Why National Service Should Be a Social Obligation

Eric Schwarz is the Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools. When General Stanley McChrystal recalled his first trip to Gettysburg as a child, he remembered learning an important lesson in citizenship-- national service is an American duty, or it should be. In his powerful call to service in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Gen. McChrystal proposes that national service should be an American rite of passage and that all Americans upon turning 18 should understand their options to serve. At Citizen Schools we've witnessed the incredible transformation that service through AmeriCorps can impart on our nation's future. We join him in answering this call.

saluteGeneral McChrystal's proposal would create one million full-time civilian national service positions for Americans ages 18-28 through AmeriCorps and other nonprofit organizations. The urge to serve does exist.  "In 2011, there were nearly 600,000 applications to AmeriCorps- a program with only 80,000 positions," McChrystal said, "This gap represents democratic energy wasted and a generation of patriotism needlessly squandered." In order to create lasting change, we need to invest in and expand on this spirit of service.

At Citizen Schools we've seen the impact that supporting this generation's passion for service can have on our country's future. The Citizen Schools National Teaching Fellowship, one of many AmeriCorps opportunities, deploys young patriots into urban classrooms for two years-- adding time and resources to schools and teachers that are stretched too thin. They provide academic support, make college and career connections, and help students build critical skills to prepare them for the 21st century workplace.

This type of service works. Thanks to these AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows and hundreds of volunteers from corporations and organizations across the country, students have had 10-15 percentage point gains in math and English. They're graduating at a rate 20% higher than their matched peers. They're excited to become future engineers, doctors and computer programmers.

6074220798_14529da61b_oWith one million service positions open to young Americans, think of how quickly we could lower the drop-out rate, close the achievement and opportunity gaps for our students, and create lasting systemic change in education. But we need America to hear and answer the call to do it.

McChrystal said, "Universal national service would surely face obstacles. But America is too big, and our challenges too expansive, for small ideas. To help stem the high-school dropout crisis, to conserve rivers and parks, to prepare for and respond to disasters, to fight poverty and, perhaps most important, to instill in all Americans a sense of civic duty, the nation needs all its young people to serve."

McChrystal's article is particularly timely as we send our nation's recent college graduates off into the real world. At the Harvard University Commencement on May 30, Jon Murad, an NYPD officer and Harvard graduate, encouraged the class of 2013 to live up to the expectations of graduating from a prestigious institution-- but not to discount the honor of service. He urged the crowd to pursue the military, social work, Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Citizen Schools to make a real difference on our country.  "Success doesn't mean rising to the top. It means changing the world," he said.

As these bright individuals from universities across the nation consider what the future holds for them, they should feel prepared and obligated to answer the call to service. Join us in creating a new culture of service in America by joining AmeriCorps or signing up to volunteer.