Valuable, voluntary and educational national youth service

Published on Online Journal, by William John Cox, Sept 19, 2008.

Irrespective of who’s anointed at the presidential coronation in January, many more Americans will soon be performing national service, including compulsory military tours of duty in the never-ending War Against Terror and the soon-to-be-announced Wars Against Sedition, Starvation, Unemployment, and Internal Insurrection, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

John McCain has said, “After 9/11, I think we made a mistake by telling Americans they ought to go on a trip, or shop. I think we should’ve told Americans to join the military, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, volunteer organizations – all the organizations that allow people to serve this nation.” Most recently, he asked “for a concrete plan of action on the need for all of us to serve.”

Not to be outdone, Barack Obama has a Plan for Universal Voluntary Citizen Service, which will help “All Americans serve their country.” He wants to double the Peace Corps, triple the AmeriCorps, and expand VISTA, the USA Freedom Corps, the Senior Corps, and the YouthBuild Program. In addition, he wants to deploy a new Classroom Corps, Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, Veterans Corps, Green Job Corps, and a Homeland Security Corps.

Regarding the last one, he has said, “We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded” …

… Volunteering is as American as apple pie. Writing about his visit to the United States in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “I must say that I have seen Americans make great and real sacrifices to the public welfare, and I have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend faithful support to one another.”

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have volunteered for public service ever since President Kennedy said in 1960, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Civic participation in volunteer activities has continued to increase since the 1970s and today, more than 27 percent of all Americans do something for the public good each year, including volunteering 8.1 million hours of service in 2006.

Among young people, there has been an evolution of a post “me” generation more willing to recognize and act upon a duty to society. Eighty million young people were born into the successor ‘Y’ generation, or ‘Gen Y,’ between 1978 and 1996, and the “millennials” born on the cusp of this century are quickly coming to the age of increased responsibility.

Volunteer activities by young people of all ages continued to increase, by more than 12 percent over the last decade. In just three years, between 2002 and 2005, volunteer activism by college students increased 20 percent. Each year, America’s 60 million young people contribute 2.4 billion hours of public service. This annual commitment is worth $34.3 billion to our society.

Recent surveys confirm that 81 percent of young people have volunteered just during the past year, and that 61 percent of teens through 25 year olds feel a personal responsibility for making a difference in their world. Two out of three college freshmen believe it’s essential or highly important to help others in difficulty …

… College is not the answer for all students. Some may choose to earn an immediate salary instead of volunteering for a year; however, given the complexities of the modern world we live in (and the large number of unemployed young people), shouldn’t we also agree, as a matter of priority, that the standard free public education should be expanded nationally to include a two-year academic or vocational college degree for all students?

The public service rendered by young people who volunteer for the military should receive equal recognition for its value to society. They too should earn the opportunity to obtain a college degree in return for their dedication and sacrifice.

Imagine the tremendous leap forward American society will make into the future with a well-educated, well-adjusted, and socially-committed population. It’s all a matter of priorities, policies, planning, programs and commitment. The valuable prize is freedom. The price is worthy service. (full text).

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