A Call to Civic Duty: One Year to Learn About America

volunteering teensA new call to fund a one-year stint in national service went out recently, but it mostly went unnoticed. The fact that people didn’t hear it is sad, but you know, there is just no fooling us anymore. The notion of a nation-wide commitment to national service went out of fashion in a hurry during the Vietnam War, and for all the effort to remember our neighbors serving in the military, to honor the fallen, and to support the wounded warriors once they come home, for the most part it doesn’t ring true because only a fraction of our neighbors serve in the military. National service is not a significant part of the national conscience or the national consciousness. Teach for America has been one of the few attempts to change that, until now.

ServiceNation is calling for a year of service for every young American to help foster “a sense of shared identity and common purpose.”  Behind this call is the idea that not only will it help bring about a change in the way we view service to the country, but it will also become a way to lower unemployment numbers going forward if more young people can use that yearlong service experience to help get them working when they have finished. Service Nation is describing “an unprecedented cultural campaign that will inspire Americans.”

As ServiceNation begins its drive to fund this initiative, it is defining their mission as a plan for one million young adults to commit their time in after school programs, in inner city schools, or as disaster responders. What struck me, when reading about this, was that finally, here is an idea where non-military service roles are being considered for both young men and young women. You can be of service to the country without stepping onto the battlefield and without combat.

And I want that idea to succeed.

I come from a traditional Midwestern family which has offered its sons to military service since the Civil War. My aunt and my mother volunteered at the draft board during WWII, but in the past 70 years, the girls in my family have done nothing more than vote in local and national elections. If ServiceNation is able to find ways to include more women in serving the nation’s needs, especially in caring for urban children, then it will have my support. And if that effort can include more roles for young men beyond the one they traditionally play in the military, they will have my gratitude as well.

Ironically, the very young people who would gain most from working in the national interest are likely the ones who would opt out: children of privilege, children with important or celebrity parents, children with secure financial futures. But those are the ones I hope will heed this call because they will be the ones to make the biggest difference in gender equality in the workplace of the future. If, finally, non-combat national service jobs are available to both young men and women alike, I want American young people to be drawn to them. I want them to be grateful for this blessed opportunity and I want them to wish it were for more than one year. There is a wonderfully equalizing quality to the ideas that brought forth this new project. It should be supported for that. And maybe this is how we plant seeds for a future that does not include discrimination between boys and girls in the workforce.

Imagine what they — or you — could learn in one year.

Contributor Anne Born has been an editor and writer all her life.  She writes poems, short stories, and personal essays on family history and her view of living in a big city after growing up in a small one.  She likes an audience or she would keep her writing in her personal notebook.  This embarrasses her children.  She lives in the South Bronx and writes on and about the MTA – the New York City system of buses and subways. You also find her at Open Salon and Red Room, and you can follow her on Twitter at @nilesite.

Image via iStockphoto/mangostock

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