Need a job? Need money for school? Want to do something meaningful with your life? Military recruiters, working the HRM high school circuit, say the Armed Forces can offer young people all that and more, but a group from Citadel High is calling for the removal of all "armed forces propaganda" and recruiting personnel from schools for good.
The group, known as Students for Freedom and Socialism, formed earlier this year in hopes of creating a forum for students to think critically about what they learn in school and from the media. Their most recent action is a counter-recruitment campaign, aiming to prevent the military from recruiting in high schools.
"School is supposed to be a nurturing, neutral environment," says April Wise-Gillap, a member of SFS. "We don't think it's fair for recruiters to come into schools and compare working for the military to going to Dalhousie or Saint Mary's, especially when it could mean fighting in Afghanistan, a war that the UN doesn't support."
SFS members have different reasons for wanting the military out of schools, explains Wise-Gillap, but most agree that allowing the armed forces to recruit in classrooms promotes violence and enables exploitation of young people, particularly those from low-income families.
In a city with over 10,000 people employed by the Department of National Defence, and almost a third of the population estimated to be directly or indirectly involved in the military, SFS's anti-military stance has not been well received.
Nevertheless, when military recruiters set up in Citadel High School, just after Christmas and again a few weeks ago, SFS did not keep their views quiet.
"The first time recruiters came to the school, students approached me complaining they were questioned by other students as they left the session," says Citadel principal Tam Fawcett. She explained that while the 15-to-20 holding anti-war signs were protesting peacefully, they needed to respect the school's decision to allow in recruiters.
"I'm all for freedom of speech," says Fawcett. "It just has to be in a respectful manner."
SFS co-founder Omri Haiven says other staff members were more upset by the students' actions. "They told us we weren't respecting our country," remembers Haiven, noting that some of his friends have recently been recruited.
"[My friends] get my concern but say the pay is too good," he explains.
"When the government spends less and less on education and more and more on recruitment, tuition fees will continue to rise, and what choice do people have but to join the military if they want an education?"
When military recruiters returned to Citadel a few months later, SFS was more prepared, armed with pamphlets titled "Top 10 reasons not to enlist." The recruiters were set up in the cafeteria and agreed to let students hand out their materials, but school administration asked them to go elsewhere.
According to Wise-Gillap, SFSers wanted to stand close to military recruiters to show students there are alternatives to military life. "Our perspective is, for students to make an informed decision, they need to see both sides of the story," she says.
But Fawcett thinks they are stepping out of line. "I have tried to explain to the students, it is not their responsibility to open the eyes of their peers," she says, noting she welcomes respectful and responsible approaches to promoting critical thought.
SFS students have started a petition asking peers, teachers, parents and community members to sign on to keep military recruiters out of local schools. The petition is currently being circulated at Citadel, Halifax West, Cole Harbour and Dartmouth High School, and will eventually be presented to the Halifax Regional School Board.
"The board would love to hear from the students," says board director Irvine Carvery, mentioning that while he supports the military, he is open to hearing what the students have to say.
He explains that while individual principals can chose to ban military recruiters on a school-by-school basis, the board would wait for a province-wide decision before barring military recruiters from schools.
"It would take a lot of public pressure on the Department of Education," he adds.
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