A professor at Southern Illinois University (Motto: Southern Illinois: We're Not Rednecks, For Crying Out Loud) wrote an article in the Christian Science Monitor which suggested the nation mandate service by our youth. Specifically, every young person who graduates high school would be required to spend two years in some form of national service. Depending upon the nation's needs at the time, the bulk of that service might be in construction, education, healthcare, community organizing, the military or the arts.
A significant portion of the nation's young will also be directed to thump some sense into the heads of Southern Illinois University professors. The instruments of thumping will be copies of the 13th Amendment printed on those stupid inflatable noisemakers that people clap together at basketball games; since the good professor William A. Babcock specializes in ethics and not constitutional law, the experience will be educational for him and he can claim it as professional development.
For those constitutional triskedekaphobes who, like Dr. Babcock, have forgotten what various state legislatures were up to in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution forbids slavery or involuntary servitude in the United States or its territories, except as properly administered punishment for a person convicted of a crime. A 1916 Supreme Court decision specifically exempted military service from the amendment, which is why the nation has from time to time had a military draft when it was deemed necessary.
The program would offer a room and board and a minimum wage for those in this service, and when they were done they could go to college free for two years. Of course, I would love to see more people involved in public service. As a person employed by the church, I obviously believe helping people is very important. But requiring folks to help other people crosses the line from service to servitude.
Not to mention the many probable but apparently unanticipated consequences. Dr. Babcock says people would enter this service after graduating high school. Hello increased dropout rate. Why graduate and stir soup for two years when you can drop out, work for yourself for a little while if you've a mind to, get your G.E.D and then head off to college or whatever you'd like? And what do we do about the thousands of students who each year graduate from inadequate high schools that haven't prepared them for any kind of life after commencement, let alone a term of self-denying public service? Or the large number of high school students who are -- how can we say this -- already parents? Day care for their kids? Where do the workers come from? This same public service corps? Why not eliminate the middleman, save money, and let them take care of their own kids anyway? Or you could exempt teenage parents, and teenage boys everywhere just gained a new pick-up line: "Hey. It'll keep you out of the draft."
Who trains them? Who deals with them if they can't hack it? Do we arrest them? Sentence them to jail? If we do, we wind up paying for their room and board anyway and we get nothing from it, not even a crummy bridge or high school gym. And what the heck kind of public service comes from art? Would students get to pick? Join a highway construction crew or spend two years painting dots in public parks? Hmmm...gimme a minute.
Personally, I wish that this choice had been around when I graduated from high school. I would have chosen "writing dim-bulb op-ed pieces for the Christian Science Monitor," which would have given me a head start on that job. That way when Dr. Babcock shopped his piece around for publication, I'd have already been working there and I could have thumped him in the head.