The Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools
By Gerald R. Gioglio (reviewer)
Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools
by Scott Harding and Seth Kershner
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
Professor Scott Harding and author-researcher Seth Kershner have joined forces to grace us with a highly readable, well-researched and extremely useful overview of counter-military recruitment efforts in America. At 180 pages (including copious notes and appendices) the authors once again prove the old adage, "good things come in small packages."
The book includes a fine introduction, penned by writer and long-time activist David Cortright, that presents the topic and summarizes the issues. Also, front and center, is an always welcome and helpful list of "Commonly Used Abbreviations." Beyond the front matter, you'll find five pertinent chapters and a brief conclusion.
But that's not all. The authors include two important and useful appendices: Sample Lesson Plans for Classroom Teachers and Additional Resources that reference several organizations and websites. Finally, the work is highly footnoted with a substantial bibliography.
In "Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools," Harding and Kershner promote the idea that middle school and high school are places where the military does not belong. They write, "A key theme in this book is that school militarization has reached scandalous levels in the United States, and urgent action is needed to reverse this harmful trend." The authors focus mainly on counter recruitment efforts in high schools looking at ways activists, parents, and educators can "challenge the socialization of youth to a culture of militarism, confront US foreign policy and contest misinformation spread by military recruiters."
Harding and Kershner spent three years interviewing key stakeholders, activists, teachers, parents, and students, from twenty-five communities in fifteen states. They also researched the available literature to present a well-rounded picture of the "40-year-old [counter-recruitment] movement." The result is a satisfying piece of seat-of-your-pants, qualitative research and reporting which is both substantial and accessible.
The authors describe a variety of methods used by military recruiters to gain access to schools and to engage with students. They speak of "the recruitment pitch" given to so-called "future soldiers" that is part of a "highly sophisticated system...designed to coax impressionable young minds toward a favorable view of military service." The authors inform us that the recruitment effort in America is "enormous." They say, the annual budget for military recruitment is more than $1.4 billion. This enables military recruiters to visit thousands of public schools, administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery to nearly a million high school students and enroll half a million students in Junior Reserve Officers Training (JROTC).
They also note that much of this effort is directed toward low-income communities—creating what has become known as the poverty draft. They remind us that kids in these depressed areas, where educational and employment opportunities are scarce, are more likely to respond to messages that promise a job, status, training that translates to future civilian employment, and college benefits. The authors point out that in low-income areas school budgets have been cut and there are fewer guidance counselors. If there are no counter-recruiters present, kids are less likely to consider alternatives to military service, to attend community college or to apply for financial aid. In many cases recruiters are a constant presence, going beyond merely sitting behind a table to befriending and advising potential recruits, thereby becoming de-facto guidance counselors. Sadly, and all too often, the authors note that these de-facto guidance counselors — who have enlistment quotas to fill - are not above using "deceitful practices" and/or giving misleading or incomplete information to get kids to sign up.
The push by the military to get access to even younger populations, like middle school kids, brings to mind another old adage variously attributed to Aristotle, the Jesuits, and Lenin, "Give me the child before he is (6, 7, 10) and I'll have him forever." Counter-recruiters, in response, see their work as protecting children and teens from sophisticated military salesmanship while protecting schools from what the military calls, "total market penetration" or (...wait for it....) "school ownership!"
Counter-recruiters are also concerned with protecting student privacy and the primacy of parental consent. Goals include providing information to children and families so they can make informed choices and understand their rights, like the ability to opt-out of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery or to de-enlist from the Delayed Entry Program. This consumer advocacy technique reminded me of draft counseling approaches used during the Vietnam War. Back then, draft counselors did all they could within the law to help young men understand their rights and procedures under the Selective Service System.
Harding and Kershner consider and report on several strategies used by activists involved in counter-recruitment. Such tactics include not being perceived as anti-military but rather as advocates for kids, and using "American themes" in their presentations raising issues like privacy concerns and freedom of choice when it comes to testing and opting out of JROTC.
The authors point out that counter-recruitment work is "multidimensional." They see personal contact with students and parents as key. They strongly recommend getting students involved as peer counselors and as activists helping to end JROTC in the schools. Additionally, counter-recruiters lobby school boards or school administrators to get into schools and/or try to get them to monitor the behavior of military recruiters who may be abusing their visitation privileges.
Be assured that there is a lot more useful information here. For example, the authors discuss ways of linking counter-recruitment efforts to preventing future wars, discuss ways to assess the impact of local efforts, consider the possibility of nationwide coordination and present references to legal opinions/rulings that establish the rights to have a presence in schools.
"Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools" is a down-right informative and effective title. I also found it to be heart-felt. These authors clearly write from experience and truly believe that something must be done to counter-balance what is going on in our schools. Those currently involved in counter-recruitment will be refreshed and inspired by it. Further, I suspect the authors hope that activists, parents and educators who are not involved in counter-recruitment may find themselves wanting to look at what's going on in their neighborhoods and take necessary action.
In closing, note that the book features many anecdotes and quotes from folks who are doing this work. Here is one particularly powerful testimony:
"I think that child soldiering is wrong in Nigeria, and it's wrong in the United States too. When we have military recruiters that are sitting at a desk speaking with 14-year-olds in our school, that's child soldiering and it's happening in our own back yards...These kids are being filled with lies...That's unacceptable."
Gerald R. Gioglio is a VVAW member, Secular Franciscan, and author of "Days of Decision: an Oral History of Conscientious Objectors in the Military during the Vietnam War." He was discharged from the army in 1969 as a Catholic Conscientious Objector.