If you think you’re in college because you’re smart, you worked hard in high school and you have some extraordinary or unusual talent like playing the tuba upside-down with your eyes closed, you need to get off it. Because actually, as it turns out, it’s far more likely that you’re just one of the lucky ones.

Mara Gay

Lucky because you didn’t grow up in a place where the military recruiters really do offer the best opportunities; where the people you grew up with choose to serve in Iraq because a life on the streets or a career at Wal-Mart are the only other options; a place where joining the military is the only way to get a college education.

It is no secret that the wars of the rich are fought by the children of the poor. So naturally the nation’s very poorest schools are those that military recruiters are given the most access to. Under the “No Child Left Behind Act” — President Bush’s grand plan to create accountability in the country’s schools that he himself underfunded — schools that receive funding under the 1965 Secondary Education Act are required to submit the names, telephone numbers and addresses of all its students to the military and must allow recruiters on campus.

It should come as no surprise that the 1965 Secondary Education Act is specifically targeted toward underprivileged and largely minority school districts.

Enough with this talk of an impending draft. You can party this weekend without fear that it may be your last game of beer pong. There is already a draft in this country, a back-door draft that is easy to ignore. Until college tuition costs are brought under control, and educating all Americans becomes a priority — regardless of how much money or melanin they may have — the underrepresented will always be overrepresented in the military.

The No Child Left Behind Act is just another example of the way the Bush administration is able to further disenfranchise America’s most vulnerable by masking true intent with a progressive-sounding title.

The military has also used marketing techniques to sell its experience to lower-income and minority areas. In Appalachia, one of the most impoverished areas of the country, white youths are lured into recruitment offices with NASCAR campaigns. In inner cities across the country, black and Hispanic youth are enticed with Hummers bearing army insignia and military-sponsored basketball tournaments.

Those serving in our armed forces deserve nothing but respect and support. But high school graduates who enter the military should do so because it is a choice, not because it is the only choice; not because it is the only alternative to a life statistically destined to end in a series of minimum-wage jobs or in prison.

Ann Arbor is an enticing, romantic bubble of a town, a world away from the joblessness and economic desperation that plagues the state of Michigan. And while it is true that making it to the University requires years of hard work, we live in a society where hard work is not enough, a nation where privilege remains unseen, but very, very real. On my way to Metro airport, I begin to wonder how I got so lucky. I am able to travel halfway across the country to attend one of the best public universities in America. But the stretch of road between the University and the airport is inhabited by a sizable population of kids who could never dream of going to college at all.

Some liberal groups across the country have contended that, if a military draft were to be instituted, the left wing would be galvanized and conjure up great marches and rallies, protesting the injustice of conscription. But the draft is already here, and it seems that the only thing more ludicrous than the disproportionate recruitment of poor and minority youth into the military is the silence of those who know better, those Americans like you and me.

 

Gay is a member of the Daily’s editorial board. She can be reached at maracl@umich.edu.

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