Monday, August 13, 2007

What I'm Doing On My Summer Vacation.

So, I spent last week in a rented house down at the Jersey shore, one of my favorite places in the whole wide world, with my wife and younger son, a fifteen year old to whom I refer as The Liberal-In-Training, mainly because he's already quite the well-informed, compassionate progressive. We had an almost perfect week, relaxation-wise and weather-wise (which is good, because few things can be worse than a rainy summer day at the shore, stuck in a house with a bored teenager), and the waves were (for a change) big enough for some serious boogie boarding almost every day. I did pass on the para-sailing, however. I don't do heights.

Anyway, we came back this past weekend, and I got down to work, getting some things done before I have to get back to my middle school classroom in three weeks. One of the first things on my August "to do" list was to write a letter to my son's soon-to-be guidance counselor at the high school which he will be attending this fall, letting him know that we are "opting out" of the No Child Left Behind-mandated program which forces high schools that receive federal money (which means all public high schools, basically) to provide personal and normally confidential information about soon-to-be recruitable students to the military. You didn't know about this? You should, especially if you have kids. The Pentagon has access to all your child's personal stuff, and unless you tell the school you don't want them to have it, the school must provide it. (Read more about it here.) Most parents don't know about this, and many don't care. But, see, we here in The Garden State do care. I'm a devout Quaker, and even though neither of my sons are Friends, the whole family agrees on this issue: the military, in our opinion, has no business using the schools as a rent-free recruiting office. Students, who are a captive audience under our system of compulsory education, should not have to put up with military recruiters in their classrooms, in their cafeterias, at their school activities and athletic events. If a kid wants information about enlisting, she or he can freely visit one of the (several) local recruiting centers in our town. They're easy to find. But my family's unlisted phone number, and my son's Social Security number, amongst other things, should not be available for the asking to some stranger who just happens to wear a uniform. Nuh-uh. Nope.

So I wrote the letter, and I downloaded and filled out a form for my son's school files, and stuffed it all in an envelope, and stuck on the stamp. And then I settled in to catch up on some of the news I had missed (I - happily - had no Internet access at the shore, and had avoided watching the news, at least until the end of the week when I first heard about those trapped miners in Utah), and one of the first things I came across online was this piece:

ANNVILLE, Pa. (AP) - Brittany Vojta survived boot camp. It was high school she couldn't make it through. Now, however, she has benefited from a program the National Guard started this year in Pennsylvania for privates who drop out of high school after signing up.

In an old barracks at Fort Indiantown Gap, the 18-year-old Cleveland woman and other dropouts spent three intensive weeks in class this summer to help them pass their GEDs — so they would meet the minimal educational requirement for staying in the Guard.

Straining to fill its ranks with the Iraq war in its fifth year, the military is taking on an ever bigger role providing basic education to new recruits. The strategy is potentially risky for the military as it strives to maintain the quality of its force, but it's giving dropouts like Vojta a second chance.

"Something happened in that soldier's life that was bad. ... We have the ability to stop another bad action from happening — them getting discharged from the military," said Sgt. 1st Class John Walton, 32, who started the Pennsylvania program. He says it is not about filling quotas but helping the troops.

The rest is here. Now, I have no problem with folks who go the GED route. I used to teach high school, and I know that kids don't always finish on time with a diploma for all sorts of reasons. And getting a GED shows that, in spite of difficulties and obstacles, many young kids still value an education and will do what they have to do to get their diplomas. But. There's something kind of insidious and also telling about this. It's like those so-called "prep schools" that get athletes ready to be exploited by top-shelf NCAA football and basketball powerhouses, making sure they have the minimum "grades" and test scores to be eligible, in spite of the fact that they (the universities) know the athletes will never (or rarely) graduate. I know something about this: I tutored some of these guys at Temple University back in the day, and I also worked with athletes at the community college where I worked before taking my current job.

The military claims it's mostly meeting its monthly quotas (at least the Army says so: yeah, I trust them), and people in the Bush administration and at the Pentagon are running away from our new "war czar's" comments last week about bringing back the draft, but stories like this make me wonder about just how well things are going on the recruiting front. Maybe our young people and their families are finally starting to wise up about what really goes on when it comes to military recruiters and their lies. And maybe that comes from watching the news.

Hopefully, at least, they'll be staying away from my kid. But I'm not counting on it.

PS: This is my first post as a member of The Unruly Mob. I am truly honored to have been invited to contribute to this blog, and I hope my work proves worthy of y'all's faith in me.

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