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A Call For A "Do Not Call" Policy For Military Recruiting

Feb 7, 2008
While my first novel, The Sex Ed Chronicles, was reviewed by my publishers, I started a second story that revolves around another controversial subject in high schools and colleges: Army recruiting on campus.

The change in subjects has not been a big jump.

Military recruiting and sex education have more in common than you might think.

Both are focal points for parental debates, and they are the most publicized examples where the federal government has tried to "meddle" in the affairs of local public schools. In addition, the armed forces, as well as pro-choice and pro-life organizations, advertise wisely to influence high school students to make decisions. Lastly, in both, students and parents fear the serious consequences of making the wrong decision.

The federal government does not ask high school and college students to join the armed forces per se; they provide the legislation and the tools for the recruiters to do it. Such legislation is far from new; in 1980, in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran hostage crisis, President Jimmy Carter received approval from Congress to reinstate mandatory registration for military service for males 18 through 25. I was a sophomore in college at the time. I registered as required; however, military recruiters never contacted me, nor was I asked to serve. I was perfectly happy to comply with that policy of "don't ask, don't tell."

Military recruiters were welcome on campus while I was in high school during the late 1970's. They did the same as college admissions officers. They set up shop in the guidance office for the better part of a day; gym teachers were more than willing to excuse students from class to talk to them. I was unaware of any complaints; this seemed like a symbiotic relationship for students, teachers, and recruiters too. However, the country was not at war in 1978.

I guess military recruiters must be far busier at wartime in the 21st century, and they cannot afford to spend their days waiting for their best prospects to stop by the guidance office. They also have better advertising, video games, and the Internet at their disposal. And today, under No Child Left Behind, recruiters have access to junior and senior student's contact information, presumably, so they can mail literature, or call students outside of school. They don't have to wait until students turn 18.

Congress has debated revisions to No Child Left Behind, although a reauthorized act will be on hold until after a new president is sworn in. While both Democrats and Republicans have proposed amendments to No Child Left Behind, none discussed revisions to the policies that cover military recruiting.

Only one presidential candidate, Democrat Bill Richardson of New Mexico, proposed scrapping No Child Left Behind in its entirety. Unfortunately, Governor Richardson, having fared poorly in the Iowa caucus and having trailed poorly in New Hampshire, has bowed out of the Presidential elections. If you are a parent who's upset about "high stakes" standardized tests and aggressive military recruiting in high schools, he was your candidate. If you are a Democrat who is unsure about who to vote for, and if you live in an early-primary state, it's worth your time to check your candidate's position on No Child Left Behind, as well as the rest of his/her political resume.

Since Richardson will not be elected president, successful scrapping of No Child Left Behind seems highly unlikely unless the effort is taken up by the winning Presidential candidate. Americans will most likely have to live with a reauthorized act with a pro-military policy still in place.

I'm not firmly pro-military, nor anti-war, on this issue so, I propose a unique solution.

Unlike peace activists, I see no big deal with the Army and other branches of the service sending direct mail pieces to high school students' homes; they already advertise aggressively on TV and the Internet. If you don't want your son or daughter to enlist, and they agree, just throw the literature away. I also see no big deal with military displays on campus or the optional assemblies; they've proven effective when veterans, instead of recruiters, tell why they have chosen to serve. Those who are not gung-ho don't have to go.

But I am concerned about aggressive one-to-one marketing on high school campuses when it conflicts with classes. For instance, I had lunch with one of my former high school teachers this past fall, and she told me that students took unexcused absences from class to speak to recruiters, while the recruiters rudely allowed that to happen.

That's conduct unbecoming to the military, who are usually respectful to civilians, but it can be resolved between the schools and the military at the station and company commander levels.

I prefer that recruiters show better discretion when it comes to calling students at home - or better yet, not call them until after graduation.

A "do-not-call" policy should be written into legislation covering military recruiting under No Child Left Behind, in place of the opt-out policy on the books now.

Do-not-call is fair to everyone: students, parents, schools, and the military.

Students focus on school first and recruiters can place more efforts into prospects that are in a better position to make a decision. Recruiters can still mail them, and students and their parents can meet with them voluntarily. We already trust students and their parents to ask questions, or to tell recruiters to take no for an answer.

The public schools should never put themselves in the position of influencing a student's decision to serve. They are now because they must collect student data under the opt-out policy. Principals' jobs are on the line if they over-hype or soft-peddle this.

More important, our country is better served by a military comprised of high school graduates. It is in the nation's best interest for the military to wait until its less decisive prospects have received their diplomas.

Do-not-call is easier to enforce. It respects the students and parents, it takes the schools out of the data collection picture, and it is much easier for the public to understand.
About the Author
Stuart Nachbar has been involved with education politics, policy and technology as a student, urban planner, government affairs manager, software executive, and now as author of The Sex Ed Chronicles. Visit his blog, Educated Quest
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