U.S. Termed at ‘Crossroads’ on National Service

February 01, 1984 3 min read

The United States has been operating an “ad hoc” national-service system ever since World War I, say the authors of a report on national service released last week. But, the report adds, it is time to restructure and expand the system to form a national service that “can have a demonstrable effect on society.”

The report, “National Service and America’s Future,” is based on two years of research by college and high-school students who work for the Youth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. The independent, nonprofit institute, formerly a project of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation, monitors federal youth programs, produces research papers, and publishes a national monthly magazine for youth-service workers.

The conclusions are based on the institute’s examination of federal programs that currently employ large numbers of youths, national-service programs operating in other countries, and recent national-service proposals advocated by legislators, educators, and military officials. The report also presents an overview of guidelines for a model national service.

“The United States operates an ad-hoc system of national service already, with approximately 1.2 million young people in the armed forces and several thousand in the Peace Corps and vista [Volunteers in Service to America, the domestic volunteer corps established under the Johnson Administration],” said Meryl Maneker, a co-author of the report and former staff director of the Youth Policy Institute.

The report’s development was supervised by Roger Landrum, author of Youth and the Needs of the Nation, a 1980 report on national service sponsored by the Potomac Institute, a Washington, D.C., research institute which specializes in the study of public policy affecting the poor and racial minorities.

U.S. policymakers are at a “crossroads” in making decisions about a national service, according to Ms. Maneker. If severe manpower shortages in the military over the next decade occur as predicted, the issue will move to the top of the nation’s agenda, she said.

There is broad-based support in the United States for a national service, according to the report.

“School officials and teachers argue that such a system would provide a needed complement to academic education and help mold youth in a practical way for the real world,” the authors write. “Military officials suggest that national service would help solve the problems of the All-Volunteer Force. And professionals in the field of youth employment claim that a service system would better prepare young people from all backgrounds for the world of work.”

But despite the apparent support, the report says, the issue of national service raises many difficult questions, such as: “Should the national service be voluntary or compulsory? What will be the relation between the system and the armed forces? How will the system be administered? How much will it cost?”

Expanding Opportunities

The answers to many of those questions can be found in the federal youth programs already in existence, the report suggests. It recommends that a national-service system be established by expanding the opportunities offered by current federal youth programs, such as the military, the Peace Corps, vista, and the Jobs Corps.

The report offers guidelines for a “model” national service, based in part on the authors’ examination of programs in West Germany, Nigeria, and Israel. The proposals include:

Offering a system of voluntary national service to all young people who have passed the age of compulsory schooling.

Providing, through national service, a wide variety of programs that address a range of major national needs, such as military service, care for the elderly, and tutorial assistance to children.

Serving goals and interests unmet by the marketplace and unrelated to economics. “General community services such as health care suffer because of severe shortages of personnel, a backlog of required conservation work on public lands has reached immense proportions, and millions still suffer poverty and illiteracy,” the report states.

Involving all sectors and every level of society in the planning and operation of the national service.

For copies of the report, write or call the Youth Policy Institute, 1825 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 417, Washington, D.C. 20009; (202) 232-6830.--cc

A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 1984 edition of Education Week as U.S. Termed at ‘Crossroads’ on National Service