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No Child Left Behind’s Pinocchio’s Provision

It is a double pleasure to deceive the deceiver.

The Cock and the Fox, Book ii, Fable 15

The by-product would come as a big, but welcome, surprise to Mr. Bush, although the law itself is one of the things that he considers to be one of the signal achievements of his presidency. Among its virtues, the law provides a nice contrast to his other major success of conquering Iraq since it permits him to hold himself out as the education president rather than the war president. The law is the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) and one of its provisions would come as a surprise to him since it is unlikely that he read the law prior to its passage. It certainly came as a surprise to much of the electorate, it is safe to say, and probably to many in Congress who voted for it.

Thanks to a report by Damien Cave of the New York Times, attention has been drawn to a little known provision of the NCLBA that might be called the Pinocchio provision reminding one as it does of Gepettos’s puppet who was convinced by Lamp-wick to forsake the sensible life and go with him to the land of candy and toys where he would soon turn into a donkey to be eventually rescued by his good fairy.

We’d not have known about this aspect of NCLBA had it not been for the reporting of Mr. Cave and the actions of Amy Hagopian and others. Unlike those of us who thought that No Child Left Behind only referred to making sure that children progressed through the grades in a meaningful way and that none of them was left behind because of a deficiency in their learning, the alert reporter and these alert parents learned that one of the meanings of not leaving any child behind is making sure that those who are lucky enough to graduate from high school are not left behind by military recruiters.

The NCLBA says schools must make lists of all students, including addresses and phone numbers, available to recruiters for vocational schools, colleges and last but not least, armed forces recruiters. Although parents may tell the schools their child’s information is not to be furnished, until recently many were unaware of the opt-out option and, more importantly were unaware that military recruiters as well as students were beneficiaries of the Act.

Amy Hagopian is co-chairwoman of the Parent-Teacher Student Association at Garfield High School in Seattle. She has taken time off work in order to stand next to military recruiters at the school and hold up pictures. She does not hold up pictures of planes flying through sunny skies or pictures of soldiers marching proudly in formation. Instead she shows pictures of military personnel who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with grievous injuries, many of them life altering. She does it to let students know there is more to what the recruiters are telling them than what the recruiters are telling them. That’s not all.

By making her pitch she helps the college and employer representatives overcome the advantage they have over the college and employer recruiters. That is because college recruiters do not have all the neat gimmicks for recruiting that the military recruiters do. All they can show are pictures of campuses and course catalogs in the hope of enticing the graduating seniors to enroll in their institutions. The military recruiters arrive on campuses handing out T-shirts, key chains and in some cases distributing free donuts that the average graduate has trouble refusing. That is considerably more glamorous than what the average college recruiter can present, especially if the military recruiter leaves out the possibility of being killed or maimed. The glaze on the donut, as it were, is that in some cases recruiters arrive driving humvees, a vehicle sure to impress the graduating senior more than the Hertz- rent-a car that the college recruiter drives. When the recruiter is successful the students, like Pinocchio and Lamp-Wick, end up in what is portrayed as a land of toys and excitement without the benefit of a kind fairy to protect them from harm. Being turned into a donkey, a state that in Pinocchio’s case turned out to be reversible is clearly preferable.

Rachel Rogers lives in upstate New York. She became upset when she learned army recruiters were teaching children how to throw hand grenades using base balls as substitutes. Commenting at a public meeting about the presence of the military at her son’s school she said: “The point is not whether I support the troops. It’s about whether a well-organized propaganda machine should be targeted at children and enforced by the schools.” According to the Seattle superintendent of schools, to answer that question negatively would cost his schools $15 million annually. That probably answers Ms. Roger’s question. That’s too bad.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at: Brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu or through his website: http://hraos.com/