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High school students stand up for privacy, refuse to take military test

In Hillsborough, North Carolina, three public high school students stood up for their privacy rights to opt-out of taking a military career aptitude test that would share their contact information with recruiters. Their principal was not pleased, and sen

Teens may have a better understanding of privacy issues than the adults around them. Unfortunately, when you are a high school student, your personal judgment can still be challenged by an unsympathetic principal.

The Raleigh News & Observer reports that at Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough North Carolina, more than 300 juniors were given the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). The military provides and administers the tests without charge, and in return the scores and students' contact information are sent to military branch recruiters and the school.

Cedar Ridge Principal Gary Thornburg was willing to sign on to this deal to get access to what he views as a valuable career assessment tool. There is supposed to be an opt-out procedure, but three students who refused to take the test were sent to the in-school suspension room to take it--not as discipline, according to Thornburg, but because the in-school suspension teacher was available to supervise them while other students were taking the test. Sounds like a blatantly disingenuous answer to me. In my experience as a student and teacher, when you send students to in-school suspension, it is going to feel like a punishment and be perceived that way by others. Surely their well-equipped media center could have handled three students for independent study.

Why were these students pressured to take the test in the first place? As any remotely savvy internet user knows, there's no free lunch, or free test. When you give away your information, it is going to be used in ways that may be out of your control. As one of the test-refusing students said, "I just really don't want the military to have all the info it can on me." (Interesting side note, the website for ASVAB Career Exploration Program doesn't mention the military connection at all on the initial home page.)

The most remarkable thing about this story may be that it was reported at all, and I am grateful that it came to light. Our students deserve better treatment than the casual authoritarianism expressed by Principal Thornburg, who said "I don't have a lot of patience with people who are refusing to take the assessment--or refusing anything that their entire grade level is participating in." If we want our teens to grow into independent adults, we need to support the autonomy they have surely earned by the time they are high school juniors.