"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, May 08, 2008

ASVAB As a Recruiting Tool

Please print clearly...military recruiters want more than your test scores.

The ASVAB test is given to hundreds of thousands of high schoolers every year. Yet educators are not informed about how this 'Career-test' ties directly into the marketing agendas of military recruiting. It should be clear from the title, ASVAB stands for Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, yet the connection from 'test' to 'war; is often missed. And while teachers and counselors are told that the test is a free career-placement test for teens, many of whom are unsure as to their futures, test givers and test takers may be unaware that the ASVAB places students into pre-assigned categories for today's military infrastructure.

Why is this a problem? There is a need to help direct young adults towards meaningful career choices. While we educators may all work tirelessly we know that all of our students are not going to apply for higher education. Our counselors, often over-burdened with administrative tasks, welcome additional free resources towards this end. And we all suspect that the budget cuts will only make the situation more difficult but ASVAB is free. So what's the problem? Students and teachers need to know where the numbers go.

Let's place it in a hypothetical construct. Say you go into a store. You are shopping for a new chair for your writing desk. You know you want something comfortable, but also something that will encourage you to produce rather than just fall asleep. A salesmen eyes you eying the ergonomic hairs and saunters over clipboard in hand. He hands you a form, telling you it has been scientifically designed to help you choose the chair that best suits your needs. Interested in this novel survey you agree to fill in the colorful user-friendly form. When you have completed the survey you wander the aisles while awaiting the results. A nice harvest-wheat colored chair grabs your eye. You move towards it, noticing the care put into it's design. The salesmen intercepts you and directs you towards another chair. But you don't want that chair. The salesman is confused, pointing to the survey results. Unhappy with the experience you decide to leave and find another, more traditional store. Driving towards the freeway your cell phone lights up. It's a chair salesman. A chair salesman? How did they get your cell number? You ask them firmly to not call back. At a boutique you buy an well-made antique chair that suits your needs fine. But the phone calls continue, and continue, always trying to sell you a chair.

Granted the above example is a bit reaching. But the real events that the ASVAB compel are quite similar. Once a student is assigned a numbered career potential, the information is forwarded to military recruiters, as well as student phone number, home addresses, and demographic information. The student is transformed from someone seeking a fulfilling life-path into a lead for military recruiters using high-pressure sales tactics. And the phone calls begin.

In LAUSD in 2004 ten students could not be fooled. When marshaled with a large group of other students into the auditorium for a career information test they noticed recruiters in military garb standing along the side. The students quickly surmised the real nature of the ASVAB and ten of them refused to take the exam. The site administrator reacted by initially suspending the students. But teacher and union outcry forced the site administrator to back down and the students were reinstated without consequence for refusing to take the 'voluntary' ASVAB.

In negotiations with LAUSD in late autumn 2007 teachers from the Coalition Against Militarism In Our Schools petitioned the District to use an information reporting option within ASVAB to with-hold all student data from the Pentagon and military recruiters. This is known as Option 8 and educators and counselors at schools where the ASVAB is given should push for the choosing of this option. CAMS petitions to LAUSD were granted and LAUSD is now a blanket Option 8 district!

In April 2008 at the 66th CFT Convention in Oakland a resolution was introduced by Local 1021/UTLA and passed by the body encouraging all CFT locals to make Option 8 the standard: "Therefore be it resolved that the California Federation of Teachers encourage and promote all ASVAB testing schools to use Option 8 to protect student privacy and publicize the use of Option 8 in all ASVAB testing scenarios." (CFT Resolution 31, passed April 13, 08)

Finding direction towards making career choices is a complicated and ever-evolving process. It is not one where people should be pushed into an assigned job. And having military recruiters calling and visiting our students at home as a consequence for taking a test, any test, is unacceptable and has no place in the American public education setting. Let's all make Option 8 the standard reporting option wherever ASVAB is administered.

Gregory Sotir
LAUSD Virgil Middle School
Eighth-grade English Teacher
Coalition Against Militarism In Our Schools (CAMS)

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Save the Republic and the Earth,
Jim Horn

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