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National Service as Preparatory Program for Democratic Citizenship and Public Service

National Service as Preparatory Program for Democratic Citizenship and Public Service

Retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal makes a worthy argument for the young people in our country… to undergo year-long stints of national service. It is McChrystal’s contention that national service programs would help to support local business communities, form inclusive neighborly bonds, and make the United States a stronger democracy.

The funny thing is, I think about similar programs quite frequently. National service ideas must be floating in the air!

In my patriotic reverie, there is a special service program for prospective political candidates. Each wannabe public servant would need to successfully complete a 2-year term of national service, either in the Peace Corps or with the U.S. Military, as a prerequisite to run for elected office at the federal, state, or local level. An important component of my political preparation model requires that the candidate remain at an entry-level position throughout the full term of service — for the express purpose of experiencing a full range of risks and hardships that front-line workers undergo, as well as to build endurance, respect, and humility.

Life insurance policies would be provided at cost. Discounted health insurance policies would be made accessible. As long as candidates lived a good life for two short years, and if they were careful, they shouldn’t need to rely on either one. Candidates who lose professional momentum in their former career field during the preparatory service term, would be free to pull themselves up by the bootstraps upon completion of the program. In appreciation of candidates’ hard work and high aspirations, boots would be distributed during the official parting ceremony, according to size and a negative urine sample.

Of course, I am only being half-serious. But General McChrystal is fully serious, and has put forth a commendable idea. (Use the link below to read his article.)

So, are the General and I on the right track? I’m so glad you think so!

Going into brainstorm mode now, what are your thoughts about national service programs? How would you design such a program? What objectives and outcomes would you aim for? Instead of youth or political aspirants, might you focus on another demographic, say… retired persons? Or perhaps, identical twins? (They make fascinating case studies.) No answer is right or wrong — be creative.

If we put our heads together, we can foster the citizenry, and the leadership, that is worthy of democracy.


“America needs a restart. It has long devoted its energies to solving its many big problems — unequal opportunity, crumbling infrastructure, lagging education, inadequate training in a changing economy and threats to peace around the world. But it has done so with tired methods. Simply doing more or less of what we have done in the past will not fix what the United States faces. Every solution requires more than another budget negotiation or Facebook post. Each also requires trust and consensus — the hard and disappearing work of democracy…” ~ Stanley McChrystal

READ MORE: Stanley McChrystal: Every American Should Serve for One Year | Time.com


From Sea to Shining Sea

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About The Author

JoAnn Chateau

JoAnn Chateau likes progressive politics and loves the canines. She writes fiction about an alpha Bichon named Chester, and his friends--with a dash of humor and a dab of poli-sci. JoAnn worked professionally in the Psychology and Information Science fields. Retired now, she enjoys the creative life.

5 Comments

  1. memadtwo

    I like your assignment for prospective candidates! I’ve often thought they should be forced to work a minimum wage job and live entirely on their salary (family included) for a year before they can run for office. Or be forced to live entirely on the median income at the time while serving. But your suggestion is actually practical and possible.
    It would certainly decrease and possibly equalize a bit the ridiculous college application process if everyone had to serve at something for 2 years after high school before they could even apply for more education. And study for and gain a high school diploma during that time if they had failed to achieve one. Expose kids to other kinds of people and places. Give them some motivation and direction if they had none. I think it’s a good idea.
    A voluntary corps for the jobless of all ages is also a good idea. A WPA for the 21st century.
    None of this will ever happen, though. (K)

    • JoAnn Chateau

      Your minimum wage stipulation is a nice touch! Another idea might be a Prince & Pauper Exchange Program – with a dissertation requirement, of course, for social research. I think that could be a 4-year program, with an honorary MS degree awarded to participants upon completion.

  2. Robert Matthew Goldstein

    I’ve been thinking about this. The draft had the effect of breaking down class barriers. The rich are more likely to understand and respect the poor if they have to serve their country together.

    • JoAnn Chateau

      I agree. Serving together, and sharing the same hardships and victories.

      • Robert Matthew Goldstein

        Yes. It’s clearly an essential piece of forging a social contract that everyone can live with.

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