Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Leave No Sales Pitch Behind

The New York Times
January 4, 2005

Leave No Sales Pitch Behind

The fine print in President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act is slowly dawning on the parents of high school students across the country as the war in Iraq drags on: military recruiters can blitz youngsters with uninvited phone calls to their homes and on-campus pitches replete with video war games. This is all possible under a little noted part of the law that requires schools to provide the names, addresses (campus addresses, too) and phone numbers of students or risk losing federal aid. The law provides an option to block the hard-sell recruitment - but only if parents demand in writing that the school deny this information to the military.

Hard-pressed recruiters have stepped up the sales pitch to meet wartime manpower shortages. One sergeant filmed by the NewsHour on PBS recently sounded like a salesman from David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross as he exhorted a campus group: "I mean, where else can you get paid to jump out of airplanes, shoot cool guns, blow stuff up and travel, seeing all kinds of different countries?"

The Pentagon insists that it enjoys the same entree to high school students as college and corporate recruiters. But clearly, No Child Left Behind has given the military a thumb on the scale with the threat of lost money. Some students on the cusp of adulthood describe the recruiters as merely offering another option in life; others complain of outright pestering.

Recruiters have learned to focus on the most promising markets - typically lower-middle-class schools. No one can complain of unfairness in a draft-free society where many have found fine careers in the military, with recruitment part of the process. But it is objectionable when the government tucks a decided advantage for its wartime armies' salesmanship into a law invoked in the name of children.