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No Child Left Unrecruited
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Listen up, kids. The recruiting sergeant says the U.S. Army has "all sorts of fun stuff" for you! Join up and you'll "get paid to jump out of airplanes, shoot cool guns, blow stuff up, and travel seeing all kinds of different countries."

Yes, that's what the sergeant said in his pitch to a group of high school students on a public television news segment the other day. It examined the military's escalating search for cannon fodder to dispatch to Iraq and other places where there's plenty of jumping, shooting and other fun stuff.

Unsaid was that the recruits may of course maim or be maimed, kill or be killed. Recruiters apparently don't think that a cool thing to mention.

Potential recruits -- or at least their parents -- seem to be quite aware, anyway, that it's not fun and games. Which is a main reason the Defense Department has been consistently falling short of its recruitment goals and, armed with a $4 billion recruiting budget, is going all-out to try to make up for the shortfall.

The prime targets are high school juniors and seniors, and the prime way of reaching them is through the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act - understandably characterized by some as the "No Child Left Unrecruited Act." It includes a requirement that to continue receiving federal funds, school districts must turn over the names, addresses and phone numbers of their juniors and seniors to military recruiters unless the students and their parents formally request that the data be withheld.

The districts receiving federal money also must give the recruiters the same access granted college and business recruiters. Many actually have even greater access, appearing at schools far more often than the other recruiters, who generally follow a one-day per semester schedule. Some schools also display military recruitment posters in their career centers, along with recruitment brochures.

Recruiters aim particularly at low-performing schools, where many students have bleak employment prospects, generally are from low-income families and so are susceptible to arguments that the Army will train them for well-paying technical work in civilian life and give them "signing bonuses" of up to $20,000 for four-year enlistments.

What they actually learn, however, is how to wage war.

Much of the recruiting is done off-campus. Using the information provided by schools, recruiters mail leaflets and other material directly to students' homes, talk to them by telephone and even make house calls.

Recruiters have been doing that for a long time, but only in school districts that voluntarily agreed to provide them access and names, addresses and phone numbers, Most of the districts that balked are now going along for fear of losing the federal aid that can amount to millions of badly-needed dollars.

It should be clear why they're not otherwise eager to cooperate. The military philosophy runs counter to the educational system's goals of instilling independence, choice and democratic values, notes Vietnam vet activist Michael Dedrick,.

As he says, "The military is basically telling you to follow orders and shoot people."

And what of school districts that ban groups which discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation? As Executive Director Donna Lieberman of the American Civil Liberties Union says, "The military is perhaps the single largest violator of such policies."

The least that should be done is limit high school recruiting to students whose parents ask that the students hear the recruiters' pitches, rather than to simply allow recruiters access to all students except those whose parents may opt to file written requests that they not be solicited.

Democratic Rep. Mike Honda of California has introduced a bill that would do just that, but there's seemingly no chance of getting it through the Republican allies of President Bush who control Congress.

Neither is it at all likely that the armed forces will slow their other devious, extensive - and expensive - efforts to lure young Americans into learning and practicing the deadly business of making war. They're certain to continue spending millions on flashy television commercials, internet videos and free video games that depict war as teenage boys want it to be: exciting, attractive and glamorous.

To do anything else obviously would be uncool.

Copyright 2005 Dick Meister