Military Recruitment in the High School:

Adolescent Development Theory in the Service of the State


By Samuel  Merzbow








Military Recruitment in the High School:

Adolescent Development Theory in the Service of the State


     Basic Theoretical Perspective

     The modern school system prepares youth to enter job markets with the skills necessary to make themselves viable commodities (labor is a commodity). It is the condition of the majority in the world-capitalist-system that they will need to sell their labor in order to survive. The majority will work for wages while others will work for a salary at the professional level. Many will act on the assumption that this system offers upward class mobility to all if they work hard, as is often the implication in the classroom.     

     School curriculums have not traditionally been set up to question or even define the parameters of the social relations in capitalist society, which are composed of two major classes: a working class that sells its labor in exchange for wages which allow it to reproduce itself, and an employing/owning class which makes decisions about what workers will do in accordance with market demands. In the process of employing human capital, wealth is created by labor. The necessary labor time creates what is needed for labor to reproduce itself (essentially food, shelter, and whatever else it can bargain for) while surplus labor creates surplus value which, if realized by the owning class on the market, becomes profit. So, unpaid labor, the labor which creates the wealth that goes upward to the owning class, is the source of the owners’ profits. Historically this arrangement has necessitated all manner of brutality and coercion, visible in everything from land enclosures, wars, imperialism, police forces, courts, prisons, anti-labor laws, attacks on unions and workers, and so on. It is not a “natural” process, nor does it reflect “human nature” any more than feudalism or hunter gatherer societies did.




The Role of the Military

     A strong military is a necessity for any nation state that hopes to back up its capitalist class domestically and abroad, as this is the class that coordinates wealth accumulation, and keeps that process moving forward. The military therefore needs recruits to keep itself at functioning levels in its service to the state. The military, like other institutions in capitalist society, must reproduce itself through an actual work force to stay alive. The special needs of the military for a fighting force place a higher premium on youth as worker, as these are the people who have the physical ability to fight. Given the loss of basic rights for the individual in the military setting, and the historical taint upon militarism generally after the two World Wars, the Vietnam War, and other events, the US military has often faced an uphill battle in gaining recruits. Special sections within the military have been designated for advertising, and analysis of the psychological and other developmental aspects of youth in order to better understand them and better lure them into military service (or “help young adults act on their initial intentions to enlist”).[1]

     One major study designed to improve military recruitment strategy was examined with other sources for this paper: Evaluating Military Advertising and Recruiting: Theory and Methodology.[2] (The study will be referred to as EMAR for the remainder of this paper.) The EMAR study will be used to examine how the military seeks to understand youth, their issues and lives, to better manipulate their life decisions.


     In the context of the schools, where critical thinking is seen as a necessary life skill, military recruitment should face tough scrutiny, or at least a balanced examination regarding its purpose, promises to high school students, and results. This should be done to determine whether it is even appropriate to allow recruiters into the schools. This paper will not be able to assess the level at which this happens. It will outline some of the strategies suggested by a major study to improve recruitment rates, and look at the existing discrepancy between the reality of military service and benefits as contrasted with the promises of recruiters. This will be examined in the context of adolescent development. Because the military can utilize research on adolescent development to better persuade and manipulate students, some theoretical aspects of this research will be examined.

Considerations and Tactics in the Military’s Recruitment of Young People

     The EMAR study states that there are diverse theories about: “core variables that impact enlistment decision…” which are influenced by “economics, sociology, and psychology.” On the one hand “social-psychological theories of enlistment behavior tend to emphasize micro-level variables focused on characteristics of the individual,… (relying on such constructs as beliefs, attitudes, perceived social pressures, and behavioral intentions).” On the other hand “economic theories tend to emphasize macro-level variables…as recruitment resources, the general state of the economy, wages, and work opportunities in military and civilian sectors.” [3] Recruiters strive to find the right package of “incentives” and determine how they connect to the “key variables that govern the career choices of American youth.”[4]


     There are many factors that influence a young person’s “propensity” to enlist. Some youth will “take into account what people important to them are doing and their perception of what those important others think they should do.” For example, a young man might not enlist “because of strong resistance and disapproval from his mother.” This means that “normative pressures” can influence the decision to enlist or not: “the more a person sees important others as being supportive of a decision to enlist in the military, the more likely it is that the person will intend to enlist….” The normative pressures can come from close relations or peers. Another class of variables involves self-efficacy, the young person’s belief that he or she could find success in the military. There is also the issue of whether the person expects a positive or negative outcome from joining the military, which is identified as a “behavioral belief.” One positive expectation might be that he will “acquire a useful job skill for later in life if he…enlists in the military.” The EMAR study acknowledges that individuals “will have more positive attitudes if they perceive enlisting in the military as definitely leading to highly positively [sic] consequences…”[5]

     Economic factors influence the decision to enlist. The EMAR study shows that “one must not only study how individuals construe the option of a military career, but also how they construe competing career options in the civilian sector.” Also, it states that if a career option is “the first ‘acceptable’ option that came along” it could be chosen. One result is that economic models “recognize that recruiters are not randomly distributed across recruiting areas, but rather are concentrated in areas in which there is naturally more fertile ground for prospects.” Enlistment bonuses may take on special importance in situations where economic incentives are important. Similarly, a poor economy may be a great incentive to enlistment as civilian job options become more limited.[6]

     In the section entitled “Perspectives from Adolescent Development,” the EMAR study notes that “adolescents tend to be concerned about the images they project to others,” and that adolescents are “actively involved in identity formation” Given that they “want to carve out and transition to an adult identity that they can embrace and that is positively viewed by others,” these factors are relevant to recruitment efforts. An adolescent’s “self-concept” can be seen to reflect “social prototypes” such as “the image of the kind of person who enlists in the military.”[7]

     The “Implications For Intervention Design” for recruitment, based on the above and a few other factors include the following nine items:


1.      Help individuals translate positive intentions into behavior by removing environmental constraints to enlisting and putting into place environmental facilitators.

2.      Help individuals achieve the qualifications and skills necessary to translate positive intent into behavior (e.g., through educational assistance programs).

     3.      Change personal attitudes toward enlisting by (a) changing the subjective probability associated with a given consequence of enlisting (e.g., “you think you might learn an important job skill but I can assure you that you definitely will”), (b) changing the outcome evaluation or utility associated with a given consequence (e.g. “having this job skill is a really desirable thing for you to have and you don’t realize just how valuable it will be”), or (c) adding a consequence to a person’s belief system that they had not thought about before.

       4.      Change the overall normative pressure to enlist by changing either the injunctive or descriptive norms. With respect to the former, change can be brought about by (a) changing the referent’s opinions about what the individual should do (e.g. by targeting parents of potential recruits as part of the campaign), (b) changing the individual’s perception of a referent’s opinion, (c) rendering the referent irrelevant to the decision in the eyes of the potential recruit, or (d) making the opinion of a supportive referent more important and salient to the decision maker.  With respect to the latter, change can be brought about by (a) educating individuals about the true base rates of enlisting for different referent groups or (b) rendering a referent group to be more or less important to the individual.

    5.      Change the overall perceived self-efficacy associated with enlisting by (a) convincing the individual that a perceived obstacle is not an obstacle after all or (b) convincing the individual that he or she has the skills and wherewithal to overcome the obstacle.    

    6.      Change the relevant social prototype and self-image by (a) changing how one perceives the kind of person who enlists in the military on a given attribute dimension (e.g., “people who enlist are patriotic”) (b) changing the utility or evaluation of an attribute dimension associated with the prototype (e.g., being patriotic is a noble and highly desirable character quality”), (c) making new attribute dimensions associated with the prototype salient to the individual, or (d) changing how one perceives oneself on one or more of the attribute dimensions associated with the prototype.

7.      Alter any of the above for competing options in the choice set so that the options associated with a military career rise above those of their civilian competitors in terms of overall utility.

8.      Introduce new military–based career options to the choice set that the individual many not have thought about and that will be relatively attractive to the individual.

9.      Alter any of the above through recruiter activities and programs aimed at the effectiveness of recruiters.[8]


     Toward the goal of realizing maximum efficiency in recruiting, the EMAR study advises using a survey to assess ongoing “changes in the determinants of propensity” of adolescents to enlist. These will allow for analysis of the “recruitment market” and adjustments to reflect “market changes.” The surveys will help look for “other paths of effect” that might have a desired effect. For example “messages can influence relevant referent (such as parents) who, in turn, influence youth….” Also messages “may increase conversations among youth vis-á-vis joining the service,” and “messages may increase the likelihood that youth will talk to others (people in the military, school counselors, parents) about joining….”[9]

     A very interesting analogy is made in the section entitled “Use of School-Based Administrations”: “Why survey in schools? To paraphrase Willie Sutton’s bank robber comment: because that’s where the students are.”[10] For those who do not know the famous Sutton quote, it was uttered in response to the question “Why do you rob banks?” to which he responded “Because that’s where the money is.”[11] There may be a psychological aspect to the portrayal of recruitment as analogous to robbery.





Analysis of the EMAR Study as it Relates to Adolescent Development Theory


Their training is largely oriented toward marketing and sales techniques: on the first day at recruiting school, a recruiter friend of mine was told to come up with a gimmick for selling a pen. What business does the military have teaching recruiters to sell anything? Are the lives of America's youth just another commodity for the government to exploit?...Why do they have to use manipulative sales techniques to convince young, uneducated minds to carry out the dirty work of war?

     Chris White ex-Marine recruiter [12]


    Many psychologists believe that adolescent brains are not yet developed enough to assess complex life decisions. In the face of military advertising and aggressive recruitment campaigns, adolescents will be at a disadvantage. The stakes are high in the interaction between recruiters and adolescents: “Two central tasks confront us: stay alive and get into the gene pool…[and] [t]o do this, we must have brain systems that are functionally organized to effectively recognize and respond to novel and familiar dangers and opportunities.”[13] Many teenagers will be unable to determine the veracity of the claims from someone who is likely out to deceive them about key life choices. They lack experience: “It’s obviously important to master efficient, culturally important routines, but left hemisphere routines are best developed through right hemisphere explorations focused initially on understanding the nature and importance of the challenge.” The right hemisphere of the brain processes novel experiences while the left deals with familiar challenges. The “exploratory right hemisphere is thus organized to respond rapidly and creatively to a novel challenge…”[14] For those students who are deciding to join the military, possibly based on the implication from a recruiter that they “won’t go to Iraq” (see criticism section below), or based on other considerations, theory on adolescent brain development suggests that they are not adequately equipped to make such a serious life or death decision. Drinking age laws reflect this. Their brains may not be able to assess the accuracy of the information they receive from the recruiter. If “left hemisphere routines are best developed through right hemisphere explorations focused initially on understanding the nature and importance of the challenge,” inviting recruiters in to persuade students is a bit like leaving them alone with a chainsaw to figure out how it works.


It is debatable whether this is a function of brain development or merely a lack of social experience with salespeople combined with a lack of relevant information offered to students due to the dominant ideological paradigms in the school and society prohibiting critique. For example, students are vigorously warned of the dangers of drugs in school assemblies. But they are not warned of the dangers of combat or the dangers of manipulative recruiters. Adolescents in high school are not very experienced in negotiating truth with adults other than their teachers and their parents, who hopefully approach this relationship with at least a modicum of interest in what is best for the student. As is seen with recruiters, the goal is not what is best for the student, but what is best for the military.

     In the case of the military recruiter, the recommendations of the study are not designed to offer the student or young person all the necessary information to make a well founded decision, but rather to persuade. In the nine suggestions about being more persuasive listed above this is clear. These include changing the potential recruit’s view of himself (self-efficacy), without knowing him or his abilities, changing his estimation of the opinions of others (eliminating normative pressures), including those of family and peers, and making strongly worded promises (offering incentives) about benefits without necessarily showing proof.  This is manipulation based on the desired goal of a signature on the enlistment forms. If a Department of Education memo existed that advised negating the opinions of parents in the student’s education, there would likely be an outcry from the community. One has to stop at this point and ask “Why on earth would a school allow in a third party to persuade students on an important life decision, with such openly manipulative tactics, which run so counter to the ways teachers are supposed to interact with students, and how does that reflect the mission of educators and the school?”


     While the goal of the education system is purported to be equipping students to participate on equal footing with others in economic society[15], this is not the case with military recruiters. The EMAR study openly states its goal of both manipulation and of predation on those students who will provide “more fertile ground” when it comes to being more likely to join due to economic inequity. The students who join the military won’t get a “second chance” and will find it is incredibly hard to get out of their commitment even if they decide they made a mistake. Many find themselves facing the prospect of military service because they think they have no options.


When students from advantaged backgrounds become disengaged, they may learn less than they could, but they usually get by or they get second chances; most eventually graduate and move on to other opportunities. In contrast, when students from disadvantaged backgrounds in high-poverty, urban high schools become disengaged, they are less likely to graduate and consequently face severely limited opportunities.[16]


      The New York Times noted in a 2005 article that “[s]ince the draft was abandoned in 1973, the Guard has drawn overwhelmingly from the working class, like the Army itself.”[17] This is often referred to as a “poverty draft” in which young people, who likely did not get the same educational and social opportunities as students in affluent neighborhoods, end up in the military as a career option. They are often more resigned to the fact that they will not be able to achieve at the levels of students from richer neighborhoods.


     Self-efficacy is seen as a desirable trait by educators and military recruiters, which points to the fact that it is potentially neutral, but also that without context, it can’t be seen as a goal unto itself. In number five in the “Implications for Intervention Design” above, we see that recruiters are advised to bolster and manipulate self-efficacy to persuade an individual that he is capable of succeeding in the military. If self-efficacy is a trait that can be artificially inflated by someone other than the subject, and utilized to reflect an individual back on himself as the manipulator wants him to see himself, all for ulterior motives, then the social context becomes important. A belief that one can “succeed” says nothing of the quality of the goal, or whether it has been critically examined. “I believe I can be an effective suicide bomber” is an example of self-efficacy, just as much as “I can be a great Wal-Mart manager.” While the Wal-Mart manager may damage more lives in the long run, the suicide bomber is more directly devastating. Both can be seen as negative results stemming in part from high self-efficacy. Self-esteem/self-efficacy was not the major factor in either decision process, which points to the importance of historical context. Without historical context the military recruitment strategies sound abstract and legitimate.

     A 2006 study of culture and self-efficacy[18] identifies three dimensions of cultural differences that can shape self-efficacy: individualism/collectivism, power distance, and uncertainty avoidance. In collectivist cultures, the authors see people belonging to “in groups” while in individualist cultures they say that “people look after their own welfare….” Power distance refers to large or small “disparities in power” in a culture. The smaller the power distance, the more power sharing there is. If a culture has a strong “uncertainty avoidance,” people are “easily distressed by new, unstructured, unclear, or unpredictable situations” and try to avoid them “by maintaining strict codes of conduct and a belief in absolute truths.” They claim that these dimensions “have provided a useful framework for examining how cultural values are expressed in major societal systems and institutions and thereby affect efficacy beliefs.”  By contrasting East and West Berlin during the Cold War they claim to have a useful laboratory in which to examine opposites. So the authors see East Berlin as collective/large power distance/and higher uncertainty avoidance, while West Berlin is seen as individualistic/small power distance/lower uncertainty avoidance. They found, for example, that East Berlin students had less self-efficacy and were more conformist. [19]


     At the outset, they seemed to have known they would find substantial differences in students stemming from “these political system differences and their economic, social structural, and educational consequences.” These would reflect the different outcomes of “communism and social capitalism.” And the different effects of these two presumably mirrored, or at least opposing, social systems could then tell us about the “effects of political system differences for academic self-efficacy.” This is where a major problem with a self-efficacy focus shows itself. The shaping of self-efficacy is presumed to stem from two entirely different social and economic systems. But this requires that we buy the concept that East Germany is “communist” rather than “state capitalist.” In East German society during the Cold War, with its class division (a bureaucratic ruling class and a working class), wage labor, and markets, we see what is called “capitalism.” Although aspects of Soviet Bloc countries differed in some of their structures from the “western” capitalists, they were nonetheless capitalist. So we’ve kicked away the entire support structure of the difference that supposedly gave rise to different levels of self-efficacy. The large “power distance” between ruling and working class exists in both capitalist societies.

     The authors find that in East Berlin, the educational system rigidly adhered to a “party doctrine, aimed to develop harmonious socialistic personalities …”[20] One can see a similarity in the doctrinal systems of western democracies, where a “party doctrine” type belief system aims at developing harmonious nationalist and pro-capitalist personalities in students. These beliefs include the ideas that everyone can make it to the top if they work hard, that the west spreads democracy, and that capitalism (often presented as synonymous with democracy) is the best and only possible system. This is not to say that there were not extreme differences in the everyday freedom of expression for people in West versus East Berlin during the Cold War, but the cause and effect is not to be found in ideology or misidentified social/political systems. It has to do with material development in those societies, which is a historical, not an ideological separation. The study also generalizes these factors in a way that misses the different methods of enforcing conformity and keeping power disparities in the different societies, instead using shallow representations which reflect Cold War rhetoric more than analysis.


     The concept of “self-efficacy” is ahistorical, in that it seeks a psychological grounding for a social problem. Even if assigned supposed material roots, such as a “political system” that would shape self-efficacy, the political realities themselves can’t be comprehended without a theoretical approach. This is the reason that a concept like self-efficacy, although it can provide a construct to look at individuals, cannot be taken as an isolated factor to work on without any regard to the social reality of the student.

     A recruiter will work on the student’s self-efficacy as willingly as a teacher will. While the teacher will often be building the student’s skills to do something like “compete in the global market place,” the recruiter’s goal is to “help” the student act on his “propensity” to join the military. In both cases, the student is being set up to participate in the world on someone else’s terms rather than to fully develop, in the first instance as a wage slave, and in the second instance as a pawn of the state stripped of basic constitutional rights. A glance back at the “Implications For Intervention Design” of the EMAR study suggests an entirely subjective and fluid reality, unperceivable by the student, which allows the recruiter to reprogram perceptions to his or her liking so as to get the student to enlist, of course based on the student’s own (newly arrived at) perceptions.

     This is not to say the goal of an educator is to nail down solid and unchangeable reality for the student. But when educational theory exists in a vacuum, devoid of any historical factors that play on the individual and his position in (class) society, the omitted information will help reproduce malleable, rather than critical autonomous, students. Criticality can’t be handed to students on a plate, but it does seem that it can be denied.

     If the educational approach to relating to students is largely ahistorical, then by default it leaves them open to being shaped by whatever the dominant ideology is: “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”[21] This is true in a state capitalist or western capitalist model.


     This correlates to the concept of “bullying” in the schools, not from peers, but inadvertently by teachers bound by the structures of the school system itself. Recruiters will bully, but without the restrictions and standards placed on school staff. Individuals “who impede the group’s achievement of its goals are likely to be victimized. The goal of victimization from this view is to exclude or banish those who impede group goal attainment from the group.”[22] The combined lack of critical perspective on current wars, with free access to students by recruiters, leaves students vulnerable to systemic bullying. In a generally uncritical setting, school staff will also be vulnerable to nationalist peer pressure and the hidden curriculum of conformity.


     In this light, the role of the recruiter can be seen as one which actually attacks self-efficacy, or uses it to advantage. A student who is either oblivious of, or does not believe that he can understand the nuances of the situation the recruiter is pitching, or discern whether the promises for college money, choice of where one will be stationed, and job skill development are reliable, will rely more on the authority and assumed good intentions of the recruiter. But the recruiter, like anyone in advertising, is not concerned as much with the truth as with making the sale.


Negative Outcomes for Students

     Army recruiters have been caught on tape telling students to buy fake diplomas online if they did not graduate and instructing them how to pass drug tests to mask “marijuana addiction.”[23] The abuses of trust are widespread: “According the New York Times, nearly one of five United States Army recruiters was under investigation in 2004 for offenses varying from ‘threats and coercion to false promises that applicants would not be sent to Iraq.’ One veteran recruiter told a reporter for the Albany Times Union, ‘I've been recruiting for years, and I don't know one recruiter who wasn't dishonest about it. I did it myself.’”[24]


     Many in the public believe that soldiers will automatically earn money for college in the military. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) website, however, notes that “[j]ust over half of the veterans enrolled in the Montgomery GI Bill have never seen a penny in college assistance, and the average net payout for all veterans who signed up has been only $2151.” That amount would not get a student through one semester’s worth of tuition, much less four years at most Universities. At the same time “The GI Bill is one of the strongest recruiting draws for students and “money for college is a top reason given for why people say they enlist. The average net amount the military has spent on the GI Bill per year is less than one eighth of what the military spends on recruitment.”[25]

     Many recruits are told they will receive job training that will prepare them for civilian careers after serving. However:


Mangum and Ball, Ohio State researchers who received funding from the military, found that only 12% of male veterans and 6% of female veterans surveyed made any use of skills learned in the military in their civilian jobs. Barley concludes, ‘The evidence on rates of return to training and the probability of finding a job in one's chosen occupation, strongly suggests that, all else being equal, young people should look to sources of training other than the military if they wish to optimize their careers.’[26]


     The “self-image” being offered the recruit, of the successful, well trained soldier ready to transition from service to the civilian sector with new found economic advantage is a false image. In a comprehensive overview of 14 studies which analyze whether veterans earn more or less than non-veterans, “Stephen R. Barley of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell U. found that the average post-Vietnam War-era veteran will earn between 11% (Crane and Wise 1987) and 19% (Rosen and Taubman, 1982) less than non-veterans from comparable socioeconomic backgrounds.”[27]

     Rather than the Federal government moving to protect students from disinformation and predatory recruiter behaviors, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 “contains a little-known provision that threatens the federal funding of any school refusing to turn over all students' personal contact information to military recruiters upon demand.” This can affect the school atmosphere:Students and parents have complained of multiple, harassing phone calls from recruiters as well as uninvited recruiters who come to their houses.” [28] One has to wonder what the presence of recruiters does for the “relational trust” between parents and teachers that a recent study has been deemed important for successful schools.[29] Most if not all educators want to provide at least the feeling of safety for students, if for nothing more than to facilitate learning. Adolescents need “many sources of support, and they need consistency in the messages they receive from the important people in their lives.”[30] It is counterproductive to attempt to create a safe and trusting learning environment while simultaneously opening the doors to recruiters who don’t have to live up to the same standards that teachers do in their interaction with students. It is likely the school will be seen by students as a facilitator of the recruiters’ goals.



     Military recruitment in the high school cannot be considered a “separate” phenomenon from the general purpose of the education system, but is rather a natural outgrowth of the focus on creating citizens that have utility for a capitalist state (all existing states). Since at least the time of the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, schools began to reflect the needs of the capitalist class for a malleable work force. Schools’ mission included assimilating immigrants and indoctrinating students to identify with middle class values and erase working class consciousness. The role of a soldier embraces this project fully, with loyalty from the soldier going to the ruling elite that exploits him (provides employment). One ideological justification is that this ruling elite is “his” elite, as it has the interests of “his” (or her) country at heart. In this way, the working class of one country may be pitted against the working class of another country and every soldier can be convinced they are fighting in their own self interest. It is the military equivalent of the worker who will “compete in the global economy.”


     Since the termination of the military draft toward the end of the Vietnam War, the military has had to work harder to gain the needed forces to carry out missions, but they’ve failed to do so. The job of the recruiter is important and difficult. It requires knowledge of adolescent experience, aesthetic tastes, and development. Educators and advertisers are similarly invested in learning about the student age population, the former to train them to become wage earning consumers, and the latter to separate them from their money. Recruiters want to capitalize on the labor pool made available to them by the state. They are themselves advertisers for the military. The rationale for opening the doors of the school to recruiters is that the military is just another career, like being a Wal-Mart manager, or a teacher. Thus, the students are provided with yet another “opportunity” to build character, gain skills, show loyalty to “the community.”  Entirely absent is any mention of what the mission has been and continues to be, which is the accumulation of capital for the ruling class, by whatever means are necessary. In the current relationship between schools and recruiters, the underlying assumption seems to be that the advertisements will be taken at face value.[31]


     Over 4,000 US troops have been killed and close to 30,000 wounded in Iraq (although estimates go as high as 100,000 wounded).[32] Estimates of Iraqi dead as a result of the conflict, (post US invasion) range from just below 100,000 to over 650,000 (as of 2006).[33] This does not include the estimated Iraqis who died from the US organized UN sanctions leading up to the invasion. Those estimates range as high as over a million deaths including between 227,000 and 567,000 children.[34]  


     Now compare these facts with the continued portrayal of the military as nothing more than a career, where the main focus is on the promised opportunities, skills, college money, and other dubious prospects. There is a shocking and near complete disconnect from any historical or human calculus as to the meaning of potentially going to fight in Iraq, the main mission for soldiers today. This kind of disconnect is merely one example of a broader set of alienations students face in the high school: “Large, impersonal environments in which students feel that ‘nobody cares’ do not produce the feelings of control over outcomes, or the social connectedness that promotes both mental health and academic engagement.”[35]

          According to educational research, “extrinsic incentives” are not as powerful in the long run as a process that will create internalized desire to do well. What students see is the alienated setting of the school, reflecting the needs of capital and the state (if they don’t use those terms, they still know it doesn’t reflect their desires for life), cloaked in rhetoric about “success” and “democracy.” At some point, the students realize they don’t want the eraser, gold star, or lollipop badly enough to perform for it, especially if there is no real life enrichment behind it. At that point they may begin to look for intrinsic motivation to act in their own interests.

      “Some students are diligent whether or not they enjoy a particular course or activity because they have adopted values related to schooling…not to achieve a particular outcome or reward, but because it’s the right thing to do”[36] Working, not for a desired outcome or reward, but merely out of a sense of obligation, is a very concise definition of the social relations that give rise to the recruiters, NCLBs, Wal-Marts, and commodity relations that penetrate nearly every aspect of life. This is the crux of the disconnect students feel with their schools and their own humanity. This leaves them vulnerable to recruitment into the military, based on the alienated reasoning of making a career out of fighting wars for the state. Until it is widely realized that there is a relation between the portrayals of “success” in the role model of the soldier, and the role model of a Donald Trump, Oprah, or Bill Gates, these two “options” will continue to serve as false choices for human freedom and development.











[1] National Research Council. Evaluating Military Advertising and Recruiting: Theory and Methodology. Committee      

     On the Youth Population and Military Recruitment Phase II. Paul R. Sackett and Anne S. Mavor, editors. Board     

     On Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education.

     Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004. 41.    

[2] See footnote 1. The following was also examined but not addressed due to space concerns: James N. Dertouzos and Steven Garber. Is Military Advertising Effective? An Estimation Methodology and Applications to Recruiting in the 1980s and 1990s. National Defense Research Institute. : Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 2003. (Prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense)

[3] Evaluating Military Advertising and Recruiting. 2004, 18.

[4] Ibid. 18.

[5] Ibid. 21-22. Where a series of quotes appear together, one footnote at the end of the paragraph will be used.

[6] Ibid. 26-27, 29-30.

[7] Ibid. 31.

[8] Ibid. 34.

[9] Ibid. 43.

[10] Ibid. 48

[11] “Famous Cases: Willie Sutton.”  From the Federal Bureau of Investigation website. Sourced on 4/30/08 from              

[12] Chris White, “Deceptions in Military Recruiting: an Ex-Insider Speaks Out” Counterpunch online. Source 5/02/08



[13] Robert Sylwester, The Adolescent Brain: Reaching for Autonomy (Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press, 2007), 23.


[14] Ibid. 29 -30.

[15] This goal is a kind of logical fallacy in class society for many reasons.

[16] Committee on Increasing High School Students’ Engagement and Motivation to Learn., Engaging Schools:

     Fostering High School Students’ Motivation to Learn  (Washington D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2004), 



[17] Jonathan D. Glater. “Blue Collars in Olive Drab.” New York Times. 22nd May 2005, online edition. Source 5/01/08


[18] G. Oettingen and K.M. Zosul, “Culture and self-efficacy in adolescents.” in Self-Efficacy Beliefs of Adolescents, eds. F. Pajares and T. Urdan, 245-265 (Greenwich, CN, 2006).

[19] Ibid. 250-251.

[20] Ibid. 255.

[21] Karl Marx, The German Ideology. Sourced 5/01/08 from

[22] A. D. Pellegrini, Bullying, victimization, and sexual harassment during the transition to middle school.   

     Educational Psychologist, 37 (3). 156.

[23]“Army Recruiters Face Investigation Caught On Tape: Recruiters Seemingly Helping 'Prospect' Lie.” CBS News     

         website. Sourced 5/02/08 from:

[24] David Solnit and Amy Allison, An Army of None, (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007) , 3.


[25] “G.I. Bill: A Reality Check.” AFSC website. Sourced5/02/08  from

[26] “The Myths of Military Opportunity” Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors website. Sourced 5/03/08 from:

[27] Ibid.  From the same source: “According to a 1990 study by Bryant and Wilhite, the average veteran will earn 85 cents less per hour (about $1700 less per year) than non-veteran peers.”


[28]“No Child Left Behind” AFSC website. Sourced on 5/02/08 from:


[29] Committee on Increasing High School Students’ Engagement and Motivation to Learn., Engaging Schools:

     Fostering High School Students’ Motivation to Learn  (Washington D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2004),     

     102. This refers to the Bryk and Schneider 2002 study.


[30] Ibid. 121.

[31] In my capacity as a substitute teacher I’ve seen large color recruitment posters up in class rooms, teachers and guest speakers at assemblies promoting the military as a career, justifying its mission, and presenting announcements about recruiting in either a supportive or neutral way. I’ve seen the military defined as a way to serve the community in a civics class. I have not seen any critique of its structure or missions.

[32] “Casualties In Iraq: The Human Cost of Occupation.” Resourced 5/03/08 from

[33] Gilbert Burnham and Les Roberts. “Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey” Sourced 5/03/08 from:

[34] David Cortwright. “A Hard Look At Iraq Sanctions,” The Nation, November 15, 2001. Sourced 5/03/08


[35] Committee on Increasing High School Students’ Engagement and Motivation to Learn., Engaging Schools:

         Fostering High School Students’ Motivation to Learn  (Washington D.C.: The National Academies Press, 

        2004), 158.


[36] Committee on Increasing High School Students’ Engagement and Motivation to Learn., Engaging Schools:

     Fostering High School Students’ Motivation to Learn  (Washington D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2004),