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They're students, not recruits

They're students, not recruits

Keep the military's base of operations out our education system

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As the ... school year begins, parents and guardians across the [U.S.] are getting to know new teachers, bus routes, routines and worrying increasingly about violence and bullying as we send our children into the semi-unknown. It’s a busy, nervous time of year.

Parents of school-aged children in Syria and Iraq have other worries. An August 2014 United Nations Human Rights Council report states that both state and non-state armed groups in the region have been recruiting children for combat and non-combat support roles in violent conflict, [including] ISIS. ...

Many of the issues facing American, Syrian and Iraqi parents are incomparable. As parents ourselves, we cannot imagine the horror of wanting an education for our children only to watch them be actively recruited or forced into armed combat at age 11. But, we also recognize that American children as young as age 5 are also actively recruited by an armed group – the U.S. military – throughout their educational career.

U.S. military recruiters have access to American children beginning in kindergarten and extending through their senior year under the guises of education and employment. As a provision of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, in order to receive federal funding, our public schools must provide the Department of Defense with our children’s personal information unless parents or students “opt-out” every single year. Is your child struggling with math, chemistry or other subjects? Is your child late or absent often? Is your child from a single parent home or on reduced lunches? The Department of Defense wants to know if your child fits any of these markers as a target for recruitment. The New York Civil Liberties Union website offers tools for opting out, and both parents and children – even those under 17-years-old – can sign the forms.

Aside from using personal information to target potential recruits, the Department of Defense has developed a more under-the-radar recruitment strategy over the past 21 years. Rather than just sending recruiters to schools, schools are sending kids in grades kindergarten through fifth to military bases to learn science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. This is the Department's Starbase program ... Its vision: “To raise the interest and improve the knowledge and skills of at-risk youth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which will provide for a highly educated and skilled American workforce that can meet the advanced technological requirements of the Department of Defense.”

The U.S. has more than 1,000 bases spread across the globe. In the 1980s it was recognized that our military capacity depended on our dominance of technology. What once was “boots on the ground” is now “fingers on the joystick” as soldiers use space technology, robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to target and kill from a distance. The Department of Defense needs recruits that understand math and science. Department of Defense-monitored STEM education for children today ensures scientifically literate soldiers tomorrow.

As a caveat of participation in Starbase, children are exposed to military career instruction as one-sixth of the curriculum. Post-program evaluations measure students’ attitudes toward the military, military personnel, facilities and careers. If students leave Starbase with more positive attitudes about working in the military, the program is considered a success. ...

Our children deserve a chance to learn and utilize STEM knowledge without being “targeted” by the Department of Defense, as it was put in Department's annual report. Rather than spending $25 million for STEM classes on military bases per year, let’s use that money to build better science labs in the schools. Rather than recruiting future soldiers, let’s recruit and pay better teachers. We deserve quality STEM education in quality schools and the privacy of our children’s personal information.

Find out if Starbase is targeting children in your area using the Starbase Locater on the program’s website. Email your concerns or testify in person to your local public school board. Inform other parents about the risks and goals of the program. Demand that your child’s school provide alternative educational opportunities to the Starbase program and support their right to a quality STEM education where it’s needed most – in school. ...

Terri Shofner is a Portland parent, board member for the Oregon Peace Institute and works as a researcher in the civilian STEM industry. Erin Niemela is a Portland parent, a Master’s Candidate in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University and Editor for PeaceVoice.

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