Is there a link between America's public school system and military recruitment?
I recently started a new job and was assigned to read materials for training. One particular item, written by an eighth-grader, discussed what's going on at their school.
"We can't go more than 3 minutes without hearing the word 'test' or 'assessment,'" the student wrote. "I am starting to believe the theory that we are being prepared to be drafted into the military."
The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires U.S. public school students to take standardized tests annually from grades 3 to 8, and at least once in high school. Just days after his inauguration, George W. Bush introduced NCLB, calling it a "framework for bipartisan education reform."
NCLB has many mandates. Here are a few: Teachers must be "highly qualified," with at least a bachelor's degree and teaching credential. Students who qualify for free and reduced lunch also qualify for free tutoring and after school programs. Students in grades 3–8 take annual standardized tests in reading and math. Schools and school districts are rewarded or sanctioned based on whether students have made "adequate yearly progress." Schools are required to the furnish name, address and telephone number of every student to military recruiters.
Many high schools administer "career inventory" or "skills" standardized tests to juniors and seniors thinking about life after high school.
Some guidance counselors, under the direction of military recruiters, direct students to take another type of standardized test. The ASVAB (pronounced az-vab) determines whether a person is eligible to enlist in the military. The department says its test is the world's most widely used multiple-aptitude test battery.
ASVAB stands for Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, but a few college counselors I know call it a "career exploration program."
I've met guidance counselors who set up school events like "military day" where they bring in vehicles and allow students to try on uniforms. On "career day" the Army and Marines recruiters are the first to get called. I've been on high school and middle school campuses during lunch when Marine recruiters have set up areas for students to demonstrate their ability to do a certain number of push-ups.
Many public schools operate JROTC programs, kind of like military for kids. I think of one in particular, which says its mission is to "motivate young people to be better citizens." When I see those junior ROTC kids march in a parade, or practice drills in the schoolyard, I think it's an incredible show of discipline and teamwork. I also feel it's a performance to show teens the greatest way to success is to become a robot-like soldier.
More and more parents, students and educators have blogged against the ASVAB, the militarism of youth, and the military's involvement in schools.
In high school, my friend Mary and I both took the ASVAB. I believe we were considering signing up for either the Navy or the Air Force. I can't remember what traits we possessed or which branch we were best suited for, but I do recall recruiters calling my house, basically until I graduated. In my case, they said they liked how my dad was in the Navy during Vietnam.
We both needed the money for college. Whereas Mary got straight As I nearly flunked out. The military people promised us we'd learn new technology and be able to travel the world. They said people who joined military service meet people from every state. We'd receive hands-on training and lessons in respect, leadership, dignity, discipline, etc. It sounded great.
What kid without money to pay for college wouldn't want their entire education paid for, and after four years in active service, the ability to get a home loan, advanced job training, not to mention the knowledge we'd gain from experiencing other countries and cultures. (That reminds me, I would like to talk with my friend again about this.) If I decided to stay in for 10 years I'd still be young enough to start a civilian career in just about whatever I chose. We'd get all kinds of benefits, monetary and otherwise. Remember, at the time, there was no large-scale Iraq War.
I'm not quite sure why I didn't enlist. If I did, I would have been out in 2000. I did go on to earn a bachelor's degree at a state university but no one paid for it and I'm $15,000 in debt. Anything regarding computers, I taught myself. I haven't traveled the world so I've learned little from meeting people in other countries. I haven't learned to discpline myself according to a rigid, standard schedule. I am starting a new career, 10 years after graduating high school. I don't own a home. It's strange to think I have met more than a few veterans my age who say they regret nothing more than signing up.