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August 14, 2007

Connected Diss: A meditation for the new school year

Summer vacation ended abruptly in the Monday pre-dawn hours as JCPS students rolled out of bed to start a new year of reading, writing and ’rithmatic. As the school year unfolds, there will be the usual shortages of teachers, textbooks and equipment. What there won’t be is a shortage of military recruiters roaming freely through the school halls.Since the No Child Left Behind Act became law in 2002, military recruiters have enjoyed almost unlimited access to high school students and their personal information. Unless students or parents sign what is referred to as an Opt Out form, the law mandates that schools must make student contact data available to the military. This year the form can be found as part of the “Directory Information and Military Recruiter Opt-Out Form” on the first page of the “Code of Acceptable Behavior and Discipline and the Student Bill of Rights” that JCPS students receive at the beginning of the year. The top part of the page refers to a more general release of directory information, and the bottom half is the part that specifically applies to not releasing contact information to the military. The form needs to be turned in before Sept. 14. Parents and students who want more info about the opt-out process and about alternatives to military service can contact Aim Higher, a local group that raises awareness about military recruiting and the opt-out process, at counter_enlist@yahoo.com.Regardless of whether students opt out, military recruiters have numerous other opportunities to interact with students. Nine JCPS high schools have JROTC programs (which, according to the American Friends Service Committee, cost schools about $76,000 each). Recruiters can almost always be found at sporting events and hanging around in the cafeteria. One young friend tells me there are usually three to five recruiters at his school during lunch.Recruiters are quick to hawk education and job benefits offered by the armed services, but, of course, those are not the primary focus of the military. As Vice President Cheney once said, “The military is not a social welfare agency, it’s not a jobs program.” And reality bears that out (I know, that’s unusual with the veep) — 57 percent of military personnel receive no educational benefits, and only 5 percent receive the maximum benefit. Only a small percentage of vets report using job skills learned in the military, and, according to the VA, veterans earn less than non-vets and make up one-third of the homeless men and 20 percent of the nation’s prison population. But as disturbing as the recruiters’ rose-colored false promises are, it is even more disturbing that, according to a report last year by the Associated Press, more than 80 recruiters were disciplined in 2005 for sexual misconduct, including rape, with potential recruits. Most of those found guilty received only administrative discipline. While I don’t know if any of the recruiters in JCPS schools have been found guilty of sexual misconduct, one wonders what steps have been taken to protect students from potential predators in uniform.This will be an interesting and undoubtedly challenging school year. The Department of Education won’t release data on low-performing schools that would allow transfers until after school starts, the Kentucky Board of Education has already gotten an “F” for its dereliction in fact-checking before hiring the now-resigned Barbara Erwin as Kentucky Education Commissioner, and our state ranks 40th in the nation for child well-being, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.Here in the Metro, our school board has been told by the U.S. Supreme Court to go back to the drawing board and come up with a de-desegregation plan. And now that nuclear power, appliance and light bulb producer General Electric is sponsoring our science curriculum, only time will tell whether Fox News will pitch in to pay for reading or if Mastercard will help our children learn to calculate percentages. Time to sharpen those No. 2’s, we’ve got a lot of homework.Footnote: Author M. Scott Peck has pointed out that “integrate” and “integrity” both come from the Latin word “integer,” which means “whole.” Think about it. Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org, and her work has been published in numerous publications. Contact her at LucindaMarshall@feministpeacenetwork.org