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Thursday, September 3, 2009

All The Young Fools

American Scofflaw

The federal No Child Left behind Act of 2001 contains a little-known provision that threatens the federal funding of any school refusing to turn over the personal contact information of students in grades 7 through 12 to military recruiters. This action is in violation of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Given the current economic recession, more high school age youth are considering joining the military. At this impressionable age, we must entrust our public schools with the responsibility to protect our children's rights to privacy. Students and parents have complained of multiple cell and home phone calls from military recruiters as well as uninvited recruiters arriving at their houses.

The Hawaii Department of Education offers a form that parents or legal guardians can sign to prevent this release of student information. It can be downloaded at doe.k12.hi.us. The American Friends Service Committee also offers this form in 11 languages at www.afschawaii.org. Forms are due by Sept. 15, but will be accepted anytime during the school year. In mid-October, the Department of Education is required to turn over a student list to recruiters.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act also grants military recruiters access to campuses, with their presence far outnumbering college recruiters and prospective employers. Recruiting is currently a $4 billion industry. According to Army spokesman Douglas Smith, the military spent an average of $16,199 for each of its 73,373 recruits in 2005.

Youth advocacy programs such as Careers in Peacemaking (CIP) have been forming across the nation to provide youth with informed choices about military enlistment. We believe that before making this life-altering decision, a young person should be exposed to data from as many different sources as possible. Consulting with school administrators and teachers, we offer presentations in high school classrooms and attend career fairs to make known the realities of current military life and war, and to introduce nonmilitary sources of funding for jobs and college.

Maui CIP is fortunate to have a veteran, a Maui high school graduate who has served in Iraq, share with students his experiences regarding military service and war. Through my CIP activities, I have learned that most of our island youth have no idea what military service entails, despite the fact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been going on for eight years of their lives. Many haven't given much thought to the U.S. role in these conflicts. They cannot define "civilian casualty," or "collateral damage."

Almost all students that we have spoken to are unaware that enlistment is a mandatory commitment of eight years, or that their rank, assignment and length of service can change without prior notice or consent. They don't understand the implications of giving up their civilian rights when they sign the complex enlistment agreement or how this can impact them if they are troubled by what the military orders them to do. They are unaware of the rates of veteran suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder. Female students know nothing of the high statistics of sexual assault on women in the military.

One of the most common reason youth enlist is money for college. Others sign up to give their life a higher meaning, to help others or to serve their country. Many see it as their best opportunity to travel. These are all valid reasons. CIP's concern is that in the course of fulfilling these desires, the student can lose their life, become severely wounded, or suffer mental disorders including long-term depression and disillusionment over what they experience in the military or combat. CIP believes it is important that students are provided with facts, testimonies and alternatives.

One alternative is Americorps, which recently received a large boost in federal funding. It is our hope that citizens will understand that our goals are not subversive but merely to engage in meaningful dialogue with our island's children to help them make informed decisions.

* Ann Pitcaithley is the current coordinator of Careers in Peacemaking, a project of Maui Peace Action. For more information, see the Web site: www.mauipeace.org

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