Monday, December 15, 2008

Standing With Chairman Rangel on Military Recruitment in Manhattan Schools

We have been very fortunate to have the leadership of Charlie Rangel in Congress representing Manhattan for nearly 40 years. He is the dean of the New York State Delegation to Congress, and he is the chairman of one of the most powerful committees in Congress. But, more importantly, he is a biased and aggressive advocate for our children.

Chairman Rangel's leadership was again on display recently as he called for the New York City Department of Education to focus on protecting the privacy of our children as it deals with requests for information from the US Armed Forces.

Rangel to the Rescue

When the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law by President Bush in 2001, it contained a provision related to military recruitment at public schools. The No Child Left Behind Act requires public schools to provide recruiters from the armed forces the same access to students as those schools provide to college recruiters. Schools are also required, when asked, to provide contact information for every student to the US armed forces. Students and parents can opt out of this information sharing process by writing a letter to their local school administrators.

The NYC Department of Education recently changed its policies regarding the provision of information to the armed forces to streamline and centralize the process while making it easier for the armed forces to collect information about NYC public school students.

Late last month, Chairman Rangel, a veteran of (and hero of) the Korean War, wrote a letter to Chancellor Klein requesting that the NYC Department of Education allow a 30-day period for students, teachers, and parents to comment on the recently altered policy. He also asked that the DOE suggest alternatives to meet the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act. More than two-dozen elected officials from around New York City signed onto Chairman Rangel's letter, and the New York Civil Liberties Union coordinated the release of the letter as well as a press conference highlighting the risks of the new policy.

Chairman Rangel's letter sounds the alarm with regard to the enormous access granted to the US military by NYC public schools and highlights for us the challenges parents and students face in complying with the processes for preventing the distribution of their personal information to the US military. The letter includes an attachment with a long list of very specific recommendations from this group of elected officials regarding how the NYC DOE should deal with various elements of military recruiting at NYC public schools. Let us hope that the NYC DOE implements those suggestions. Without the leadership of Chairman Rangel, our children would be less likely to obtain the protection and respect they deserve from the NYC Department of Education.

Recruiting's Ugly Side

Our nation's volunteer military requires recruitment in order to maintain adequate numbers of troops to keep us safe, but the volunteer nature of the military results in disproportionate representation in the military by people of color and by people of modest means. Those with the greatest non-military opportunities and the greatest wealth and income are the least represented in the modern US armed forces. A cynic might believe that an ineffective educational system is a component of military recruiting - limiting our children's options and fast-tracking them for service in the armed forces. There would appear to be a conflict of interest for the US military as it interacts with our children and our children's schools, and we are led to wonder whether the US military desires improved education in our nation's big cities as it faces shortfalls in its recruitment results. Every year since 2004, the US military has not met its goal of 90% of its recruits having achieved high school graduation. For 2007, only 70% of those entering the military had completed high school. More and more, poor academic results are correlating with successful recruitment by the military.

There have even been documented abuses by military recruiters, including threats of arrest for those who choose not to enlist, misleading statements designed to trick students into joining the military after those students have expressed the desire to remain outside of the armed forces, and encouraging potential recruits to include false information in their submissions to the military. Complaints against recruiters have risen in recent years, and the military continues to provide bonuses to recruiters based on how many students begin basic training, leading to recruiting abuses that might be reduced if bonuses were based on successful completion of basic training.

In the face of concerns about privacy and recruitment tactics, Manhattan Viewpoint is grateful to Chairman Rangel for shining a spotlight on the role that our city's government is playing in steering students to the US military and for encouraging our city to take better care of the personal information it possesses about our children. We are grateful for this leadership, but not at all surprised to see it.

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