Teachers Counter Military Recruitment in Public Schools

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KPCC is focusing this week on the anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. One important angle is military recruiting. The Defense Department says it's meeting recruitment goals. But a Defense Undersecretary recently said recruitment was dragging because young people today look down on military life, many are out of shape and the war is five years old. The counter-recruitment movement isn't helping either. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez looked at one Southland group's effort to limit military recruitment in public schools.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez:It's the end of a school day at Roosevelt High School. Thousands of students are streaming out of the Boyle Heights campus. Three of them are leaving with Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Nicolas Perez.

Nicolas Perez: We're going to go to Fosters Freeze.
Guzman-Lopez: And what are you going to do?
Perez: Eat some stuff, probably ice cream. Do you want some ice cream?
Student: Yes sir.
Perez: You want an ice cream? We're going to go have ice creams. It's a hot day.
Guzman-Lopez: And you're going to talk about the Marine Corps, right?
Perez: No, actually we're not. We're going to eat ice cream. Ready?

Guzman-Lopez: Roosevelt High teacher Arlene Inouye approaches the recruiter and asks if he's the one who leafleted teachers requesting time for classroom talks.

Arlene Inouye: Have you scheduled any?
Perez: Have I scheduled any? No, nobody has called me yet.

Guzman-Lopez: Inouye began working as a speech therapist at this school about a decade ago.

Inouye: Oh, in 1997, '98, when I started at this school, I was stunned, because there were military recruiters talking to students inside the school, at lunch, at recess, during nutrition, after school. They were walking around.

Guzman-Lopez: Almost four years ago Inouye founded the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools. It aims to limit armed forces recruiters' access to students. Public schools can't prohibit that contact. State and federal laws allow recruiters to obtain students' telephone numbers and addresses.

The counter-recruitment coalition widely distributes forms that allow parents to keep their kids' information private. Through Arlene Inouye's efforts, recruiters at Roosevelt High aren't allowed to talk to students one-on-one, except in the school's career center.

Roosevelt High social studies teacher Carlos Castillo and other members of the coalition suggest other options, like higher education, to students considering the military. Castillo grew up in East L.A. He was in the 8th grade, he says, when he thought about enlisting.

Carlos Castillo: I can't remember a teacher ever telling me that that was maybe not the greatest idea. I think that I remember teachers kind of, when I would say, you know, I want to join the military, most of the teachers would say, that's good, that's good. That's a really good opportunity for you.

Guzman-Lopez: He says he still hears teachers assume that condescending tone toward the mostly working class, Latino students on campus. The counter-recruitment coalition is active to various degrees in 80 campuses in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Pasadena, and Santa Monica. Its organizers helped students start a club at Franklin High, a few miles north of Roosevelt.

Marwin Yeung: Thank you for coming to our workshop. My name is Marwin Yeung, and I'm one of the coordinators for Equality for All, and today our workshop is going to be on Countering Military Recruitment.

Guzman-Lopez: Almost two dozen students and several teachers listen to senior Marwin Yeung's lunch-hour critique of military recruiters.

Yeung: For them to come to our schools to recruit students, where this is supposed to be an educational facility, I believe it's wrong. One thing to think about is which schools are they targeting. The schools that they usually target are communities of color. And, for example, they have recruitment at Franklin, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Garfield, Wilson.

Guzman-Lopez: Armed forces recruiters fan out to these schools from a large Army and Marine Corps recruiting center in East L.A. Often they approach students through Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps programs.

Supervisors at the recruiting station did not respond to repeated interview requests for this story. During Marwin Yeung's workshop, U.S. Army Sergeant Major Don Thomas, the school's Junior ROTC instructor, defended the program at Franklin High.

Don Thomas: We're basically a physical education program. And, what we do is be very serious about physical education.

Guzman-Lopez: Franklin's Junior ROTC is about 150 students strong, Thomas said. He added that recruiters visit the campus to talk about the military, but there's no push to join. On his way home from Roosevelt High, senior Jose Alberto Garcia said he's made up his mind about his future.

Jose Alberto Garcia: I want to become a Chicano Studies teacher, try to educate students about the culture.

Guzman-Lopez: A military recruiter has approached him, but Garcia doesn't plan to pay for his college tuition that way. He didn't reach his decision lightly. His 23-year-old brother is an Army sergeant stationed in Iraq.

Military service straightened him out after he started getting in trouble and skipping school. Garcia said that even though he opposes the war, he's proud of what his brother's accomplished in the Army. And he's looking forward to his big brother's next visit home in December.