Against the militarization of schools

"Opt-out" campaigns to counter strategies of the US military to gather information on potential recruits in high schools have had little impact. Other tactics have proven more effective.
Pat Elder
4 January 2012

Almost immediately after the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, antiwar groups across the country began organizing their communities in response to Section 9528 of the law. This section provides military recruiters the names, addresses, and phone numbers of high school students provided that parents and students are given the opportunity to "opt out" of the lists being forwarded to recruiters. The law directs schools to notify parents of the right to opt out, but many schools throughout the country failed to do so. Right away, programs sprung up across the country, encouraging parents to opt out and providing forms for them to do so.

Many became convinced that "opting out" kept recruiters at bay, but this counter-cultural cottage industry has been rendered largely inconsequential due in part to a quantum leap in the Pentagon's information gathering capabilities. From electronic trolling of social websites to purchasing information from yearbook and ring companies -- military recruiting services know what's in Johnny's head, if Johnny has a girlfriend, and what she thinks of his decision regarding enlistment. The laptops of local recruiters are loaded with personal information on youth. For instance, the Army's PrizmNE segmentation system combines demographic, consumer behavior, and geographic data pertaining to individual prospects. The information is merged with data from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and the result is staggering. Recruiters know Johnny reads wrestling magazines, weighs 150 pounds, can bench press 230, drives a ten year-old Chevy truck, listens to "classic rock," and enjoys fly fishing.

Name, address, and phone number? The Pentagon might know if a prospect has had gingivitis.

A lot of this information is stored in the Pentagon's little known "Joint Advertising Market Research Studies" (JAMRS) database, a massive registry of 30 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 25. It encompasses: Full name, date of birth, gender, address, city, state, zip code, e-mail address, ethnicity, telephone number, high school name, graduation date, grade point average (GPA) code, education level, college intent, military interest, field of study, current college attending, ASVAB Test date, and Armed Forces Qualifying Test Category Score.

Although there is no way to keep personal information out of the JAMRS database, the New York Civil Liberties Union provides a method for opting out. This will place information in a suppression file and make it inaccessible to recruiters. (To be clear, there are two opt-out campaigns, one pertaining to JAMRS and other to NCLB.)

Meanwhile, Quakers in a small southeastern Pennsylvania town join youthful radicals in an L.A. suburb and hundreds of groups across the country in campaigns to pressure high school administrators to notify parents of their right to opt out of lists being forwarded to recruiters. They distribute flyers in front of the local high school and they suggest that recruiters will be held at bay if only parents would fill out the form and drop it off in the main office. It's a nice thought, but it's off the mark and sadly unfortunate. Their collective indignation should be channeled to confront one of the Pentagon's most effective recruiting programs in high schools: the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Career Exploration Program or ASVAB CEP.

The ASVAB is the military's entrance exam that is given to fresh recruits to determine their aptitude for various military occupations, but it is also used to pre-qualify leads in high schools. The military marches into 12,000 schools across the country every year and gives the ASVAB to 660,000 kids under the guise of a Career Exploration Program. The student information gathered through the administration of the test dwarfs the name, address, and phone number sent to recruiters under NCLB. Three hours of test results, sensitive demographic information, and social security numbers are forwarded to recruiters for use in a sophisticated psychological recruitment program without parental knowledge or consent and often in violation of state laws. Like the SAT college admission test, the test contains verbal and math sections, but it also contains sections on Auto & Shop, Mechanical Comprehension, and Assembling Objects.

Although a student may have had his or her name removed from school lists being sent to recruiters, the NCLB opt out provision does not cover the ASVAB. Meanwhile, ASVAB results are stored in the JAMRS database.

The ASVAB opens the door to Johnny's cognitive abilities, something recruiting services can't purchase or find online. Johnny's social, intellectual, and mechanical dimensions are combined to create a precise, virtual portrait. As one high-level Department of Defense (DoD) official put it, "It's all about info before first contact." It's an insidious game; a psychological mismatch. Advantage: Recruiter.

A little-known DoD regulation allows schools to give the ASVAB while prohibiting results from reaching recruiters. There's a lot of work to be done telling school officials about this option. Peace activists need to switch gears from the opt-out to the ASVAB.

Activists in Maryland learned the DoD treasures the ASVAB CEP while it cares less about the opt-out provision of NCLB. Maryland is the only state to have a law on the books that requires NCLB opt-out language to be placed on the mandatory emergency contact form, a step that results in depriving the military of an additional stream of tens of thousands of names, addresses, and phone numbers. The military was absent when the legislation worked its way through Maryland's General Assembly in 2008. It was a different story two years later when Maryland passed the only law in the nation that regulates ASVAB testing in high schools. The law prohibits the automatic release of student information to recruiters gained through the administration of the test. Maryland school officials must select ASVAB Release Option 8, a measure that stops recruiters from automatically receiving test data. The test is still allowed in the state's schools, but the results may only be used for enlistment purposes with active parental consent.

Every Maryland legislator received a letter from the top brass at the Pentagon opposing the ASVAB measure. Military officials visited the offices of various legislators who sat on key House and Senate Committees. Lt. Col. Christopher Beveridge, Commander, 12th Battalion, U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command testified that the military, rather than parents, should make the decisions regarding the release of student information gathered through the administration of the ASVAB. The President of the Maryland Parent Teacher Association said parents should make the decisions regarding the release of their children's information and the common sense measure became law.

Hawaii also has a similar measure in place. A national campaign is now under way to encourage activists to urge their state's superintendent and school board members to follow the lead of Maryland and Hawaii.

It's tough attempting to convince soul mates in this movement that NCLB opt-out campaigns are a pointless venture. People get upset by such criticism, but it is heartening to consider that these campaigns can at least become a kind of segue for citizens to plug into for more effective work.

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