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The Coming National Youth Service

Desperate times seek desperate measures. The President and Congress are actively proposing numerous national service programs aimed to resolve desperate challenges, such as drug abuse, poverty, illiteracy, and pollution by "reestablishing," according to Senator Sam Nunn, "this country's tradition of civic obligation." He and others are "calling for a new basis of citizenship in which citizens are once again asked to give something back to their Nation."

Though numerous forms of national service, such as the Peace Corps, have been instituted, none of them has had the national scope envisioned by recent proposals. The more comprehensive national service program would compensate "volunteers" with educational and competitive grants, stipends, and loans to work in a natural resource or human service settings. The stated aim of the programs is to provide work experience, education, and basic skills while serving in government agencies, hospitals, parks, schools, social service organizations, and public lands. The final Senate version of the national service plan was slated to cost around $125 million.

The Senate bill's prime sponsor, Sen. Edward Kennedy, claims that "the goal is to make such programs...available to every student in America from kindergarten to college," and hopefully lead students to make "volunteerism a lifetime commitment." Supporter Sen. Barbara Mikulski adds, "This is a good program for our kids.... It is a way to help us build better citizens."

Therein lies the greatest danger. A "citizen" is an exclusively political manner of viewing a person, and a national youth service program will only serve to further politicize our culture from kindergarten to college. We politicize a culture by inculcating the destructive idea that all of life is somehow dependent and intertwined with civil power. A politicized culture falsely imagines that wealth, education, jobs, community service, social change, etc., are all and only products of politics. A people committed to this outlook is trapped in a mentality that the only way to achieve genuine progress is to lobby, vote, and gain government-coerced privileges at the expense of others. The result is an ever-growing cultural atrophy.

Government service programs not only politicize and thus damage a culture, such programs also assume a twisted understanding of "volunteerism." First, the government attempts to instill habits of altruism by paying people off. I'm all for paying people for their labor, but don't call it altruism. Moreover, our government is the last institution qualified to teach altruistic service. Secondly, this "volunteerism" is especially perverse since it will pay persons to be altruistic with money that was not voluntarily given by other persons.

Finally, the church has only itself to blame for the political popularity of such potentially destructive policies. Civil expansion will naturally fill the vacuum left by weak families and churches. The proposed program is just one symptom of a humanistic culture gasping for some vain form of communal unity.


Copyright © by Covenant Community Church of Orange County 1990
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