Get military out of our schools

Jim Brobeck hosts the Dialogue show on KZFR 90.1 community radio.

I am alarmed by the intrusion of military agents into our national secondary-education system.

Buried deep within the text of the so-called “No Child Left Behind Act” 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 into the armed forces. 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 recruitment.

Chico Unified has not been one of districts that protected its children from the aggressive recruiting tactics of the military. This needs to change.

The school board, administration and staff are in place to facilitate a quality education to local students, not to provide centurions for dubious military adventures around the planet. Until now, schools have been explicitly instructed to protect the integrity of students’ information. The No Child Left Behind Act paves the way for the military to have unimpeded access to underage students who are susceptible to action-packed Pentagon sales pitches. It is critical that students, schools and school districts have accurate information regarding this legislation in preparation for the forthcoming military solicitation.

Too many students are lured by the Pentagon’s suggestions of job training.

Too many students have fallen between the cracks due to underfunded education programs.

Too many students are penalized in their educational opportunities by the systemic failure to put our money where our priorities ought to be—in schools.

The relationship between militarism and education funding is evident. The current federal 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. An escalated war in Iraq could add more than $200 billion to the defense budget.

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 who must barter their lives for tuition? Or is education meant to develop students’ minds, hearts and talents through self-discovery and academic exploration?

Our youngsters are manipulated by patriotic elders and quota-driven recruiters into shouldering the burden of military service and, especially in times of economic adversity, often accept as inevitable their fate of being trained and deployed as combat specialists. The No Child Left 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 the military is unacceptable.

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