We also discussed yesterday Richard Stengel's Time Magazine cover story on the efficacy of a national service program. Stengel argues that we need a stronger, more-centralized plan for supporting civic engagement. Among other proposals, he suggests the formation of a national service academy (akin to military academies), a public institution of higher education that would train young people interested in careers in various sectors of public service. He also argues for Baby Bonds, federal investment of $5,000 in every baby born in the U.S. Once of age, an individual would have the option of giving one year of service in return for the matured bond (about $20,000). Stengel's report is provocative on many levels. He also points out that cynicism and mistrust of the government is at an all-time high and so is volunteerism. And he cites some interesting studies that suggest that civic engagement is highest in homogenous communities--the more diverse a community, the less civically engaged its members.
We had a great (though quite heated) discussion of the article in class. Several students took much offense of the notion of "paid" service and thought this would sully the intentions and motivations of servers as well as the service itself. Some rejected the analogy and connection between "military service" and "community service" (Stengel suggests that those interested in their baby bonds could opt for either) as another example of polluting the "purity" of service. For some in the class, "service" has this exalted, pure, and apolitical status. Nobody in the class who opposed the military service/community service conflation expressed general opposition to the military in general or current policy in particular...but they did see military work as a completely different domain, a domain involving politics. My sense (and I want to clarify this next week) is that many in the class see joining the military as a political statement and/or a statement of particular partisan leanings. But community service, in their eyes, exists outside the world of political partisanship.
Stengel, Richard. "A Time to Serve." Time Magazine (10 September 2007): 49-67.
x-listed in 'rhetoric of civic engagment'