BRACK: Strive for “We Generation,” not more “Me Generations”

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Photo of seven workers pouring a foundation at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in California about 1940. Source.

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher |  Maybe it’s time for America to reinstitute conscription or develop a program to require national service for youths after high school or college.

Or maybe schools need to do a better and more comprehensive job of providing instruction on how America works from when students start school until they graduate.

00_acbrackThat’s the big takeaway I had after watching part of the first presidential debate.  It’s pretty clear that the America in the headlines for the last few years isn’t an America that would make the founding fathers or Greatest Generation too proud.  The raucous, ongoing presidential campaign is a symptom of the country’s divisions and challenges, not its unity.

On one side are people who see the country’s future as dark, rallied by a rich reality TV star who says he wants to make America great but appeals to people’s worst instincts.  The other side says it wants the country to be stronger together, but has to get down in the gutter, too, to share that things aren’t as bad as they may seem, especially with the stock market at all-time highs and with unemployment and gas prices low.

Regardless of which candidate wins in November, the nation’s next leader will need to corral an America that’s suffering from a hangover of the Me Generation.  Today’s America is a stew of festering greed that has created economic inequality harkening yesterday’s robber barons.  Add to the mix a lingering hippie culture that spurred helicopter parents who bred helicopter kids who want what they want now.  Bleech.

Missing in action today’s baby boomers and the Gen X crowd — people aged 40 to 65 or so — is an appreciation of the common good that America’s success is built upon.  Missing in action is the spirit that bonded Americans to thwart fascism and communism.  Missing in action are the fundamentals that are the foundation of the promise of the American dream to people of all backgrounds.

So in an age of hypernet, media saturation and an unholy focus on immediacy, what can be done to teach the nation’s young citizens about the democratic roots and values that made it the world’s shining nation?

“I have long favored a two-year public service requirement for America’s youth,” said Bud Ferillo, a Columbia Democrat who served in the Army in Vietnam.  “Serving in a community of need, a public school, the military or Peace Corps would  instill ownership in our national values and teach citizenship when many are floundering in those early years. The timing could vary, before, during or after high school or college but the concept deserves serious discussion if our democracy expects to breed Americans who care more about our nation than themselves.”

Retired Navy Capt. Dave Shimp of Mount Pleasant, a Republican, finds some common ground.  “Something like this could provide gentle guidance to those who need help appreciating the priceless treasure they’ve inherited just by being a citizen, or not-so-polite direction (as well as a kick in the behind) to those who don’t care and think the country owes them something.  I think the big question is, will this be obligatory, such as the draft, or incentivized like the G.I. Bill.”

Smith

Smith

Or maybe an answer is to more effectively provide real civics education in schools.  The S.C. General Assembly took a good step forward a couple of years ago by requiring high school students to take the same citizenship test that immigrants are required to pass before becoming citizens.  The school test isn’t required for graduation, but results will be on school report cards starting next year.

“It’s part and parcel of a number of things we need to do to reinforce what it means to be so fortunate to live in this great country,” said state Rep. James Smith, a Columbia Democrat who currently is a major in the S.C. Army National Guard.  “Not everybody needs to pick up a rifle and go to Afghanistan.  But as I tell my own children, each person has a responsibility to participate in some manner [in our democracy] because of how they have benefited from it from the generations before them.”

Let’s move away from the sloganeering and divisiveness.  Let’s return to the “We Generation” in America.

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