All citizens shall, upon attainment of their 18th birthdays, enroll in a two-year program of public service, which may be fulfilled with either civic programs or the armed forces. Enfranchisement shall be earned upon completion of the public service commitment and a demonstration of a basic understanding of principles informing the political and policy issues facing the nation.
If you talk to university professors, most will tell you that for every 18 year-old who arrives in their freshman classes prepared for higher education there are probably 20-30 who aren’t. What results is all too often a wasted year – an increasingly expensive wasted year in an age of spiraling college costs.
Students who take a year or two off, on the other hand, learn a good deal about self-sufficiency and the importance of taking control of the course of the lives. They’re more responsible, more productive and more successful when they finally do turn back to education.
Meanwhile, our society has jobs that need doing. Teaching in under-resourced schools, helping build and rebuild infrastructure, technology support for nonprofit organizations, community work with our poorest citizens, even military service – in all cases there are opportunities for young people to contribute and learn during a period of transition in their lives. Without exception, every alumnus of the AmeriCorps program that I have known has benefited tremendously from the experience as they shared their skills and their knowledge with our society’s less fortunate.
As noted in the prologue, our original Bill of Rights was based on the concept of negative liberty – a philosophy that defined freedom as a list of thou-shalt-nots. However, we have responsibilities as citizens, too, and a two-year investment in those most in need of having the playing field leveled a bit for them affords everyone the chance to work toward a brighter future.
Finally, America suffers each and every time we have an election because we entrust our shared destiny to people who are not familiar with the issues facing us. In too many cases this ignorance stems from basic sloth, and it seems evident that many among us do not cherish their right to vote. Perhaps this is because they did nothing to earn it.
No nation can reasonably entrust its future to its least educated and hope to survive, let alone thrive. We must demand better.