I've never known anyone who's gotten involved in a cult. But I'm getting that kind of vibe with one of my seniors who is planning to join the military - let's call him Pete. Pete had taken the ACT and was the only one to have also taken the SAT, and was planning to apply to college and study criminal justice, when he got a call from a recruiter. Now he's far more motivated to decrease his time running the mile than increase his chance of getting into college.
My political views aside, I actually support going into the military for some of my students. It is a great way to get job training and money for college. If that's what they want to do, I believe it is my job as the career advisor to help them do it. But something about this situation makes me nervous. Pete's gone from a kid who spends his time writing college admissions essays to one who walks around wearing Army paraphernalia and thinking about where he'd like to be based when he's not in Iraq.
The No Child Left Behind Act tied Title I funding to schools handing over students' information for military recruiting. (You can opt out, and many families do, even in my gung-ho military community.) It would be one thing if that information was going to people whose primary concern was teens' best interest, or even national security. Instead, I've learned, military recruiters get paid for filling certain quotas for certain positions, and they can use some questionable means to do so. One of my students' fathers was an Army recruiter for 30 years, and warned me not to let any student speak with a military recruiter without talking to him first.
I don't know what the recruiters say to my students, but obviously it's much cooler than what I or their parents have to say. There's nothing new about teens not wanting to listen to their parents or teachers. But still I get this cultish feeling. I'm nagged by a story of a former student who was contacted by a recruiter. The recruiter was planning to throw him a big 18th birthday party with all of his friends, but told him not to tell his parents. The idea was that they would have him sign all the papers the minute he turned 18. Long story short, a teacher found out about it and told the parents, who put the kibosh on the idea. The recruiter apparently wigged out on the kid, calling him parts of the female genitalia.
Anyway, I had a parent-teacher conference today with Pete and his dad, during which Pete said there is a "100% chance" he will go to Iraq. The parents are against it but Pete will be 18 in a few months. My concern is not to keep Pete from joining the Army, but to help him make a rational decision that will put him on a good career path and minimize his chances of injury.