copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert
Too often, sinister threats to the Bill of Rights, to freedom of the mind are concealed under the patriotic cloak of anti-Communism
[terrorism, nationalism, or compassionate Conservatism.]
It’s far easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.”
~ Adlai Stevenson. 1952 [Governor of Illinois, Democratic presidential candidate]
It was a quiet day in America; yet, the feeling of fear was palpable. Oceans away, in Baghdad, the air was filled with the smell of napalm. Frightened, as the young contemplated their future, seventy some courageous and committed students filed into the Morton West High School cafeteria in Berwyn, Illinois. Trepidation for their lives, and the lives of friends, family, and those innocent Iraqi citizens they never met prompted these pupils to take action. The young and eligible enlistees protested the war in Iraq.
Years earlier, dissent against this unjust battle was unthinkable. The Twin Towers fell. The Pentagon was hit. Other buildings were threatened and the nation panicked. America could not comprehend there might be blood shed on the tranquil shores of their homeland. Citizens were willing to do anything to ensure no more lives would be lost in the land of their birth. If it meant countrymen must sacrifice their freedoms, so be it. Immediately, Congress was called into session. Bills were passed and liberties lost. America was attacked; and thus, we were at war.
Theories were bantered about. Osama Bin Laden, the enemy behind the assault, was in Afghanistan. Terrorists were within our country. Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction. The thousands killed on September 11, 2001 were just the beginning. Certainly, we must know as a continent, North America is no longer safe. Air travel has opened all borders. Trains, boats, and planes were no longer means of transport. These are potential missiles.
Acquiescent, the American public believed they were not safe. Yet, fearful as the people were they knew this country must come together and show its strength. At ground zero a crowd stood and chanted, “USA, USA!” The Commander-In-Chief took the bull by the horn or the bullhorn and calmed the throng. He said . . .
“I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,”
It was then that the former friendly fellow, the man that had failed in most all of his business ventures, the son of a President whose success was said to be tied to his name, appeared decisive. The President, placed into the Oval Office by the Supreme Court, not by the people, became the protector. From the moment Bush stood on the mound of rumble and raised his voice, Americans followed his lead.
George W. Bush led his Secretary of State astray. Colin Powell addressed the United Nations with what Bush and Vice President Cheney knew was not “solid” intelligence. The Commander prompted his Cabinet to lie to Congress. The President’s pal and Attorney General told a nation the Rules of the Geneva Convention are quaint. Our leader authorized torture. He trolled telephones. President Bush took us to the airport and asked us to take our shoes off. He read our library records and convinced us there was reason to forfeit our rights. The President of the United States played on our fears and we accepted his truths. Americans became apathetic and perhaps pathetic.
However, just as in years past, when an unpopular war was sold to the American public, when a threat [then communism, now terrorism] loomed large in the minds of those told to fear the youth responded, Morton High School’s young scholars decided they must speak out. They entered the dining hall, a nook in the cranny of a huge building, a place where pupils often feel, or felt able to break from bureaucracy. For students, the canteen is considered a safety zone. Every high school has one, a place where pupils can relax, chat, gather, and forget the fears that flank them in the halls, and stalls of academia.
Yet, on this day, November first, All Saints Day, and a national day of peace, the lunchroom furnished no refuge. Apprehensive Administrators swooped down on the young scholars as they exercised their democratic right to free speech. Frightened school officials did just as a petrified President had done. Under the guise of informed authority, the Superintendent and Principal imposed retaliatory measures.
As is often true in a climate of fear, the terrified meet the terrified, and the trouble begins. When filled with fear a person in a powerful position does not wish to show his or her weakness. Thus, they adopt a punitive posture to appear in control; George W. Bush, Superintendent Ben Nowakowski , you decide.
The Berwyn School District bureaucrats selectively singled two-dozen students for expulsion. [Might these individuals be as those sent to Guantanamo Bay Prison, or off to Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other countries with poor human rights records, for interrogation.] Morton West, Morton High School District 201 Superintendent Nowakowski told parents, pupils involved in the protest that are seventeen years or older would also face police charges. [Ah, those of a certain age may be as the persons of Middle Eastern descent. People in power think it just to profile agitators.] High achievers, athletes, and those whose parent are well connected were exempt from the more severe penalties. [Frequent fliers, white businessmen, and little old ladies . . .perhaps these persons are above reproach.] Indeed, school officials telephoned many prominent Moms and Dads and warned them. Take your child home. Be sure your son or daughter returns to class. Cease or dismiss.
The injustice was obvious; even mothers and fathers were distressed. Parents questioned School Board members and Administrators. They asked, what have we as a people become when we suppress speech, suspend dialogue, and arrest those that assemble, and petition the government for a redress of grievances. Perhaps, after all these years of war and Weapons of Mass Destruction that never were, the adults realize they too must question authority.
Parents and students say that penalties were too harsh — and unfairly dispensed — for some of those involved in the protest. More than a dozen parents at the meeting in the Morton East auditorium told the board that students who play varsity athletics or have a high grade point average were given less stringent penalties.
Maniotis said her daughter Barbara, a junior at the high school, participated in the protest but was given a 5-day suspension and does not face expulsion because she is an honor student with a 4.5 GPA. Other students received 10-day suspensions with the possibility of expulsion.
“She did the same thing they did,” Maniotis said. “This entire incident is outrageous. The school missed out on a wonderful teachable moment. Instead, they cracked down on them right away and turned it into a punitive situation.”
Parents have said they want their children reinstated and the penalties removed from their records.
However, the Board and the Superintendent chose to exert its power. The community gathered thousands of signatures in support of the students. Parents, neighbors, concerned citizens met with authorities and stated, the punishment for protestors is too harsh. Those in power argued the point. School authorities might have said, “We do not torture.” Waterboarding, while repugnant, is just in “real life” situations.
School officials also sent a letter to the parents of all the school’s students calling the protest “gross disobedience” and reminding parents that any disruption to the educational process could lead to expulsion.
Disobedience and dissention must be deterred. There can be no distractions. Our mission is clear. If we are to accomplish our goal, all threats must be eliminated. Presidents and Principals, Secretary’s of State and Defense and Superintendents remind us, we have reasons to fear. This is the “age of terror.”
Americans know by now, as we accept our telephones are tapped, any time we question authority we are in insubordination. Countrymen chuckle on reflection as they ponder, I almost got sent to Guantanamo. We are anxious regardless of what is real, for in truth, reality is perception. As long as we perceive a threat, there is one, and those in power will act in accordance. Innocents will be sent to [Guantanamo Bay] prison without due process.
Morton High school Principal, Mister Lucas was fretful despite of what occurred or did not. The protesters, pupils were extremely peaceful. They did as they were told to do. Law enforcement officers observed all went well. Nevertheless, fear flourished amongst Administrators.
[S]everal students said the protesters, whose numbers had dwindled to about 25, obeyed the administration’s request to move from a high-traffic area in the cafeteria to a less-crowded hall near the principal’s office. There, they intertwined arms, sang along to an acoustic guitar and talked about how the war was affecting the world, said Matt Heffernan, a junior who took part.
“We agreed to move to another side of the building,” Matt said. “We also made a deal that if we moved there, there would be no disciplinary action taken upon us.”
Matt said the group had been told that the most severe punishment would be a Saturday detention for cutting class that day.
Police officers were on the scene, and Berwyn’s police chief, William Kushner, said no arrests were made. “It was all very peaceful and orderly,” he said.
But at the end of the school day, Matt said, Dr. Nowakowski gave the remaining protesters disciplinary notices stating that they had engaged in mob action, that they were suspended for 10 days and that they faced expulsion.
The sense of being actively involved in the community and in the civic process is weighty and can be woeful. As a Morton High School student stated; upon reflection he had “feelings of confidence – of a job well done.” However, faced with expulsion he also embraced anxiety “and fright, because my whole educational future is at risk.”
Education for American students is at risk whether they protest the war or not. As the battles in the Middle East intensify, our youngest citizens watch expectantly. Currently, they are not forced to take up arms; yet, the cost of an advanced degree, the expense of living on your own, salaries, or more accurately, practically speaking, minimum wages threaten the security of a young mind. Military recruiters know this, as does the Administration, local and Federal. Armed Forces representatives maximize on the fear and the White House blesses such actions.
The practice began just after America surrendered itself to permanent apprehension. The Twin Towers fell and so too did the Bill of Rights. The Constitution was set aside in favor of the Patriot Act. The Commander-In-Chief of the United States, George W. Bush proposed we leave no child behind. In the spirit of bipartisanship, Mister Bush garnered support for a initiative that would change the lives of young Americans forever. The “Education” President signed the measure and a new military force was born.
Sharon Shea-Keneally, principal of Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington, Vermont, was shocked when she received a letter in May from military recruiters demanding a list of all her students, including names, addresses, and phone numbers. The school invites recruiters to participate in career days and job fairs, but like most school districts, it keeps student information strictly confidential. “We don’t give out a list of names of our kids to anybody,” says Shea-Keneally, “not to colleges, churches, employers — nobody.”
But when Shea-Keneally insisted on an explanation, she was in for an even bigger surprise: The recruiters cited the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush’s sweeping new education law passed earlier this year. There, buried deep within the law’s 670 pages, is a provision requiring public secondary schools to provide military recruiters not only with access to facilities, but also with contact information for every student — or face a cutoff of all federal aid.
“I was very surprised the requirement was attached to an education law,” says Shea-Keneally. “I did not see the link.”
The military complained this year that up to 15 percent of the nation’s high schools are “problem schools” for recruiters. In 1999, the Pentagon says, recruiters were denied access to schools on 19,228 occasions. Rep. David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana who sponsored the new recruitment requirement, says such schools “demonstrated an anti-military attitude that I thought was offensive.”
Slights or the restricted right of entry seemed odious to pro-war Congressman Vitter, a man too young to have fought in a foreign battle. Attitudes such as his may helped build a system of recruitment that expanded our military defense. Prior to the initiative that allowed military representatives to sell their schpeel to High School students interest and investment in America’s youth was not equally distributed. Nor is it now. The difference is, under current law, military recruiters can more easily find men and women willing to enlist. With thanks to No Child Left Behind the armed forces can focus on those most in need. That is best. After all, the affluent have opportunities that ensure economic and academic success. The rich are less likely to enlist.
[I]t appears that the affluent are not encouraging their children and peers to join the war effort on the battlefield.
The writer of the Post-Gazette article, Jack Kelly, explored this question in his story that ran on Aug. 11. Kelly wrote of a Marine recruiter, Staff Sgt. Jason Rivera, who went to an affluent suburb outside of Pittsburgh to follow up with a young man who had expressed interest in enlisting. He pulled up to a house with American flags displayed in the yard. The mother came to the door in an American flag T-shirt and openly declared her support for the troops.
But she made it clear that her support only went so far.
“Military service isn’t for our son,” she told Rivera. “It isn’t for our kind of people.”
The kinds of people that are targeted are poor or lower Middle Class. Plebeian families will sacrifice their progeny disproportionately. Morton West High School in Berwyn, is nestled in a working-class suburb just west of Chicago. Soldiers dressed in uniform, don sparkly metals, and wear shined shoes as they stroll the halls of this blue-collar neighborhood school campus. They smile and sweet-talk eager teens. Recruiters befriend students and promise them a bright future if they enlist. In part, this helped to provide perspective for the pupils and prompted the protest.
Disabled Gulf War veteran Cesar Ruvalcaba, dressed in his military uniform, chose to lash out at military recruiters allowed to roam the halls of the school.
“Shame on the administrators who think receiving military money from recruiters is more important than the education of their students,” he told the board. “I am 100 percent disabled, and I learned the hard way that education, not carrying a machine gun, is the key to success. It’s those people who are pro-war who would never drop everything and go fight for the red, white, and blue. These kids should receive extra credit for speaking up, not expulsion.”
Morton High School students are not alone. After years of subjection, some schools are fighting back. Administrators have decisively stood up for their students. Principals refuse to be part of the Bush regime or relegate academics to expulsion. Principals ask whether funds from No Child Left Behind provisions are worth the cost, the lost of freedom.
Rift over recruiting at public high schools
A Seattle high school bars military solicitation, touching off debate over Iraq war and free speech.
By Dean Paton
The Christian Science Monitor
May 18, 2005
Seattle – While most Parent Teacher Student Association meetings might center on finding funding for better math books or the best way to chaperon a school dance, a recent meeting here at Garfield High School grappled with something much larger – the war in Iraq.
The school is perhaps one of the first in the nation to debate and vote against military recruiting on high school campuses – a topic already simmering at the college level . . .
High schools are struggling with a similar issue as the No Child Left Behind Act requires that schools receiving federal funding must release the names of its students to recruiters. Some feel that’s an invasion of privacy prompted by a war effort that has largely divided the American public. Others say barring recruiters is an infringement of free speech – and a snub to the military, particularly in a time of war.
Garfield High School took a decisive step last week with a vote of 25 to 5 to adopt a resolution that says “public schools are not a place for military recruiters.”
All this comes as recruiters struggle to meet enlistment goals.
Perchance, Americans no longer wish to live a life in fear. Our countrymen finally decided to vote for change. However, it did not come. Now the children take up the cause. Perhaps they will be more successful. With the support of their parents, the impossible may be probable. Indeed, it is, slightly.
Last evening, the Superintendent of Berwyn Schools released a statement. [On the same day some troops are slated to return home to American shores, not because the President heard the people say exit Iraq, but because, physically, they could no longer remain in battle] suspended students could and would return to class. School records will not reflect, peaceful rebellions as a dishonorable reason for discharge. Although Administrative faces are saved, it is important to consider that this is a step. We may move closer to educational experiences and further from a culture of fear. One can hope.
I offer the link for your perusal. Please read the Superintendent’s proclamation. Please share your thoughts, quietly. Remember class is in session. Recruiters may still be listening and the Bush regime remains in office.
As you, dear reader, breathe deeply and ponder the protestors’ plight, might I submit, alls is not well; nor did this situation truly end well. Granted, the students will be reinstated. Those that wish to pursue a military career will, and those that do not, will not. However, there is more to this story. Power plays; those that instill fear, fear not. Even when we think the Authorities care; they are concerned, and will no longer abuse, use or manipulate, we discover they continue to do as they have done.
Eight million veterans got their education thanks to the World War II GI Bill, which covered tuition, fees, and books, and gave veterans a living stipend while they were in school. A 1988 Congressional study proved that every dollar spent on educational benefits under the original GI Bill added seven dollars to the national economy in terms of productivity, consumer spending and tax revenue.
Unfortunately, the current educational benefits offered to veterans are far lower than the original GI Bill. In fact, they cover only 60-70% of the average cost of four years at a public college or university, or less than two years at a typical private college. Our veterans deserve better.
A new GI [Government Issue] Bill is being crafted in Congress. However, Americans have reason to think this too shall not pass. If we the voters learn from the Morton High School students and state what we think, perhaps, veterans will have the chance they were promised . . . that is if they live to return home.
Let s fear no more. Americans cannot sit silent. If you wish to communicate to your Congress Person, please do. The time is now.
Help Veterans Continue their Education.
Sources of Fear; Culture of Care. . .
Thursday, January 6, 2005; Page A01