Los Angeles High School senior Victor Banuelos has received two phone calls from military recruiters in the last six months.
“They tell us, if we’re failing classes, we’re not going to make it to college,” said Banuelos, 17, who wants to go to college. “They say, ‘With our help is the only way to get out of the ghetto.’ ”
On Saturday, Banuelos and nearly 100 parents, teachers and students gathered at Manual Arts High School to discuss how to curb such military recruitment of public school students.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools are required to provide military recruiters with names, addresses and phone numbers of all high school juniors and seniors or lose millions of dollars of aid. However, parents can prevent the information from being provided if they complete an “opt out” form.
The daylong conference featured workshops on ROTC programs, which some antiwar activists say serve as a conduit to the armed services.
A different view was presented last week when 700 students from 48 schools competed in a Junior ROTC drill meet.
Junior ROTC leaders and cadets said the purpose of their programs was not to send young people off to war, and there was no requirement that students enrolled in such middle and high school programs serve in the military.
Rodney McElrath, who leads a JROTC program at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, said the program also encourages students to attend college.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t understand the purpose of ROTC,” he said. “The biggest misunderstanding is that we’re trying to get kids in the Army. That’s not true, we want them to take their ... SATs.”
But those who attended Saturday’s conference at Manual Arts, which was sponsored by the United Teachers-Los Angeles Human Rights Committee and the Coalition Against Militarism in our Schools, disagreed.
Student speakers from Los Angeles Unified School District high schools spoke out against ROTC programs and pressure to join the military. In addition, Fernando Suarez del Solar, father of Marine Lance Cpl. Jesus Alberto Suarez del Solar, who was killed in the Iraq war in March, urged the audience to resist military recruitment programs on campuses.
“This is a conscious plan on the part of the government to drive our students out of the schools and drive them into the military to take part in the death and destruction,” Suarez del Solar said.
Arlene Inouye, a coordinator of the event, said students are being sold “myths” that make joining the military seem attractive, such as the notion that it’s a good way to travel to other parts of the world. “With all of the casualties of war, it becomes a life-or-death issue,” she said.
Crenshaw High School student Frances Martin, 16, said she has received at least two telephone calls at home from military recruiters, and she hung up on them.
Martin is a member of the Coalition for Educational Justice, a student activist group that led a campaign to convince state officials to postpone the implementation of a California high school exit exam. The test was originally to be given to the class of 2004 as a graduation requirement, but in July the California Board of Education voted to postpone the exam for two years.
Martin said it is unfair to target students in low-performing schools for military recruitment, when they are receiving a poor education because of overcrowded classrooms and a lack of books or qualified teachers. There are more adults pushing her and other students to enlist in the military than to apply to college, she said.
“If you fail standardized tests, like the exit exam, it’s more difficult for you to go to college,” she said. “Then it gives military recruiters the opportunity to call us and say, ‘Well, it doesn’t look like you’re going to college. We can help you.’ ”
Marcella Sadler, 17, said one of her former high school friends became a soldier and killed five Iraqis. He touts his military experience because he traveled to Germany and Spain. But she’s horrified and saddened by his tales of death and violence.
“We should be nurturing our youth,” she said, “not sending them off to war.”