Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A volunteer military?

Who should make up the armed forces in our country and what role should the educational system play in that decision? Do you really know what NCLB does? Can you be patriotic without being pro-military?

Today was a pretty smooth day by our school's standard. We are still on a shortened bell, extended division (homeroom) schedule, but I had all of my classes today.

Since it's the last week before Winter Vacation (冬休), the kids are pretty restless. I gave back some exams, which I had graded rather leniently and gave the kids free time to work on their final projects.

In the second level course, they are preparing a grant proposal in English and Japanese. It's a wide range of performance--some kids have barely managed the English portion, and are just slapping some translated words into the process. Others are harassing me for new grammar points so they can write a good translation. Regardless, it's a good skill for them to work on--how to put your dreams into words and present them to others.

The first years are working on a picture porfolio introducing themselves and their families in "Amelie" style. Yeah, we actually watched a clip from "Amelie" in Japanese class. But hey, language is just a mask for communication right? So, just like in Amelie, they are to build people's personalities through a series of "She likes/She doesn't like" sentences.

But my most proud moment of the day was when one of my students who isn't actually in any of my classes (she takes French), but is in the room constantly, brought in a rough draft of a presentation I asked her to work on.

You see, my style tends to be to tell a whole bunch of students, "You're bored, why not try this? I think it's something you'd be interested in!" They get enthusiastic, but most of them soon forget--it's hard to follow through on things.

But she came in today and was like, "Yeah, it's kind of short, but I hope it'll be good", so I set it up for her to present to the other students who work in the room after school.

Her presentation was on "The Opt-Out" form for military service. I probably should back up and explain: Under NCLB (No Child Left Behind), every school district must turn over the names, home contact information and other personal information of all of its 10th-12th grade students to military recruiters. Really, I'm not making this up. It's part of the law. Basically, the only way to prevent this from happening is for students or their parents to sign "Opt-out" forms which would remove the student from the list that is being turned over.

So the student went through the details, gave a little too detail, and not enough enthusiasm (I think she was a little nervous), but then went into the question and answer session. And she was incredible. The kids gave her a bunch of tough questions and she had an answer for everything:
Q: What wrong with them calling us?
A: Well, think about this, you have a terrible day, get several failing notices, and get in a fight with your parents, and then this recruiter calls promising you some dream life...
Q: How do I get this form?
A: Well, I've a stack of forms?
Q: Do I need my parents to sign this?
A: No, only you need to sign this--it's not a legal commitment to anything, it just gets you off of the list.

Our school actually gave out the forms once--on report card day. Unfortunately, only about 25% of our parents come to Report Card pick-up. Furthermore, since they are only handed out to the parents in a big stack of forms, only a couple ever come back.

I finished out the Q&A session by asking:
Q: My father is in the Navy, what's wrong with the military? He's proud to serve the country!
A: This is not about being pro or anti-military. It's just about making sure the people who are in the military are people who want to be in the military.

I'm really excited about this--it's not the politics. Sure--it helps that she's informed and active on a vital issue. But it's just exciting to see kids determine for themselves how they think the society should be and take action to make those beliefs into real societal change.

There's a lot more to the "Opt-Out" and counter recruitment movement that deals with the socio-economic and racial inequities of the current recruitment system. If you are interested, check this out:

Please post any comments, especially critical. Thanks!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Curious, how accurate is that "Opt out" information? I visited the aforementioned link, and several of the page links were taken down. If the Pentagon database is actually illegal, how is it that it is not secret? The Pentagon keeps many secrets quite well. *grin* I am trying to probe the veracity of this allegation. Certainly, if NCLB does indeed include a little known, and less frequently used, Opt-Out policy for the military, I would be very upset and indignant about changing it.

Another thing that bothers me is the concept that the government thinks they can mandate what my child *can* learn in a public school. In essence, the government has given itself rights to teach my child whatever it wants with built in protection from parents! What sense does that make?

9:02 AM  
Blogger xian said...

Thanks for responding.
I would imagine that the legality of the database is in a grey area like many of the newer information gathering missions the government is doing. That's how I understood the constant use of "illegal".

What I understand of the NCLB regulation is that school districts are required to turn over private student information to the military. That coupled with a lack of information of how to remove oneself from that provision is a major problem.

With your second paragraph, I agree entirely, but I'm curious exactly what you are referring to. The standards are pretty flexible, but indeed the tying of funding to scores on poorly design tests is a major problem.

I still feel free to teach whatever I feel is necessary, and of course, I integrate that with what the students show interest and need in learning. I also incorporate the values of any parents who respond when I contact them.

But ultimately, the test-geared atmosphere has a damaging effect even in non-test subjects. The system no longer values critical thinking skills and many students have become resistant to such higher thought skills based project.

But resistant is not the same as incapable and there are little triumphs everyday.

11:35 PM  

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