Wednesday, July 16, 2008

National body of educators takes up ASVAB issue

This report comes from Arlene Inouye, who is an educator in the Los Angeles public school system and is coordinator of the Coalition Against Militarism in our Schools (CAMS -- see the "Resources" list in the column at left). She attended the Representative Assembly of the National Education Association (NEA) and submitted a New Business Item (NBI) about the use of the Armed Services Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test in high schools, which gains students' personal information for recruitment purposes.

Arlene writes:

The 87th NEA-RA gathered in Washington DC with political activism taking center stage in the fight for public education in this critical election year. The NEA Representative Assembly is the annual meeting of national delegates representing 3.2 million educators, who make decisions on the beliefs, legislation, policies, and actions of the organization, and elect its leadership. What is striking about the NEA is that it is engaged in a democratic process with 9,000 educators around the nation. It provides an opportunity for grassroots teachers and activists to bring issues of concern with recommended actions and to have an input regarding the core values of the organization.

There were 83 new business items which are calls to action in the next year. They included a variety of topics such as actions to denounce the No Child Left Behind Act, to promote health care reform, support for immigrants and English language learners, and to address social security concerns to name a few. For the past 4 years, CAMS has brought to the RA issues regarding military recruitment. We also have brought issues to the American Federation of Teachers and California Federation of Teachers the other arm of our local United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA). The first time we raised Section 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2004, educators were stunned because they did not know that high schools gave military recruiters the personal information of juniors and seniors.

This year we brought the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (or ASVAB) to the floor of the RA and in writing. After receiving support from the California delegation the following was proposed and passed by the body of NEA. This new business item states:

NEA opposes mandatory and/or coerced participation of students in the administration of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam.

Rationale: The primary purpose of the exam is for admission to the Armed Forces. Schools are using this as a means of career exploration. However, the exam is only an assessment of the student’s current knowledge and is not a predictor of inclination toward specific skill sets or interests.

Many speakers came forward to speak for and against the ASVAB, but few objected to oppose its mandatory or coerced participation. One of our UTLA supporters gave a strong statement regarding the targeting of working poor and youth of color by military recruiters with their humvees and slick propaganda. He asked why don’t we see recruiters for doctors, lawyers, engineers in our schools? NEA adopted this legislative amendment.

In summary, the NEA can be an excellent forum to raise issues of military recruitment in the public schools. Many educators told me that they didn’t know about the ASVAB, and thanked me for raising the issue. But the story that touched me the most was a middle school teacher in California who I first met last year at the RA. When I told him about CAMS he told me that he was a navy veteran. He went into the military because in high school his counselor had told him THAT was his only option. Even though he was smart, he was Latino and came from a working poor family. He said that he didn’t know any better and enlisted. He was discharged after he had spoken out against the navy, went to college and became a teacher. He told me that since we met, he has been telling his middle school students about his experience in the Navy, giving them the message that it is not macho and cool to be in the military. He tells them about what it feels like to know that you have dropped bombs that injure and kill persons. His Principal has talked with him about not speaking against the military, but he is not concerned since he is the president of his Teachers’ Union . He thanked me for that initial discussion we had while waiting for a shuttle bus at the RA. It blows my mind to think of all the students that can be potentially touched because educators have been given the information about military recruitment, or have been encouraged to share their own stories.

--Arlene Inouye, CAMS Coordinator,

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