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Coalition of Peace Groups Seeks To Rid Schools of Military Influences

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A national coalition of peace activists--whose affiliates are already challenging local school policies-has set out to forge a comprehensive, and apparently unprecedented, effort to eliminate the influence of the U.S. military on public and private schools.

The broad-based coalition, encompassing more than two dozen organizations, is encouraging and coordinating the efforts of grassroots peace education and anti-military activists across the country.

Working in concert, they hope to increase pressure on school beards, administrators, and counselors to halt recruitment and other practices on campuses acknowledged by the military to be "desired" turf.

Indeed, two weeks ago coalition-affiliated activists in Portland, Ore., succeeded in forcing the school beard to weigh a ban on all military recruitment in the city's 11 high schools.

The proposal was defeated by a vote of 4 to 2 before a large, predominately pro-ban audience, but the board did limit on-campus visits by military recruiters to no more than once a week per school, said John Grueschow, the coordinator at Portland's Northwest Military and Draft Counseling Center, who lobbied for the ban.

In addition, the board required school principals to meet with parent-advisory groups to discuss military recruitment, he said.

Mr. Grueschow said he and other activists "didn't consider this any kind of real victory." But, he said, "We did raise the issue with the school beard in a serious way" for the first time.

Links to the Past

The coalition, known as the National Campaign to Demilitarize Our Schools, finalized its organization in October. It brings together such longstanding national anti-war groups as the American Friends Service Committee, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, and the War Resisters league with newer and smaller regional and local organizations.

"Our basic contention is that the military's presence ... gives credence to the notion that war and killing is a viable career option," said Leonard McNeil, the coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee's youth and militarism program in Oakland, and a coalition steering-committee member.

"Our educational system should not be helping the Department of Defense," he added. The coalition is targeting its efforts at such practices as on-campus recruitment, Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps units, and the administration of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) tests in nearly 15,000 high schools.

Its members object to these practices, in part, because of the cost schools incur in providing Junior R.O.T.C. programs and because of alleged fraud practiced by military recruiters. They also see a contradiction between the critical-thinking and nonviolent conflict-resolution lessons taught in school and the military's emphasis on unquestioned obedience to authority and the waging of war.

In addition to working to reduce the influence of the military in schools, the coalition hopes its affiliates will lobby for on-campus access to students equal to that enjoyed by military recruiters.

In that respect, the coalition's members will be building on earlier successes of the peace movement, such as a 1988 federal court decision in Atlanta granting peace activists the right to enter the city's public schools to express their views on military service. (See Education Week, March 23. 1988.)

The campaign's emergence comes on the heels of a December action by the Rochester, N.Y., school beard to bar military recruitment because of the military's ban on homosexuals as well as decisions last year by California school districts to reverse longstanding policies of allowing recruiters access to student names and addresses. (See Education Week, Jan. 8, 1992, and Jan. 30, 1991.)

Michael Marsh, a counter-recruitment counselor at the War Resisters League in New York and a member of the coalition's steering committee, described the new effort as "a very, very ambitious plan to let people in the education community know that they don't have to sit back and let recruiters run programs in their schools."

Organizers believe the grassroots groups will benefit from the experience of the more established organizations as well as contribute their own ideas to the movement.

Mr. Marsh pointed to the league's successful effort in 1990 to keep an Air Force Junior R.O.T.C. program out of New York City's Martin Luther King Jr. High School as a valuable lesson for others.

Nearly 1,400 schools nationwide have Army, Navy, or Air Force Junior R.O.T.C. programs, military officials said.

"That struggle could serve as a very good example," Mr. Marsh said. "But unless [others] hear about it, it's never going to serve as an example."

Without the coalition, Mr. Grueschow said, he could easily miss out on peace strategies used elsewhere.

The coalition tries "to do things together that would be hard for individual groups to do separately," said Harold Jordan, the coordinator of the Youth and Militarism Program of the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia, which serves as the home of the coalition.

This winter, the coalition launched a $20,000 fund-raising campaign, soliciting grants from about two dozen progressive foundations, said Rick Jahnkow, the coordinator of the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities in San Diego and a coalition steering-committee member. To spread its message, the campaign will also produce a $30,000 counter-recruitment video due out in the fall.

Little Impact Foreseen

Despite such efforts, neither military recruiters nor education groups expect the campaign to have much impact on recruiting practices or policymaking.

"The quality of youth of America today and their desire to see the United States as a strong, influential country in the world will provide sufficient numbers of those standing up to serve their country once they have been provided the information in terms of what the Army has to offer ," said Maj. Thomas Leahy, a spokesman at U.S. Army Recruitment Command in Fort Sheridan, Ill.

Similarly, Thomas A. Shannon, the executive director of the National School Boards Association, said policymakers were unlikely to heed the pacifists' call.

"The question is, does this comport with the general beliefs of school beards around the country," Mr. Shannon said. "I dare say it does not."

While Nancy S. Perry, the president of the American School Counselor Association, said she welcomed balancing the military's messages with those of peace activists, she did not believe ASVAB testing or campus recruitment should be eliminated.

"We neither push the military [as a career] nor advise against it," she said.

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