Exercising his own First Amendment rights, Arizona state schools Superintendent Tom Horne recently criticized opponents of military recruitment for targeting students with their message— and heard howls of protest in return.
During the first weeks of school in August, members of several activist groups— including the Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation, the Arizona Counter Recruitment Coalition, and Parents Against Violence in Education—stood outside Phoenix-area high schools to distribute preaddressed, postage-paid postcards that would require military recruiters to take students off their contact lists.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools that receive federal funding to provide contact information for each student to the U.S. armed forces. Parents can choose to keep their children’s names off the list.
Recruiters’ outreach to high school students has been controversial. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Defense, responding to a lawsuit, clarified what kind of information could be collected and how students could remove their names from the database. (“Defense Dept. Settles Suit on Student-Recruiting Database,” Jan. 17, 2007.)
Mr. Horne, however, isn’t keen on activists walking high school students through that process. “To have adults teaching students to be hostile to the military institutions that defend our freedom is educationally dysfunctional,” the state chief said in a statement. “I urge these adults to look in the mirror and decide to do something constructive for education, rather than destructive.”
But his comments earned a tart response from activists.
“Most families had no idea this provision was included in the No Child Left Behind Act, and when they found out, they were appalled,” said Linda Brown, the executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation of Phoenix.“We will continue to inform students and parents of their right to privacy.”
She said the superintendent distorted the groups’ message. “We have to respect young people’s abilities and intelligence,” she said. “If they’re given all the information, [they can] make choices that are in accordance with their values.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 12, 2007 edition of Education Week