Opinion: Revised core curriculum, national service can fix USA

Illustration about America's need to heal

Illustration about America's need to heal

Paul Tong

We have lost our way. We ask what sort of a massacre will it take to get significant action to control gun violence? How much suffering from drought, flood, and fire will we accept before we effectively address climate devastation? How much intrusion into our voting rights, invasion of our privacy, and disregard for women’s rights will we accept before we the people have had enough?

Unfortunately, we are no longer able to govern ourselves with an outdated Constitution and members of three branches of government who have lost the ability to consistently negotiate and compromise. Many of our Republican elected officials have placed reelection and loyalty to the party and its leader over the common good. Many of our Democratic elected officials refuse to negotiate to a central position between their moderates and progressives, leaving them unable to accomplish significant reform. And we the people are complicit. Apathy and cynicism have led many of us to step aside and let the extremists from both sides decide who will represent us.

The alternative that many of us see is a world order controlled by autocracies. We envy, if not approve of, Xi Jinping’s ability to “get things done.” But there is a better way forward. We cannot solve our problems from the top down, but we can from the bottom up.

I propose a program predicated on the recommendations of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — a robust focus during primary and secondary education on civics, media literacy and other “lessons in living” followed on completion of high school by three months of basic military training that also reinforces these lessons. After that, all would be encouraged to serve one or two years with AmeriCorps, or other Corps Network or similar service organizations, or in the military. A combination of this service, these lessons, and subsequent college courses would lead to a degree in citizenship.

Many of our elected officials, past and present, including George W. Bush, John Lewis, Elizabeth Warren, and John McCain, have expressed strong support for a national service program, some of them recommending a mandatory year or more. We must all accept responsibilities in return for the rights afforded us by our Constitution Three months of mandatory training that I propose, somewhat like Switzerland’s, should be attainable and the ensuing voluntary national service desirable and productive.

The advantages of the service elements of this program include living, learning, and working together with others from diverse backgrounds so that our youth, eventually all of us, will become more aware and understanding of our social, economic and political differences. We will become more involved citizens able to confront the issues and hold our elected officials accountable to compromise and govern rather than obstruct.

When you add to these benefits the massive increases in a partially trained military and in volunteers devoted to service, and the benefits of offering our most vulnerable youth an alternate to substance abuse, gang membership and other antisocial behavior, a truly universal national service program should make sense to all of us regardless of political leanings.

The advantages of the curriculum that I advocate include a better understanding of the many issues related to good citizenship. We will overcome our apathy and cynicism, vote in larger numbers, and develop a culture in which the wishes of the majority should result in amendments to overcome the shortcomings of the Constitution. Reasonable restrictions will be placed on the right to bear arms and on the filibuster that gives undue power to the minority.

Lessons in media literacy will be taught in middle and high school so that our youngsters will know how to separate fact from fiction. Other lessons to foster better citizenship will include world religions, foreign policy, immigration, climate change and financial literacy, taught by experts on both sides.

Before you lament that it will take years to implement this program of universal service and revised core curriculum, and at least a generation to reap its rewards, consider how long under present conditions it will take to effectively combat climate change and nuclear proliferation.

Sherman resident Ted Hollander an advocate of universal national service and the author of “Step Forward America!” and “Bachelors of Citizenship.”