Arlene Inouye, Christine Steigelman
Public schools should not be the recruiting grounds for young people to be subjected to sophisticated, persuasive marketing techniques designed to sell them on joining the military.
I believe military recruitment is about the indoctrination of our young in a culture that glamorizes war and violence. Recruiters use deception and false promises to entice students who feel like they have few or no options. We call this the “poverty draft.” The lure of the military particularly impacts youth of color, and more middle-class families as college becomes less affordable.
I witnessed Marine recruiters promising students from working-poor families a way to be “successful,” go to college, buy a home for their parents and make their families proud. They promise male students a way to manhood, strength and independence. The promise females the best of all worlds: supervision and independence that will help them build strength and character. Recruiters know how to market the military in a way that speaks to the dreams and hopes of these young people.
It is particularly painful to see how the military recruiters gain the trust of families and become a “big brother” to potential recruits. Then, after the student enlists, they disappear.
The invasion of Iraq changed my life. I was outraged knowing that it was the young people I saw every day in the high schools of Los Angeles — as well as those across the country — who would perhaps die, lose limbs or have traumatic brain injury. I worried that when they returned home, many of them might live with post-traumatic stress disorder, homelessness or unemployment. Even worse, they could join the growing ranks of veterans who commit suicide.
I asked others to join in providing factual information to youth about the realities of war and enlistment connected to a broader national counter-recruitment movement. This was the beginning of CAMS (Coalition for Alternatives to Militarism in our Schools), which I brought to United Teachers Los Angeles. In the “Adopt a School” project, we identified a contact in each of 50 high schools to organize counter-recruitment efforts in the schools, including schoolwide restrictions on military recruitment, distributing “opt out” information so students could withhold contact information from recruiters, encouraging student-led Peace Clubs, sponsoring alternative career fairs, and inviting speakers such as veterans and filmmakers to share about their experiences with combat.
If we are a society that values our young, it is imperative we stop allowing the military to give them false and misleading information. It is wrong for the military to be afforded legitimacy and authority in our schools without also providing the truth about what it means to experience war. Each of us can make a difference. Over the years I’ve seen hundreds of students change their mind about enlisting. Learn about this movement and get connected through the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (www.nnomy.org).
Arlene Inouye, United Teachers Los Angeles, is a speech therapist and CAMS coordinator.
Full disclosure: I am a military wife. My husband was on active duty for 30 years in the U.S. Navy. Our eldest son earned an ROTC scholarship and is a graduate of UC Berkeley. He and his wife are physicians on active duty in the U.S. Air Force. Our second serves in the Naval Reserves. So yes, I believe military recruiters should be allowed on high school campuses.
Opportunity: Our military services offer training and advanced education in a variety of fields, including auto mechanics, engine repair and maintenance, flight mechanics, air traffic control, construction, medical fields, linguistics, chaplain services and food service. Military members may drive, steer or guide planes, helicopters, drones, sailboats, small boats, large ships, cars, trucks or monster trucks. Those who sign up for a four-year commitment may stay on for a full career of 20 or 30 years.
Physical fitness: Through training and education, military members develop self-discipline and physical fitness. They may be trained as Olympians, or participate in inter-service sport rivalries.
Advancement: The military is a meritocracy. Women and minorities are well represented, including at the highest levels. Advancement is based upon merit. Those who display a positive work ethic move up.
Income: A fair wage is offered, with support for food and housing. Military members leave the service, prepared to compete for a competitive wage in the civilian job market.
Sacrifice: The military is a voluntary service. It is a sacrifice to join. Yet it offers the opportunity to work, learn, succeed and excel while participating in a cause that is larger than self.
Professional training —Those who display academic achievement and leadership accomplishments in high school may earn an ROTC scholarship to a civilian college or an appointment to a service academy. Professional schools are also available in medicine, dentistry, nursing, psychology and more. The debt is not in money, but in years to serve. That “free” education is an investment our country makes in the youth of America.
Travel: Realistically, yes, service members may be sent into harm’s way, but they may also be sent to Germany, Italy or Japan, steam around the world, or travel to and through most of our 50 states.
Duty, honor, country: Let’s be honest. It hurts to send a young adult into harm’s way. Breathing stops. But when the decision is made, when that young adult seeks to live the life of military service, it is with pride that families — and schools — support their decision to serve our country.
It’s the right thing to do: Public schools gratefully accept public funding to support our students, even though that funding comes with strings attached. It would be disingenuous of us to reject access to military recruiters on our campuses because we may disapprove of the military mission. Who are we to allow our disapproval to deny access to others?
Christine Steigelman, Unified Association of Conejo Teachers, is a fifth-grade teacher at EARTHS Magnet School in Newbury Park.