students to also hear alternative speakers. Or schools could explore policies that would set standards for nondiscrimination that would be applied equally to all outside campus and career representatives.

The different responses that will be possible to the new law will depend not only on how the final regulations are worded, but also on the politics in each community and the degree to which schools are determined to maintain their civilian autonomy. The Pentagon understands the key role that education plays in determining the future political climate in the U.S. People with progressive politics and values need to be equally aware of this role and recognize the disastrous long-term consequences we will face if the militarization of education is allowed to go any further.

Forced Militarization: a Growing Trend in Education

The latest effort by the military to force its way into young people’s lives via the new high school access law is not an isolated event. It is part of a steady progression in the militarization of education in the U.S. that goes back almost two decades. It began in the 1980s, when a law was passed to deny federal financial aid to students who refused to register for a possible future military draft. College campuses were required to act as agents for the Selective Service System and assist with the implementation and enforcement of the law. Then states began adopting their own parallel laws to deny state-sponsored student aid and even college admission, in some cases, to nonregistrants.

When college campuses began banning military recruiters and ROTC because of the military’s discrimination against non-heterosexuals, Congress retaliated. Laws were passed in the 1990s that cut off federal funds to any college or university that did not drop its opposition to ROTC and grant recruiters access to campuses and
student directory information. Such a degree of coercion was notable in that it had not been used even during the 1960s, when campus banning of recruiters and ROTC programs was much more widespread.

Parallel to its push into colleges, the military became more assertive in establishing its presence in K-12 schools in the 1990s, including kicking off a massive expansion of military classroom programs like JROTC. As this developed, and as the U.S. also became more active in military intervention abroad, community opposition to recruiting in high schools began to spread. Some secondary school districts -- really a relatively small number nationwide -- placed restrictions on recruiter access to students and campuses; partly in response to counter-recruitment activity, but also sometimes in response to incidents of extremely aggressive, inappropriate recruiter behavior.

As the propensity for young people to enlist began to diminish in the 1990s, frustrated recruiters sought to blame schools for their failure to meet their (probably unrealistic) enlistment quotas. They went to Congress with unsubstantiated stories of being banned from thousands of public high schools, which Congress accepted without question. As a result, the same coercive approach used against colleges will soon be used against high schools with the recruiter access measure signed into law by President Bush on January, 8, 2002. The only element missing this time is a requirement that all high schools accept JROTC. But don’t be surprised if that becomes the next stage in the progression.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org).


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    Monday, 26 September 2011
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