Does Army junket violate guidance counselor ethics?
by Helen Gym on Aug 06 2009
Imagine if Walmart paid for your high school’s guidance counselor to take a four-day paid trip to “Walmart Land” where your guidance counselor got to engage in fun team-building exercises, toured the Walmart History Museum, and then to top it all off, took a bungee jump–the first of their life off--the Walmart Tower.
There would be day-long presentations and lectures on Walmart’s contributions, conveniently omitting key issues like say, oh, pay scale, perhaps, or the fact that bungee jumping has nothing to do with the typical Wal-mart’s worker’s actual responsibilities.
Afterward, the Walmart Recruiter says, “We hope you’ll take back to your school what you learned. We planned this trip because Walmart hasn’t seen enough prospective employees from your schools. We hope this visit will change that.”
Your guidance counselor is quoted as saying:
“I’ve been impressed by the kind of training [they’re] getting here and how they’re being taken care of. I feel I can recommend this.”
Kind of makes you wonder about that recommendation right?
Not so for a band of teachers and guidance counselors (at least three of whom were from Philadelphia and one of whom is quoted verbatim above) who went on a four day, expense paid trip to Fort Bragg courtesy of the U.S. Army. The guidance counselors got to fire M-4 carbines and even took a simulated parachute jump.
In the reporter’s decidedly boosterish article, the trip landed straight out of a corporate lobbyist’s playbook with little subtlety to the quid pro quo:
The effort, hosted by recruiters in their areas, was intended to create positive impressions of the Army that would be shared with students, parents, and fellow faculty members. It also aimed to boost recruitment in this region . . . How better to capitalize on the gains than to educate the educators with hands-on experiences, including a simulated parachute jump?
How better indeed?
It worked for Lynette Coleman-Martin, a guidance counselor at Frankford High School, whose quote I used above:
”I’ve been impressed by the kind of training [soldiers are] getting here and how they’re being taken care of,” said Lynette Coleman-Martin, a guidance counselor at Frankford High School in Philadelphia. “I feel I can recommend this. I’ve seen leadership, integrity and decisionmaking.”
And here’s Central High’s guidance counselor weighing in on offering advice based on her weekend outing:
”I’m learning more from personal experience about what the Army has to offer to those who might not go onto college,” added Lisa Sancho, a counselor at Central High School in Philadelphia, who lives in East Mount Airy. “The Army has been supportive of our students and has sent recruiters to our school.”
I respect the right of every child to choose their future path, whether it be the military or anything else.
This post isn’t about the value of the military or about a student’s choices about his or her future. The issue is whether in this case, guidance counselors followed ethical guidelines by stating that they would recommend something based on a four-day outing with a host who isn’t exactly subtle about their intent that the trip will boost military recruitment. It’s funny how the reality of being on the ground can vary so differently from weekend fun at Fort Bragg – especially the part about being locked into terms of service, or maybe that fine print about dying or stress disorder stuff.
It’s also important to remember how much access the military already has in the Philadelphia public schools. We’ve got two military academies and recruiters flocking to our high schools on a regular basis. Is the School District now going to allow them to “buy” recommendations from guidance counselors and students advisors?
I spoke with Richard Wong, Executive Director of the American School Counselor Association. ASCA encourages its membership to provide students with information about all possibilities, including the military. He said it’s appropriate for guidance counselors to take trips to see different options for their students. The line on whether a trip goes from becoming part of business to a personal reward to the individual is not explicitly stated, but abuses are usually pretty obvious.
But the one place where he clearly draws the line is if a counselor were to make a recommendation to a student.
“That’s not an appropriate role,” Wong said.
He explained that counselors are supposed to help students facilitate a decision-making process about their future, not insert their own opinions about that student’s future.
A District spokesman, Fernando Gallard, said he had been unable to determine whether Philadelphia had an ethical policy that covered trips by counselors. "Counselors take trips to colleges and universities all the time to see what they have to offer," he said. He could not find out who generally pays for these trips, whether the counselors do it on their own time or are paid, or who decides what trips are appropriate.
We’re a nation at war, and therefore military service takes on a lot more import when the likelihood of combat increases. Every guidance counselor has a deep personal and professional responsibility to find out as much as they can before dispensing advice to young people. A few days at Fort Bragg before returning to your summer break just doesn’t rise to the level of adequate understanding of Army life.
It seems that a conversation needs to happen with the involvement of guidance counselors about the role and outcomes of such visits.