NCLB – Is it patriotic?

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We are a proud nation. We lift up our Constitution and Bill of Rights as models for the rest of the world. Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Equal protection under the law. Due process. These are the principles that other nations should emulate.

Freedom and Choice. The original colonies chose to form a new nation in order to free themselves from tyranny. The founders wanted more freedom and more choices. Today, Americans believe that they have freedom to make choices. It is this freedom that must be defended. President Bush has told us that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are, in part, necessary to defend our nation, our freedom, our way of life. While people differ on what it means to be a patriot, it is clear that a willingness to defend the Constitution and the Nation is essential.

Since 1971 military service has been a matter of choice. We pride ourselves in our all-volunteer armed forces. Even though thousands of service personnel have died or been wounded, thousands of young women and men are choosing to enlist in the armed forces. Some enlist for the promise of money for college and job training. Others enlist because of patriotism and a sense of duty. Regardless of the reason, they have all freely chosen to serve in the military. Or have they?

As part of the Bush Administration’s preparations for war, the government deepened the connection between schools and the military through the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. Buried deep inside this centerpiece of the Bush Administration’s education policy, Section 9528 “Armed Forces Recruiter Access to Students and Student Recruitment Information” requires school districts that receive federal funds to provide military recruiters with high school student contact information (i.e., name, address, and phone number) unless the student or parent opt out of releasing this information. NCLB also requires school districts to inform students and parents of their right to opt out. The most popular approach has been to create opt out forms to be filled out and turned into districts. Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) has agreed to send opt out forms in the student information packets, distribute these forms to all high school students during the second week of classes, and place them on their website. However, many school districts in the Central Valley do not have a clear policy on the opt out option nor do they have an opt out form available for students and parents. This means that thousands of high school students will have their contact information released to military recruiters without their permission.

Young people are faced with one of the most important and difficult decisions in their lives – whether to enlist in the armed forces. Our nation guarantees that this decision should be a free choice to opt in to military service. NCLB does not follow this tradition instead students and parents must opt out. Many school districts in California and around the nation have tried to change the opt out to an opt in without success. The federal government will not recognize the opt in option. This is wrong. This is unpatriotic. Congress should amend NCLB and let students opt in to being contacted by military recruiters. Contact your U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator to demand that Section 9528 of NCLB be amended from opt out to opt in.

While choice should begin at the start of the decision-making process and the federal government should make NCLB more patriotic, there is something that Californians can do to give more choice to all high school students. Prior to the November election, Assembly Bill 1778 (the Student and Family Protection Act of 2006) was passed and sent to the Governor for signature. This bill would have required high schools to place the opt out option on the emergency information card. Since this card is required by most high schools as part of the registration process, it would have allowed thousands of students and parents to choose whether or not to release their contact information. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed the bill. Contact your State Assembly Member and State Senator to pass this bill again and tell Governor Schwarzenegger to sign it!

Choice is patriotic. Regardless of political affiliation or position on the war, we need to tell our elected representatives to be more patriotic by giving more students and parents the choice to opt out and, ultimately, the choice to opt in.

Scott Key is a faculty member at Fresno Pacific University. He has a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Illinois and teaches in the School of Education.

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