For sharp-eyed parents eager to monitor everything that could hurt their kids in high school, here are two things to watch closely right now: In Iraq, young Americans are dying daily. In America, parents face a life-or-death decision about exposing their kids to military service. If parents don't act, quota-driven recruiters will soon be calling.
The recruitment situation is the result of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which promises better education - without adequate funding. As the bill evolved, a Republican member of Congress from Louisiana, David Vitter, fought to include this provision: If a school refuses to give Uncle Sam the addresses and phone numbers of its students, it can lose federal aid.
"We had heard through various sources that there were an alarming number of instances where high schools banned military recruiters from contact with their students," Vitter said. That vexed him.
Was Vitter upset because he remembers fondly his own military service? Well, no. Like many Republicans eager to send someone else's kids off to war, he did not serve in the military. He was miffed because schools shut out the military, but not colleges or businesses. He wanted a level playing field.
In his patriotic zeal, Vitter suffered some logical lapses: One, how can the military, which has a $400 billion budget and very big guns, be disadvantaged? Two, unlike the military, colleges and businesses aren't asking kids to join an organization whose primary products are killing and dying.
Ultimately, Vitter got his way, and the No Child Left Behind law contains Section 9528, which I call the No Child Left Alone provision.
To be sporting, Vitter left a loophole: If parents sign an "opt-out" form, saying they do not want their kids' names on the list, the school does not have to send the names to recruiters. But this form sometimes arrives home in a blizzard of paperwork or buried in a student handbook. If parents don't see it or neglect to sign it, they are deemed to have consented to the inclusion of their kids on the list.
An "opt-in" approach would be better. That means if parents don't sign the form, they are considered to have refused permission. But Vitter insists the law allows only the opt-out.
In Fairport, a suburb of Rochester, Superintendent William Cala used a form with two choices: to opt in or to opt out. Some recruiters complained - one of them rather menacingly. But some wrote Cala letters of thanks. Why? Well, he has 1,200 juniors and seniors, and only 43 families chose to let their names go to recruiters. Cala explained to recruiters a basic sales principle: You're better off with a list of people who really want your product than with a larger list of "cold calls" to make. So they were grateful.
On Long Island and in New York City, parents have no choice but to pay attention. Find out the deadline for signing the form. Urge school officials to adopt a notification policy that makes the consequences of this form starkly clear.
Once recruiters have this information, they won't be shy or subtle. The military is stretched thin, there's no draft, and recruiters have quotas. So they will emphasize the best points of their product (job training) and mumble inaudibly about its pitfalls (grisly death).
They'll say the military offers money for college, but they won't emphasize that only a narrow band of enlistees ever get the maximum college benefit. They'll offer assignments that teach skills useful in civilian life, but they won't give a lecture on Paragraph 9 (b) of the enlistment agreement, which makes clear that the military can change its mind at will. In fact, some former recruiters have told journalists that lying to enlistees is common.
So students should be skeptical of recruiters. To nourish that healthy skepticism, parents and students should read the book "What Every Person Should Know About War," by Chris Hedges. In flat, neutral language that relies on military field manuals, it tells the truth about war.
If someone wants to enlist out of patriotism, fine. But no one should join the military thinking it is a jobs program. It's a killing machine. So parents should keep recruiters out of the lives of their kids until they're old enough to decide wisely.
Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.