Andrew Morgan was happy that the military had a presence in his high school.
Morgan attended Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, which was named one of the lowest-performing schools in New York City. But Morgan was the “commanding officer” of the Marine Reserves Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program in the school, and, as he wrote to InsideSchools.com, “it gave me the motivation to excel in school and to work hard at everything I do.”
There are at least 60 such programs in high schools throughout New York City. In some ways, these ROTC programs are the least controversial of the efforts by the military to recruit high school students in New York.
But critics have been complaining loudly about the direct presence of military recruiters in city high schools especially in poor neighborhoods.
“Recruiters are taking advantage of these students and making a lot of claims about the military that do not hold true,” charges Ari Rosmarin, coordinator of The New York Civil Liberties Project On Military Recruitment and Students’ Rights. Its Web site says that parents, students and educators have been complaining that “recruiters are using heavy-handed tactics to harass students, violate students’ privacy rights, and target poor students and students of color.”
The federal education law No Child Left Behind requires that military recruiters be able to enter schools, participate in recruiting fairs and in general have the same access to students that college and trade school representatives do. Further, schools are required to provide the military and colleges with students’ names, addresses, and telephone listings -- unless the students’ parents request that this information be made unavailable.
If parents do not want their child’s name given to the military they must complete an opt-out form.
What the critics charge is that the military recruiters are being given more access than other recruiters, and that few parents even know about the opt-out forms.
In response to such concerns, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has agreed to review military recruiters’ access to high school students.
Military Recruiters’ Access to Students and Information
The military gets, keeps and distributes information on students through the Joint Advertising Market Research & Studies. Run by the Department of Defense, this database is used to distribute information about military services to large audiences and helps collect data for recruiting and retention efforts.
The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense in 2005 charging that the program collects private student data such as social security numbers, grade point averages and even student interests for the purposes of recruitment
On January 9 the Department of Defense agreed to settle the lawsuit and announced it will make major changes to the information program. They will no longer collect social security numbers and will stop disseminating student information to law enforcement, intelligence and other agencies not related with military recruitment. The Department of Defense has also agreed to establish and clarify procedures by which students can block the military from entering information about them in the database
Leslie Kielson, of United for Peace and Justice, said she would like the Department of Education to ensure that military recruiters are not granted more favorable treatment than other recruiters. The group wants the schools to make more efforts to ensure that parents know they do not have to make their child’s information available and would like a log to be kept to record the number of visits recruiters make to individual schools.
“All of these things are within the power of the city to adapt,” Kielson said. “The No Child Left Behind act says recruiters deserve equal access but they are really getting unlimited access, which means many schools are not following the laws.”
Large cities like Los Angeles, Austin and Seattle have already adopted policies concerning military recruiters’ rights and limitations, Rosmarin said, but New York City has not created any guidelines.
“Schools are not supposed to be a feeder system for the military. Schools should be able to protect their students from being taken advantage of,” he said.
Student Information: Opt-Out or Opt-In?
In November, anti-war groups rallied at the New York Department of Education headquarters to press the school system to do more to let parents know about their opt-out option.
“We’ve heard over and over from the parents we have talked to at parent-teacher conferences that they didn’t know about the opt-out forms,” Kielson said. “It should be the school’s responsibility to inform parents about these options.”
In 2002, 18 percent of New York City’s 300,000 high school students opted out according to a report by the Policy Research Institute for the Region at Princeton University.
Kielson said she will push for an opt-in option when No Child Left Behind comes up for reauthorization later in the year. This would keep student information private unless the parents authorize its release to the military. She hopes the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives will support such a measure.
“We will be reminding public officials that this election was a clear message for peace,” Kielson said. “There is support for us.”
Recruiters and the No Child Left Behind Act
Rosmarin said there is an overwhelming military recruiter presence in schools like Christopher Columbus, Harry Truman, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Martin Luther King, which mostly serve poor, lower-income students. Recruiters are on these campuses at least every other day and become a constant presence in the students’ lives, he said.
“In the recruiters’ manual there is a lot about school ownership,” Rosmarin said. “They are encouraged to befriend the administration, become coaches for sport teams and organize after-school activities. We hear a lot of instances where recruiters will go as far as taking a student out and buying them lunch. We just want to ensure students are given the right to pursue an education without being harassed and hassled everyday.”
Marge Feinberg, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said college recruiters and military recruiters have the same access to public schools, and neither is given special accommodations.
Emily Gockley, chief of public affairs for the New York City Recruiting Battalion, said it is only fair to allow the military equal access to students.
“Every school decides differently on how they deal with recruiters,” Gockley said. “But if they invite college recruiters they must also invite military recruiters. We are also entitled to get the same information they give out to colleges.”
Neither the school system nor the military could provide statistics on how many recent high school graduates in New York City join the military every year.
All-Volunteer Army: Added Perks, More Recruiting
Even if such programs were restricted, recruiters would still contact students, says Tod Ensign, director of Citizen-Soldier and author of “America’s Military Today: The Challenge of Militarism.”
“It’s a good cause, but the military recruiting techniques are far more sophisticated today,” Ensign said. “I mean, they’ve got Fortune 500 quality consultants calling the shots. They know how to go after the kids that are most susceptible.”
Since the draft was eliminated in 1973 the military has drastically changed its recruiting approach. Ensign writes that Pentagon spending on recruiters and advertisements has risen sharply over the last five years, bringing the bill close to $3 billion a year. The military must bring in about 200,000 new recruits every year to replace soldiers leaving duty.
“Once you decide the military is going to be all-volunteer, anything goes,” Ensign said.
“Recruiters are now using bonus systems and profilers to help them out,” Ensign said. “And for being in such an unpopular war, I’d say the military is doing a good job of reeling in these kids.”
And some young people think the military is a good option for them. Today, joining the military gives soldiers more perks than in previous decades. The Army offers money for education, health care, vacation time, family services and cash allowances to cover the cost of living, according to goarmy.com an Army Web site. Paying for a college education is also a big bonus for prospective recruits. Depending on the soldier’s enlistment period, the Army can help pay up to $72,900 in education expenses. The Army also offers classes to active duty and reserve soldiers through online universities and learning facilities in Army posts.
Corporal Curtis Harding, who enlisted in the Marines after high school, said every person should have the freedom to make their own choices.
“Parents should take a step back,” Harding said. “Everyone always wants to tell you what to do, but in the end it is really up to the individual to decide about where they want to go in their own life. And in the military the worst that can happen is that you don’t like it, so at that point you can just leave. It’s simple.”