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Mandatory Public Service?

A new bill could force young adults to do two years of public service

What is it?

A new bill named the Universal Service Act of 2003, introduced by Democratic House of Representatives members Charles Rangel of New York and John Conyers of Michigan and Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, was the most recent mandatory-service proposal considered by Congress. Americans would be required to complete two years of service for the nation between the ages of 18 and 26 in one of various programs.

This service could include military time or active participation in programs such as Peace Corps, Teach for America or AmeriCorps. The president would determine the number of people needed and the means of selection. Deferments would be limited to those completing high school, up to the age of 20, with no exemptions for college or graduate students. The bill has not yet been acted upon.

Most recent proposals would provide some sort of payment for young people's service. One plan allows for four years of college tuition in exchange for two years of service. Participants who do not choose college might be able to apply for funds to pay for job-training programs or to help start a small business.

While many young people volunteer to join the U.S. military as an act of self-service, other programs such as AmeriCorps also draw more than 50,000 volunteers annually. In addition to tutoring children, building homes, cleaning up the environment and helping communities through disaster relief, AmeriCorps members work with 2,100 nonprofits, public agencies, and faith-based organizations. Other service programs, such as Teach for America, work toward eliminating educational inequality throughout the United States. Young people generally make up most of the volunteer staff who spend two years in low-income, urban areas to teach children.

“I’ve actually thought about joining AmeriCorps,” said sophomore Jessica Keough. “I think it’s a great program our country benefits from. Service like that teaches you so many things. I just think the main reason why people should really consider something like AmeriCorps is because it opens your eyes. It teaches you to be selfless and to appreciate what you have. It’s also just nice to give back to those who are in need.”

“Teach for America...is an opportunity that people don’t seem to know much about,” said sophomore Hayley Schools. “I truly admire those individuals that give up two years of their life to help children succeed. However, I don’t feel mandatory service is necessary. As soon as I graduate college, I want to get out in the world and start working.

Who’s requiring service now?

The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse reported that 5.5 million high school and middle school students are engaged in service learning. Some administrators are now requiring students to complete a certain number of community-service hours in order to graduate high school. These include states such as Maryland and Minnesota, and cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia.

Deborah Brannock, director of Counseling Services at Owings Mills High School in Baltimore, said she was torn on the subject of required service. “I do believe that there are individuals who just don’t have the desire to give in that way,” she said. Owings Mills High School has a system to incorporate service-learning hours into the classroom in order for the students to accomplish the 75 hours needed in order to graduate.

What are people saying?

Although there are many reasons for mandatory service, many people still oppose it, primarily because they believe in the right to choose how to live their lives, which is one opinion of people from the Elon community who were recently informally polled.

“I think it should be optional because by making service mandatory, it would take your freedom of choice away,” said Sheila Lackey, an employee of the Coming Attractions Beauty salon in Elon. “It’s just a bad idea.”

Local resident Linda Stitt remembered the draft during the Vietnam War. “I think it’s just an awful idea," she said. "I have a lot of respect for the people who do and are involved with service projects, but I do not think people should be forced into something they don’t want to do.”

Elon Police Chief Lavell Lovette was in high school when the draft was mandatory. "My opinion is that people between the ages of 18 and 20 need to go to college or the military or some sort of service in order to grow, mature and become responsible,” she said.

This article was contributed by Ashley Busch, Elizabeth Colquitt, R.J. Fenn, Jessica Frizen, Rachel Hinson, Leanne Jernigan, Abby Joyce, Tim Rink, Nathan Rode, Ashley Shelton, Paul Skrickus, Katelan Steele and Mike Vivenzio. The story content was edited to fit this layout.

Countries that currently have some type of mandatory military service:

- Austria

- Greece

- Singapore

- Brazil

- Israel

- South Korea

- Bulgaria

- Lebanon

- Sweden

- China

- Malaysia

- Switzerland

- Croatia

- Norway

- Taiwan

- Eritrea

- Poland

- Turkey

- Finland

- Romania

- Venezuela

- Germany

- Russia