David Brooks: National service should be a rite of passage

Posted by Zach Maurin on February 17, 2008

Again, David Brooks says national service should be a “rite of passage for 20-somethings.” This time it comes in his latest column of Friday’s New York Times, “Fresh Start Conservatism.” National service is one point of his five-point “human capital revolution” plan he says he would recommend if advising the republican nominee:

“Fourth, Democrats like to talk about college affordability, but that’s the least important explanation for why so many students don’t complete college. The real reasons are that students are academically unprepared and emotionally disengaged. National service should be a rite of passage for 20-somethings, and these volunteers could mentor students through high school and college years.”

Brooks’ human capital revolution is aimed to improve America’s workers to better compete globally, “That quality work force was the single biggest reason the U.S. emerged as the economic superpower of the 20th century. Generation after generation, American workers were better educated, more industrious and more innovative than the ones that came before. That progress stopped about 30 years ago.”

Universal national service is an idea Brooks has been touting for a while because it invests in people to become more engaged in our country and our collective work. In his May 2007 column, “A Human Capital Agenda,” he says, “Today, the world is awash in money. That’s not the problem. Instead the shortage is in people to invest in.”

In a September 2003 article in The Atlantic, “People Like Us,” Brooks pushed national service in the context of diversity and our country’s attitude towards it: “It might also be a good idea to make national service a rite of passage for young people in this country: it would take them out of their narrow neighborhood segment and thrust them in with people unlike themselves.”

It is exciting to see national service receiving national attention from prominent columnists. It is, perhaps, more exciting to see that national service is viewed as a vital and influential idea to addressing some of our country’s biggest challenges.


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