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Paths to Peace Offers Alternatives to Military Enlistment

 

Our high school students are targeted by military recruiters now more than ever. Under pressure from their superiors to meet enlistment quotas, recruiters essentially act as salespeople for the military, often glossing over or omitting some of the realities of military service that might deter potential recruits from enlisting.

According to the Government Accountability Office, yearly reports of military recruiting violations have increased by more than 50 percent since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 2005 alone 6,600 violations were reported. On Aug. 16, 2006, Josh White of The Washington Post reported that the number of actual violations is likely even higher because the Department of Defense does not have an “appropriate method of tracking violations across all services.” White also wrote that Defense Department data indicate 20 percent of active duty recruiters believe unethical recruiting methods are used frequently. Such methods include coercion, falsifying documents and concealing a recruit’s personal information that would otherwise disqualify the recruit from enlistment.

Is this happening right here in Albert Lea? Yes. Since the beginning of this school year, two District 241 students have reported unethical behavior by military personnel recruiting them.

Each month military recruiters visit the school and recruit students during lunch. Last November Paths to Peace began staffing an “Alternatives to Military Service” table adjacent to the tables used in the student commons area by recruiters from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

When recruiters visit the school, we do, too.

The brochures, videos and resources we provide are intended to help students make well-informed decisions regarding military service. We encourage students to always take a witness with them when meeting with a recruiter, to get all promises made by a recruiter in writing, and to know that active military personnel cannot always exercise all of the civil liberties, such as free speech, assembly, petition, and other forms of individual expression. We remind potential recruits of how important it is to talk to veterans and get their impressions of military life — both the good and the bad.

We also provide information about other service opportunities available for their futures, such as AmeriCorps, Teach for America and the Peace Corps. We are adding to our materials each month and will soon have additional resources for students wishing to pursue public service careers.

Most parents don’t realize that before a recruiter even enters Albert Lea High School he likely already knows how to get in touch with their children. Buried deep within of the No Child Left Behind Act is a provision (Section 9528) that requires each high school receiving federal funding to turn over student contact information (name, address, phone number) to local military recruiters unless parents “opt out” in writing. The NCLB Act also requires districts to make parents aware of their right to “opt out.

Parents and students in Albert Lea are notified of their right to keep student contact information private through District 241’s official Policy Book, which is available online. However, it is extremely unlikely that many parents or students would ever read the notice on their own. Once at the District 241 Web site, getting to the notification requires three clicks and a lot of scrolling to reach the notice. It’s not something you’d stumble across if browsing the site. In fact, it’s actually a bit difficult to locate even when you know what you’re looking for.

We have encouraged District 241 to include this notification to all parents in one of its periodic mass mailings. The district has not yet agreed to do so. In response we are making the information available on our Web site, along with a form letter that students and parents can print, complete and mail to Superintendent David Prescott.

All they have to do is visit www.freebornpeace.org and click on “Opt Out Letter.”

The guiding principle from the Paths to Peace mission statement reads: “We, the members of Freeborn County Paths to Peace, are committed to providing resources and support to promote peace in individual and community life.”

One of the strategies identified in our mission statement asserts that we will “provide resources to schools in Freeborn County.”

 
 

With the support of school administrators, we plan to continue staffing our table on military recruitment days and providing alternative resources directly to students through the school’s counseling center. We want to be clear that we are not anti-military. Rather, we believe that good information leads to good decision-making. Ultimately, we hope our efforts encourage educated, well-informed decisions by students considering military enlistment.
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Jeremy Corey-Gruenes is an English teacher at Albert Lea High School and co-chairman of Freeborn County Paths to Peace.