Wacky Mommy vs. Starbase, or Why It’s Wrong for Portland Public Schools to Allow the U.S. Government to Do Military Recruitment on Any Students, But Especially 5-Year-Olds
January 26, 2010 9:22 pm
Awww, does my headline say it all? I believe it does.
Have you heard about Starbase?
From their website:
STARBASE Portland is designed for students Kindergarten through 12th grade.
The goal of the STARBASE Portland Program is to raise the interest and improve the knowledge and skills of at-risk youth in math, science, and technology by exposing them to the technological environment and positive role models found on military bases and installations.
The STARBASE Portland Program curriculum provides 25 classroom contact hours of instruction spread over 5 days. All STARBASE classroom contact hours take place on the Portland Air National Guard Base or Jackson Army National Guard Armory.
PPS parent Cindy Young has heard of Starbase. I have, too. The fifth-graders at my kids’ school know about it now. You know who’s high on it? My children’s principal and, it would appear, their teachers. I am not high on it. I am wholeheartedly against it. I am against it with my whole, hippie, radical left-leaning, socialist feminist heart. We are pacifists at my house, that’s why. You think I’m cool with my kid “playing war” at a military base? Excuse me, but have we met? I’m Nancy. I do not care for war games and a whitewashed introduction to death. C’mere, so I can smack you upside the head. (I am a pacifist; I never said I don’t have a temper. My mama did not raise a fool.)
Instead of “at-risk youth,” as Starbase so patronizingly calls our students, I would like to suggest that they go for some “transparency” and say “cannon fodder,” ie…
“We need more poor kids for cannon fodder because the wars we have been fighting for… well, let me think… your parents’ entire lives, your entire life and your children’s entire lives, too, aren’t going that well.”
You know what comes to mind? That old saying:
“Join the Army; travel to strange, exotic lands; meet interesting people; and kill them.”
My daughter, “That’s horrible!”
Me, “That’s the military.”
PPS is down with military recruitment, we already knew this. And they don’t have any qualms about starting awfully young. That website, it says “kindergarten through 12th grade,” does it not? Five? Age five. Ages five through eighteen. How convenient.
Here is an article that my colleague Anne Trudeau wrote for the Southeast Examiner, Sept. 2005.
ANOTHER SIDE TO THE MILITARY RECRUITMENT STORY
September 2005 Southeast Examiner
William Ramirez was a junior at Franklin High school when he was approached by the Army recruiters who visited there regularly. Annette Pritchard, Ramirez’s aunt, holds up a photograph of nineteen year old William that was found in his belongings after he was killed in Baghdad on February 19, 2004.
“The recruiters became his best friends. They told him that they only took high school graduates. Even after he dropped out of high school, they said he could be an architect or an engineer.”
William served a year in Afghanistan and then went to Iraq. As a member of the 2nd Armored Calvary Division, William was working night patrols in the city of Baghdad. His job was to illuminate targets.
His aunt gazes at the photo of the young man wearing goggles and a helmet. “He was always so shy. We were surprised he looked straight at the camera here. But he still looks scared.”
Spurred on by William’s death, Annette is determined to present another side to the military recruiter’s promises of rewarding career opportunities. Speaking before several dozen people at an August anti-military recruiting workshop in Portland, she lists the subtle and not-so-subtle tactics the military uses to appeal to youth as young as 12 years old. Rock climbing walls at county fairs, military sponsored concerts, the Rose Festival Fleet, and military air shows are all paid for out of the military’s recruiting budget.
“They landed a military helicopter on the playing field of my son’s middle school as a reward for phone cards the students had collected for military personnel.” Annette recalls. Parents were not notified, and attendance was required. Pritchard questioned the motives of this expensive event which cost far more than the money the children raised for phone cards.
Recruiters for the military are common sights in local high schools. The No Child Left Behind Act contains a provision that requires public high schools to hand over the private contact information of students to military recruiters. By September 30, the names of thousands of Portland high schoolers will be given to the military and the private firm that is creating a database to aid in their recruitment efforts.
But students can “opt out” by filling out a form that prevents their private information from being released to the military’s list. Even students who have signed up for the military under the Delayed Entry Program can change their status by notifying the recruiting station Commander.
Members of the Portland Anti-Military Recruiting Coalition will be handing out leaflets at Franklin, Cleveland and other high schools around the city letting students know they have the right to opt out. Annette Pritchard will continue her work with Military Families Speak Out. She wants to talk to every high school student she can, to let them know that there is more to the recruiter’s pitch than meets the eye.
Rest in peace, my brother. And peace to your family. Peace, peace, peace. I will never grow tired of that word. Peace.
Do you really think that I feel like talking about private matters at my children’s school? With their teachers? Their principal? The other parents? I don’t. Sex, religion and politics are all private, and frankly, it’s no one’s business how I vote, where I donate money, or where I stand on a particular issue. It is still, I believe, a free country, and I don’t like the pressure of having to explain to everyone why I feel the way I do.
It feels like looking down the barrel of a gun to me.
OK, you want to know why we’re opting out of Starbase? I’ll tell you why again and I will say it with pride: We are pacifists at my house. I think it’s a load of crap that our government spends billions of dollars killing mamas, daddies, their babies, grandparents, neighbors, friends, entire communities, in the name of stopping terror. But we can’t seem to get anyone, locally, nationally or internationally, fed or given proper medical care. Jobs would be good. Work and food and clean water and decent healthcare would be a good start. Science, art and music in the schools would just rock, too, wouldn’t it? But that doesn’t seem to be happening, does it?
So who’s terrorizing who, bitch?
I had heard of Starbase, but for my family it came up last school year. The kids are excited — they’ve heard you get to blow things up. Like in video games. The principal is excited, too. “It’s really cool, and they get to blow up rockets.” My daughter called bullshit and said she wasn’t going. I love my girl. Here is the e-mail I sent last spring to my children’s principal and my daughter’s 4th grade teacher:
Dear Mr. — and Mr. —,
Imagine my shock to be told — not asked, but told — that my daughter and her fellow classmates will take part in five full days of Starbase next year.
1) Our country is at war. Having our children go to a military base, while our country is at war, is not a safe or wise decision. That alone is reason enough to cancel the program.
2) I am wondering, as I spend a large portion of my time this year telling my daughter, I’m sorry, but you have to take another test, yes, I know you hate tests, and No, you’re not going to flunk fourth grade if you don’t score high — I am wondering why on earth we would devote five full days of curriculum to military indoctrination? (Because that is what it is. It’s the first steps on the road to recruitment.)
3)I am wondering, at a time when we parents are being told how “stuffed” the curriculum is, how you can justify them missing five days of school?
4) I’m asking you to cancel our school’s participation in the Starbase program.
5) I am doing this because it goes against everything I am teaching my children about “lifeskills,” and “conflict resolution” and “peace and respect.” I am asking you in remembrance of my late friend, David Johnson, who was killed in Iraq. I wrote about him here:
“He was a nice guy, you would have liked him. Very easygoing. Wanted to please. He was pretty shy. His family declined to be interviewed by the Army. The governor said, “He did not die in vain.” No, he died because he signed up to be a cook and ended up working as a machine gunner. God rest his soul, and peace to his family and those who loved him.”
In case you are missing my point: You will remember, please, that our country is at war. You will remember that our country is short on soldiers and that is why the government is happy to foot the bill for field trips like these, in order to send the kids a message that the military is “fun” (math games! science! and we’ll help pay for college!).
In case you have never noticed: The government is especially fond of recruiting at schools with high poverty rates, where brown, black, and poor whites attend school. They target children who think they have no options in life besides joining the military. The government needs more cannon fodder.
You will remember America is responsible for the deaths of at least 723,206 people who have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. (Since the U.S. and coalition attacks, based on lowest credible estimates. Most recent update: January 25, 2009. (Edited to say: At least 849,845 people have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since the U.S. and coalition attacks, based on lowest credible estimate, according to numbers posted Dec. 29, 2009.)
Thus far, 4,197 Americans have died in the Iraq war.
Here is the Willamette Week story about the Winterhaven parents’ protest of Starbase.
And, from the Neighborhood Schools Alliance site.
They requested that PPS “Pull the plug on Starbase — stealth military recruiting of PPS elementary students. NSA leader Cindy Young and fellow Winterhaven parents recently testified to the School Board regarding this Department of Defense-funded program in which elementary-aged PPS students spend 5 days at a military base learning about science and technology, but also being subtly groomed for future military recruitment. This program is not mentioned on the PPS website. There has been no Board or public oversight of Starbase at any time since the program’s introduction in Portland back in 1993. NSA calls on the School Board to launch an immediate investigation into this inappropriate and possibly illegal program.”
I will bring in political allies and the media on this if needed.
(Edited to say: You can find Starbase mentioned on the PPS site now, here and there. It is described as a “science program” and the mentions are along the lines of calendar items — which schools are taking part in the program.) Last year, my daughter’s school promised that they would offer “non-military alternate programming” at the school for students who did not want to or could not participate in the Starbase program. The Oregon Peace Institute and some of the staff at Portland State University said they would be happy to lend a hand, but that didn’t get a warm response from PPS.
Now I am being told that my daughter and whoever else protests can go “sit in someone else’s classroom” for the five days their peers are playing war games. No, we’ll figure something else out, thanks.
By the way… reportedly five PPS employees are being paid by the U.S. military to “administer” the Starbase program. That money would pay for a whole lot of microscopes and science supplies, wouldn’t it? Maybe even some staff? But then the military would be short a few bodies, and we couldn’t have that.
Peace. And I mean that, with all my heart.
– Wacky Mommy
Nancy Rawley was co-publisher of PPS Equity. She blogs regularly at Wacky Mommy.