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Some see Army pitch in preteen magazine

Editors of Cobblestone say that wasn't intent
Bryan Bender
BOSTON GLOBE

What began as an attempt to educate middle-school students about the military has set off a string of complaints from parents and teachers that new learning materials designed by a New Hampshire publisher for 9- to 14-year-olds amount to little more than an early recruiting pitch for the Army.

The latest issue of Cobblestone magazine, distributed nationwide to schools and libraries, is dedicated to the Army, a first for the popular periodical.

Titled ``Duty, Honor, Country," the issue depicts a soldier in Iraq manning a machine gun on its glossy cover and includes articles ranging from what it's like to go through boot camp -- ``You're in the Army Now" -- to a rundown of the Army's ``awesome arsenal," to a detailed description of Army career opportunities.

But most controversial has been the pair of teacher's guides prepared in conjunction with the magazine, which is touted as meeting national middle school performance standards for English and language arts. The classroom guides suggest that teachers invite a soldier, Army recruiter, or veteran to speak to their class and poll students on whether ``they think they might someday want to join the Army."

``Some of the teachers were like `Holy cow, look at this,' " said Francis Lunney , a sixth-grade English teacher in Hudson who said he found a copy in his school mailbox in May and quickly lodged a complaint in a telephone call to Carus Publishing in Peterborough, N.H. ``It looked exactly like the [official recruiting] material you get in high school. It didn't seem to be that different the way it was packaged."

The roughly dozen complaints come at a time when the military is struggling to meet recruiting goals and has undertaken more aggressive efforts to draw the interest of youngsters. For example, the Army has funded the development of video games to bring its message to teenagers across the country. But it has been criticized by some groups for its allegedly manipulative sales tactics, and has even faced attempts -- unsuccessful so far -- to bar recruiters from some high schools.

Cobblestone's editors insist that the idea for the special issue was theirs alone, though they requested and received permission to use Army photos. They also received more extensive help from the chief historian of the Army Historical Foundation, Matthew Seelinger . The foundation, based in Arlington, Va., is a private, nonprofit organization and is independent of the military.

``We are not part of the government; we are not part of the Army," said Seelinger. ``They contacted us."

Still, he said it was the first time the foundation had been asked to prepare learning materials for children. ``I have never written for a children's magazine before," Seelinger said, adding that Cobblestone paid him about $500 for his contributions.

Cobblestone is one of a family of award-winning children's magazines published by Carus. It was started by two teachers in 1979 to promote reading and history. It grew into six themed magazines that cover American history, geography, world cultures, world history, science and space, general studies, and reading.

The magazine ``strives to educate and entertain through a creative mix of articles, primary source documents, photographs, and illustrations, as well as fun activities, puzzles, and cartoons," according to its website. ``Cobblestone Publishing works with consulting editors, writers, historians, professors, museum curators, teachers, and others who are noted authorities in their fields of study."

Cobblestone has a national paid circulation of 30,000, but managing editor Lou Waryncia said its reach is far greater because one issue could be used by dozens of students -- either in the classroom or in school libraries.

While previous issues of Cobblestone have dealt with the Civil War and other military conflicts, the recent issue is somewhat of a departure, said Waryncia, noting it is the first time that the Army was a focus by itself.

``We planned to do this well over two years ago," Waryncia said. ``It just happened to come out at a time when the country's feelings are in a certain place" about the war in Iraq.

To some teachers and parents, the content appeared to be inappropriate for students who have yet to enter high school, where the military traditionally begins recruiting.

The issue includes an interview with Army Colonel Michael J. Davis , commander of the 52d Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group. He is asked questions such as ``What made you decide to join the Army?"

The magazine discusses careers offered by the Army, including arts, media, computers, construction, engineering, intelligence, medical, aviation, legal, and transportation.

One of the teaching guides -- written by Mary B. Lawson , a teacher in Saint Cloud, Fla. -- goes much further, suggesting that a writing exercise be undertaken in which students `` pretend they are going to join the Army. Have them decide which career they feel they would qualify for and write a paper to persuade a recruiter why that should be the career."

Some complaints have centered on the fact that little attention is paid to the combat role of the Army -- its risks and sacrifices.

Waryncia said the magazine did not intend to recruit for the Army, but will reconsider future issues in light of the criticisms, which he said were greater than for any previous issue.

He said the magazine has not yet decided its lineup for 2008, but is considering issues dedicated to the Marines Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. He acknowledged that he would pay much closer attention to both the content and the teaching guides in light of the complaints.

Virginia Schumacher , a retired teacher and visitor services manager at the History Center in Ithaca, N.Y., who wrote another teaching guide, defended the issue.

``Joining the military is a career option for any child," she said. ``That doesn't suggest they should or should not. Recruiters go into the high school all the time. Part of the curriculum in New York state is career options and how to make wise choices. In that magazine, I felt they gave a wonderful portrayal of jobs that are not what everyone thinks of when they think of the Army. It was not meant to meant to offend anyone."

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