Rationale And Design For A Social Service Draft

This article advocates for a national but state-administered social service draft, whereby youth between the ages of 16 and 21 would be participate in a variety of activities designed to develop personal skills and contribute to the social, economic and structural benefit of American society. Some hypothetical pros and cons of such a program are discussed along with rough-draft details on specific activities, rewards, rank hierarchies and placements.PRECEDENTThe idea of a (nationalized) social service draft is not new. One of the more interesting versions was proposed by conservative William F. Buckley, which was addressed and critiqued in an article by Aaron Larson entitled The Draft, National Service and National Unity. (2013). Buckley referred to the “pulsation of consanguinity” inherent in such a program that could “unite the Laramie cowboy and the Greenwich Village Literateur” and… “ever so slightly elevate us from the trough of self-concern and self-devotion.” (1990)Similar sentiments have been expressed by writer Michael Gerson, who envisioned a program, whereby, instead of giving 18 year olds a selective service number(as in military conscription), they’d be given information regarding the five branches of the armed forces along with the option of serving one year in a national service program, not mandated but “expected” (Larison, 2013)The model here differs from both Buckley’s broad, patriotic vision and Gerson’s more detailed model. Here the rationale is more psychological/remunerative and geared more to improving concurrently, the skill levels, self-image, and pro-social mindset of the participants and the economic and social aspects of American life. In line with Larison’s criticism of a national service program, which he reasonably asserts could prove to be at the very least inconvenient and possibly aversive to the young draftees, this program is based on the notion that an effective social draft must be both rewarding to participants and beneficial to the nation. Prior to discussing programmatic details it might be helpful to consider some features of adolescent development.RITES OF PASSAGEThere are several ways in which to view adolescence. One is as a hybrid developmental stage somewhere between a child and an adult, combining and/or confusing the need for independent decision making with the need for parental guidance. This view implies that guidance of an adolescent is an evolutionary process. With fingers crossed, parents, school personnel and society in general hope that just the right proportion of structure and latitude will not only help the teenager develop into a solid citizen but also ameliorate the stresses and strains on society often created by their awkward and at times antisocial behavior.A second view is encapsulated in the famous phrase of sociologist Margaret Mead, to wit… “bury them at 15 and dig them up at 21.” This rather whimsical purveyed notion implies that society must tolerate, support and weather the ups and downs of adolescent behavior, based on the idea that this period of development is fraught with turmoil, and that the teenager’s actions and emotions are fairly similar to those of a psychiatric disturbed individual. This concept of adolescence seems extreme, until one considers that on tests like the Minnesota Multi-Phasic Inventory, even normal adolescents often present with quasi-pathological patterns.There is another view of this quintessentially important time of life – not as a diversion from adulthood or an awkward period of semi-independence, but as a distinct temporal gateway (upon invitation) to society proper. It is typified by rites of passage and often involves a symbolic, watershed moment – fully approved by all members of the community, in which a pot-ceremonial teenager is finally pronounced a “man” or “woman.” From that moment on, he or she is expected to act like an adult, adhere to relevant responsibilities, and be eligible for relevant benefits.It is easier to enact such a process in a small, technologically unsophisticated society because there is greater vigilance by all members and the necessity of having group cohesion (for example in nomadic groups) puts enormous pressure on all members to conform. In a more complex society, with less supervisory vigilance and more inter-group (and generational) diversity that is much more difficult.Still, the idea of an event signaling formally to one and all that the child has become a man or woman would seem to have enormous psychological potential; both for the adolescent and society in general. For one thing it would alleviate some of the “sturm und drang” discussed initially by G. Stanley Hall (1904) by replacing teen confusion with circumscribed developmental timelines and a sense of purpose – irrespective of whether one is a “jock,” a “geek,” a “nerd” or a prom king or queen. One could also surmise that a rite of passage encompassing many and varied groups of adolescents might lead to their developing a more unified view of the world.THE FOURTH WAY – RESOLUTIONDespite the complexities of large, complex, modern societies there might be a way to re-introduce the idea of a rite of passage, while still acknowledging the trials and tribulations of adolescence. It could happen in the context of a social service draft.Such a program would not be symbolic. Rather, the program would solicit youthful energy as a means of administering to the work requirements, support, and other functional needs of the nation. Yet, while the benefits of such a program might be considerable, it would not be an easy undertaking. There are several things to consider.DATAA look at the mathematical/social impact of adolescent behavior in American society is revealing. For example, a recent study by the Urban Institute revealed that the age group with the highest rate for violent crime is between 15 and 25. A study conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed similar patterns and a study on obesity indicated that more than twice as many teens and young adults are overweight than was the case in 1970. All of these trends create substantial behavioral overhead for the nation in the form costly social supports, drug rehabilitation programs and various activities within the criminal and judicial systems.While parental supervision is not only extremely important and arguably the most effective mean of regulating such behavior patterns, the average parent has much less time to supervise their adolescent sons and daughters than in the past. That, combined with the teen culture that sprang up in the 50s and has since magnified in importance has served to reduce the disciplinary influence of parents and other authority figures. Our culture has provided teens with an anti-social option, which completely obviates the powerful influence of parental discipline, work responsibilities and social ostracism – contingencies that once reined in adolescent behaviors.This influence is perhaps more problematic today due to functionally prolonged adolescence. For example marriage was once an ostensible rite of passage, signaling the end of vagabond immaturity and the onset of personal responsibility. Marriage obviously requires that spouses earn income, try to get along, compromise, work cooperatively – all those skills encompassed in Freud’s idea of the ego function. Data compiled by the Office of National Statistics indicates that in 1980 the average marital age was 23 for males and 20 for females. It is now 32.1 for males and 30 for females. That would seem to provide a greater time gap in which society must deal with potential egocentrism, non-productivity, lassitude and increasing levels of malfeasance among young people. All entail cost to society. Given those considerations, it might be possible for a social service draft to not only alleviate cost but to enhance the nation in a variety of ways.PHYSICS AND THE TEEN PSYCHEIt is perhaps awkward but not unreasonable to apply Einstein’s general theory of relativity to adolescent development. According to the former, energy is a constant. It cannot be obliterated, only change form. Consequently the work it is capable of doing depends on how it is channeled. Interestingly, Freud developed a similar idea around the functions of the psyche. He described it as an energy system that could either produce art, science and helpful endeavors via an eros-driven mechanism or turn inward and diffuse via a thanatotic process. In simpler terms, both believed (and in Einstein’s case, proved) that energy can be either helpful or dangerous, used to produce miracles or disasters, and thus to be respected at every turn. Adolescence is not just a developmental stage. It is also a state of enhanced psychic, physiological and emotional energy. That energy has no neutrality. It is extant and can only help or hurt. That notion further supports the argument for implementation of a social service draft.JUXTAPOSITIONWith regard to utilizing adolescent energies, it is important to ask whether or not there are ongoing needs for the work or services they could provide and also whether or not their involvement would end up displacing adult workers. In response to that, it would seem any number of assistive or auxiliary positions in the domain of social services, clerical vocations, even technological and construction positions would make sense. Many of these vocational venues are under-staffed by professionals might enjoy the prospect of a guaranteed work force under the auspices of the program.Obviously the issue of salaries would come into play. In that context, enrollees would be paid a minimum wage. But since the program would include voluntary participation by private companies (supported by liberal tax deductions), salaries could be augmented by any given private company if the latter so chose. Payment could begin at the minimum wage level. The key to this would be finding marginal positions or position shortages where teens could fill in gaps rather than competing with adult workers for jobs. Indeed, despite the social and psychological benefits of such a program, that problem would have to be deftly assessed and handled to avoid a scenario where the son has a job but the father does not.AGENCYUnder ideal circumstances this program would have a quasi-miitary topography in that there would be fitness requirements – thus enhancing the health status of young people, as well as criteria for attaining rank and status. For example an enrollee might begin at a lower rank, then, depending on longevity, sense of responsibility, performance, leadership qualities etc. he or she might rise to a higher rank. Along with that could come wage increases and status that might, upon his or her leaving for personal career aspirations, be used as an endorsement of their value as a person and worker. While the notion of rank for a social service draft might seem awkward, it might over time, give employers and others a means of measuring a particular young man or woman, who could put on their resume… attained first rank status in the service corps. The self-image enhancing byproduct of such an accomplishment might be beneficial for a variety of reasons.IS PATRIOTISM PASSE?A social service draft would arguably create a certain nation-centric mindset on the part of enrollees; perhaps a smaller scale version of what is seen in the military – or perhaps not. Has America become so individualized that patriotism has gone the way of the Dodo?Perhaps that might be true if mere words were used as criteria, for example, daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, or exclaiming to brave soldiers, “Thank you for your service.” On the other hand, when actions are involved for the purpose of “helping the country out,” things might be different, as was espoused by John Kennedy in his inaugural address in January of 1961. If indeed the patriotism of action is more long lasting and meaningful than the patriotism of words and rituals, a greater allegiance to the idea of national unity might arise in young people; perhaps not manifest as rabid pro-Americanism but due to the cooperative interactions among young people from various backgrounds as a distinctly American yet grassroots communal sense that could, in at least some instances douse the fires of social antipathy that otherwise lead to alienation, crime and cost to society.That brings up the question of mandatory service. Despite advocacy by writers such as Buckley and Gerson the idea has never taken hold. There have been several attempts to create volunteer programs in the past, including Eisenhower’s youth fitness program, Kennedy’s Peace Corps and Clinton’s Ameri-corps. At face value those programs probably brought out the best in the young people who were engaged and no doubt bolstered the image of the USA around the world. Yet while volunteerism is a good thing, it solves no social problems and provides no framework for inducing positive, pro-social attitudes among young people.Young people who choose to volunteer are probably good people to begin with and require little in the way of socio-moral redirection. They do not usually feel a sense of alienation, so while their efforts are appreciated, no net social gain can result from their involvement. A mandatory program on the other hand, paints with a broader brush and creates a deeper sense of importance because it enlists the energies of not just good kids but potentially bad kids from both genders and from all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic classes. That alone would have a greater impact on social unification, cooperation, and greater adherence to authority as fundamental learning pieces.PRACTICALITY, NUTS AND BOLTSBeyond fostering social equanimity, many practical skills could be learned through such a program, for example: money management skills, job skills, a work ethic, and a sense of social responsibility. It would also entail fitness-maintaining habits, and the quest for higher achievement and rank – among many others. With regard to the inevitable question of its infringement on freedoms; an argument that could be reasonably proffered by liberals and conservatives, the answer is that the rewards included within the program (which would include not just salaries, but training, social exposure, rank and status attainment) would very likely appeal to America’s youth; particularly those with marginal status and minimal social access. As Jefferson implied in his letters to John Adams and William Short, a meritocratic system is fair, attractive and moral.As to the essentials of the program, this would and should be subject to discussion among various agencies, parents, students themselves and employers. But some possibilities might be as follows;1. Age level – students are drafted at age 16.2. Physical Examinations would be required, including fitness assessments and programs to meet those criteria. (Much like those required by the National Guard). There would be no rejections, other than for medical reasons. Instead the less fit would be given a more gradual level of fitness training as part of the programmatic package, while still ultimately being held to fitness standards (much like standards within the National Guard).3. Time Requirements – minimum and maximum times would be defined – say as little as 5 hours per week and as much as 15. Service tours of duty could range from two years to five years, depending on the person’s preferences, Longer tours would typically lead to higher rank, wages and increased levels of training. Shorter tours would end sooner but probably not lead to the same results.4. As to program selection for location, work or service activity, there would be preferred job and location choices on a first come, first serve basis but no youth will be placed outside his general living area unless by his or her own personal choice or that of a guardian. However outside placements would be an option for any enrollee.5. Payment; would be on a minimum wage scale, subject to increases based on performance, rank and other merit-based factors.6. Rank; each student would be classified by rank, beginning at the lowest level (analogous to “corporal”) but could be promoted based on meritorious performance, including efficiency, leadership, creativity, longevity and other criteria.7. Exemptions would be allowed for; particularly with regard to disability, medical condition or other significant factors – for example enlisting in the military or certain (but not all) post-secondary education pursuits. However this would not preclude disabled adolescents from participating voluntarily (at the same pay scale) if they and were able and inclined to do so. Accommodations would be provided as necessary in such instances8 In addition there would be the possibility of a home-based participation in special cases.9. Codes of conduct; Each participant will be subject to a moral/behavioral code which would preclude substance abuse, worker abuse, aggression, other than in self-defense, and other inappropriate behaviors. In cases where such behavior incidents occur, a multi-tiered disciplinary approach will be used. A first incident will result in fines. A second incident would lead to additional fines beyond the first level, but still remain off the record. A third incident would lead to suspension and/or dismissal without pay and go on “on the record” as a dishonorable discharge. Any criminal behaviors will be reported as per a typical prosecutorial process.10. Participants can remain in the program from age 16 to 21 but no longer than that. They may terminate involvement upon reaching the age of 18 or in cases where college placements and other changes in location necessitate termination.11. With regard to a monitoring/supervising agency: Rather than create a new and costly bureaucracy, the program could be monitored within the public education system or the National Guard. Since the program specifics most closely parallel the operations of the National Guard, it might be best for that agency to monitor the program. Also, since the nature of work tasks and other particulars would depend on the enrollee’s location, it would be best for the state to handle registration, compliance and other facets of the program. However this would not rule out a cooperative venture between public education systems and the National Guard.PROJECTED OUTCOMESAs with all significant social transformations the design and implementation of a social service draft would no doubt incur strong initial resistance. Such resistance would be justified if the ultimate cost in time and sacrifice to draftees outweighed the economic, vocational, experiential and achievement-related aspects of the program. For such a program to catch on would require that it benefit both the enrollees and American society. Its potential to provide earnings, status, concrete achievements, endorsements and references derived from performance to future employers, schools etc. would be among the benefits to the individual. A possible reduction in social alienation (as typically correlates with criminal behavior), and the positive work and economic gains that could result from the participation of masses of young people would be to the benefit of the nation. Perhaps a more subtle benefit of the program; one not necessarily quantifiable, would be to provide a sense of time, place, person and value to the young participants. A signpost signifying maturation, and more than that, something to look forward to for even the most desponded boy or girl – giving them a way to use their energies for pro-social ends.REFERENCESWillam F. Buckley reference. National Debt, National Service. Retrieved from a New York Times Op-Ed article; October 18, 1990Hall. G. S. (1904) Adolescence: Its Psychology and Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education. Classics in the History of Psychology. 2. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2011Larson, A. The Draft, National Service and National Unity: The Stopped Clock Article published June 26, 2013Larison, D. Commitment and National Service. Article published in The American Conservative, June 24, 2013By Robert DePaolo

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