Picking the single most important issue for my generation seemed like an impossible task. With thousands of worthwhile causes that inspire people to act, I wanted to highlight one that affects my fellow high school students directly. I also wanted to avoid partisan politics by choosing an issue that many people could agree on.
I was stumped until one day the most important issue facing young people in the upcoming election jumped out at me in the school hallway. Literally.
It was toward the middle of the 2006-07 school year when I was first approached by a US military recruiter. I was 14 years old. Wearing a huge grin and greeting me like an old friend, the recruiter gave a casual, “What’s up, man?” to lure me toward the Army table set up in the corner.
I could see that there was already a large crowd of students gathering around the table, and so after convincing the soldier that I was not interested in the Army, I walked to my next class. This experience bothered me all day, yet no one else seemed concerned or ready to question the presence of the US military in high schools, recruiting teenagers for war. I decided to dig deeper, to find out how and why the military was targeting high school students. What I learned was a wake-up call that something has to change in this country before it’s too late.
A quick Google search led me to the law that allows the US military to recruit on all public school campuses; it is part of the infamous No Child Left Behind Act. Ironic? Yes, but nevertheless there it was, in Section 9528, a section that was voted on by more than two-thirds of our Congress:
(3) SAME ACCESS TO STUDENTS.–Each local educational agency receiving assistance under this Act shall provide military recruiters the same access to secondary school students as is provided generally to post secondary educational institutions or to prospective employers of those students.
I was floored. How can a bill whose stated purpose is to provide a better education and give students more opportunities to learn and grow contain a hidden section that does the exact opposite? The No Child Left Behind Act, signed on January 8, 2002–right at the beginning of the “war on terror”–began to seem more like a cover-up to recruit more troops from a pool of students with no options and less like a heartfelt attempt to conquer the education problem. The law also states that recruiters will have the same access to high schools as colleges and employers do; the only difference is that colleges and employers want students to finish four years of secondary education, whereas the military encourages them to drop out.
But opposition to the law was minuscule, and politicians from both ends of the political spectrum joined forces with the President to see that his plans for public education were carried out. Perhaps it was the idea of not supporting such a popular-sounding law that scared many politicians into compliance. Regardless of the motives, the bill passed, and military recruiters from all across the country found themselves trying to convince teenagers, most of whom can not even drive yet, to pick up a gun and join the Army.
To make matters worse, in 2005 the Army announced that it would allow high school dropouts to enlist. Thus, the No Child Left Behind Act, advertised as the means to a better educated public, actually provides students an incentive to drop out of school. If the goal of the law is to expand educational success rates of the nation’s youth, why would the government try to persuade students to join the Army if it means dropping out of school to do so?
Already, thousands of high school students have enlisted as a direct result of military recruiting in schools. And with matters escalating in the Middle East, even those who joined as reservists are in danger of being deployed for combat. Why is removing the military from all public school campuses the most important issue facing young people today? Because my fellow classmates are being targeted by our government for a war that has claimed, and will continue to claim, the lives of thousands. Many of them have chosen to cut short their education to serve, a decision that may end up cutting short their lives.
In 2008 my generation needs to be aware of this deadly contradiction, and to urge those old enough to vote to work together to eliminate the military from our schools, protecting ourselves as well as generations to come.