AISD: Students Rein in Recruiters
Why does the reporter think "it's unlikely that there's some kind of officially organized effort to mislead students"? The rest of the information here suggests otherwise.
By Michael May
The phrase "No Child Left Behind" takes on a particularly Orwellian undertone when you consider that the sweeping education law requires schools to allow the military to recruit on campus. Uniformed visitors are a regular sight at all 11 AISD high schools, where they try to sell students on a career that can bring college tuition dollars and an early retirement – or (generally left unmentioned) an early death. The law requires that the military simply have the same access as other institutions, but LBJ High sophomore Kate Kelly says some recruiters have been acting like they have an all-access hall pass. "They roam the halls, pulling kids aside to give them their pitch," she says. "It's ridiculous. Colleges and normal employees aren't allowed to do that."
So Kelly did what any precocious, Quaker-raised 14-year-old would do: She got organized. She and her fellow concerned students, known collectively as Youth Activists of Austin, contacted the elder peaceniks at Nonmilitary Options for Youth, and together they pressured AISD into passing an official military recruiting policy. The policy, adopted by the board on June 12, is so tame that it's actually a bit alarming that students considered it necessary. It essentially requires that recruiters will act like any other school visitors. They must check in at the front office, get a visitor's badge, and recruit in a designated area. And they will leave students alone who make it clear they aren't interested. "I hope that the policy will cut back on inappropriate behavior," says Kelly. "We have to remember that recruiters are people too, and they have a job to do. But they shouldn't be so aggressive."
The most significant change gives parents the right to withhold their child's contact information from military recruiters. "In the past, parents who wanted to avoid military recruiters were only given the choice to withhold directory information from everyone," says Susan Van Haitsma, a leader of NOY. "That meant students wouldn't get information from colleges, or even the order form for a class ring."
If the activists were expecting return fire from the top guns at the military, the skies have so far been silent. Major Robert Morris, the Austin Army recruiting commander, said he has no reservations about supporting the policy. "From the Army point of view," he says, "nothing has changed." Mel Waxler, chief legal counsel for AISD, says principals made the only significant change to the student proposal. They wanted recruiters to continue bringing equipment like Humvees on campus because of the "learning possibilities" they offer.
The question remains, however, whether the policy will actually curb aggressive recruiting practices. For instance, Kelly says military recruiters often target students from poor families and lure them with visions of a full ride through college. "They really do lie about how much money they can provide for college," she says. "And if a student shows interest, recruiters are relentless. They will call a student's home daily until they enlist." One area of confusion may come from the fact that the amount of college money military-bound students can earn depends on how well they perform on the armed forces' standardized test. Still, Major Morris maintains that the career sells itself: "You get four weeks of vacation, health benefits, retirement after 20 years, and up to $71,000 for college."
The debate over the policy also took a step toward clearing up common misconceptions about the "Delayed Enlistment Program," which allows recruiters to sign up students as young as 17. These young recruits take an oath pledging their service to the military and are expected to show up for basic training after graduation. Of course, some students have second thoughts, especially those coming of age during the Iraq war, but they may feel obligated to follow through. However, AISD lawyer Waxler sent a letter to Austin schools instructing principals to let students know that every branch of the military allows under-18 recruits to change their minds without penalty.
While it's unlikely that there's some kind of officially organized effort to mislead students, military recruiters are under a lot of pressure. In fiscal 2005, the active-duty army had a goal of enlisting 80,000 students, and they fell 8% short – the worst showing since 1979. The recruiters in each region are given a goal, and their careers depend on it. So far this year, the army has signed up 665 soldiers in the Austin area, just 4% shy of their regional goal. The new AISD policy is unlikely to slow the effort, but it does provide the district with the tools to curb the most aggressive recruiters. "The policy wasn't as strong as we initially wanted," says Kelly. "But I learned you have to compromise to get things done. I just hope that it will make sure that it's students who are approaching military recruiters, not the other way around."
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