Service Nation, Part II: The Goals of Its Leader.--

According to the Americans for a National Service Act, "Service Nation is coordinated by Alan Khazei and the hard-working and talented people of 'Be The Change.'"

Last year Alan Khazei argued in a speech at Harvard that a year of "volunteer" work should be a mandatory requirement for admission to college. In return, the student would receive a year of tuition. According to the Harvard Crimson, Harvard students were cool to the idea.

Khazei has been pushing for universal national service since he was a young intern in Washington. He postponed law school to work for Gary Hart in 1984, the only candidate favoring mandatory universal national service, and himself a supporter of Service Nation.

Khazei explains his ultimate goal:

Imagine if every nation in the world had a year of full-time service as a rite of passage for all young people growing up. And imagine if we had a global service corps that united young people from North America, Africa, The Middle East, South America, Europe, and Asia. Working together as a true global generation and role modeling what the very best of humanity can be.

Imagine just how different our nation and world would be as a result.

We would have the enormous energy and idealism of each young generation put to work against the most pressing needs of our day. We would turn on each generation's "justice nerve." That inner voice that says each one of us CAN make a difference and every one of us MUST try. . . . And once a justice nerve is turned on, it rarely goes off.

We would have a nation and world in which we not only felt --- but truly were --- all of us in this together. Universal national service would, I believe, lead to developing the political will to confront and solve our most pressing challenges. It would also lead to much broader participation in our democracy, our public institutions, our military and our civic life, which is vital for a healthy republic.

And so this vision captured my imagination, and when I was 21 years old, I did what many Harvard government majors who believed in changing our country did then, I went to Washington DC to spend a summer as a Congressional Intern. I worked for my Congressperson from NH's First District, Norm D'Amours. Congressman D'Amours was a believer in bringing back the draft. I thought that voluntary [sic] universal national service with both military and civilian options was a better idea.

So, I asked my Congressman if I could prepare a report for him on national service as an alternative to the draft. And he said sure. I realize now that he was probably happy that I'd have something to do for the summer that would keep me out of his hair. Even back then, I was a little too earnest and enthusiastic. Little did I know that summer would set me on a path for the next 25 years. . . .

The solution is to develop a system of voluntary universal national service for our country and for the world. To call upon all young adults to take at least one year to learn the hard and rugged skills of practicing idealism. I have dedicated the past 20 years of my life to this dream.

In a recent article excerpted on Service Nation's website, Khazei is more specific:

Alan Khazei, CEO of Be The Change, said that the concept is to leverage the national service volunteers to help manage community volunteers. The national service individuals would be stipended through AmeriCorps or other federal programs. "It's taking to more traditional national service. The statistics show $1 invested brings back $1.50 to $3 in social benefit," said Khazei.

The hope is to boost the AmeriCorps stipended staff to 1 million by 2020, from the current roughly 70,000, Khazei said.

Note that Kazei describes his goal as a National Service program that is both voluntary and universal. Since we are not a totalitarian regime, a national service program can't be both universal and voluntary. It appears that Kazei means "voluntary" in the way that Charles Rangel means voluntary: service is mandatory, but you may choose which program to which to devote a year (or two) of your life. But see UPDATE below, which reaches a different conclusion on the last point.][

Coming in a few days: the political implications of Service Nation.


1. Service Nation responds. In addition to updates here, here, and here, Service Nation also responded by email specifically to the above post:

You say: "Khazei has been pushing for universal national service since he was a young intern in Washington. He postponed law school to work for Gary Hart in 1984, the only candidate favoring mandatory universal national service, and himself a supporter of Service Nation."

Alan does not and has never supported mandatory universal national service (though it is his fondest wish that that the opportunity to serve will become universal and that so many Americans will be inspired to volunteer to serve that service in America will be near-universal). Nor did Gary Hart, for that matter. In this quote from Khazei's Harvard speech (also posted on the Volokh Conspiracy), Khazei says, "The solution is to develop a system of *voluntary* universal national service for our country and for the world."

2. Gary Hart. I claimed that in 1984 Gary Hart favored mandatory universal national Service. Service Nation claims that Hart did not.

The newspapers from 1984 support my claim about Hart (though apparently he wasn't the only candidate supporting mandatory national service). According to a long, detailed 1/16/84 Boston Globe account by Thomas Oliphant and Curtis Wilkie of a Democratic debate:

Hart, McGovern, and Askew proposed a program of compulsory national service, under which a young person would have a choice between the military and other forms of public service, while Mondale and Cranston said the current system is working satisfactorily and should not be changed except in a serious national emergency.

In an August 24, 1984 National Review story on "neoliberals," they list as neoliberals Paul Tsongas, Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, Robert Reich, and Lester Thurow. Among the things they supposedly share is "visions of a technocratic government in which education is 'investment in human capital,' the state and big capital work hand in hand, and 'national service' is compulsory for all."

After the 1984 fall election was over, Hart seems to have rethought his position toward making service mandatory, but the AP (11/16/1984) reported that Hart had earlier supported mandatory national service:

On another subject, Hart said he might favor reintroduction of a U.S. military draft. He has previously supported some form of mandatory national service military or civilian.

3. Khazei's view on full-time mandatory service. As near as I can tell, Alan Khazei has never advocated full-time compulsory service mandated by the government, though according to the Harvard Crimson (which may have misunderstood him), Khazei advocated that colleges require one year of service before a student could be admitted. Since students are not required by law to attend college, perhaps making a year of service a mandatory prerequisite for college would not violate an extremely cribbed view of "voluntary."

I think Khazei's views on full-time mandatory service are best expressed in his own words. He rejects it in the short run on pragmatic grounds, and is at most ambivalent about it in the long run:

Khazei: If we had a universal system of national service with this kind of GI Bill, every single young person in this country would realize: the American dream is real for me. I have to earn it. I have to serve my country. I think if we had this GI Bill, there would be hundreds of thousands of people that would sign up.

Q: . . . Why not make it conscription? . . .

Khazei: One is, you have constitutional issues, first of all, in terms of having a mandatory civilian service. Secondly, even if we all decided — it's almost a red herring right now. People like to debate it, it's sexy, it's controversial.

But we don't have the infrastructure YET. Conscription would mean 4 million people a year, and right now there are 75,000 [full-time in Americorps]. There are 1.4 million nonprofits in America, so you could absorb hundreds of thousands, even millions of people.

But what I suggest is: try this GI Bill, scale it up over the next ten years. Get to a critical mass, and then the country can have a real debate — should we make this mandatory or not — once we have the infrastructure in place, once we've seen this idea at scale, once we see how it affects the culture of the country. Right now to say mandatory, I think, it's fun to talk about, it's controversial, people like to argue, constitutional rights. I don't think the country — even practically in terms of an infrastructure point of view — is ready for that. And we don't need it.

I think if we had a GI Bill, it would become — and also if you had a real call to service — you could get the benefits of a universal system without the negatives of I was forced to do this. People who apply to City Year, they choose to do it, and they get SELECTED, and they feel special because they volunteered. And I think that's an important aspect of this that we would lose in a mandatory system.

This sounds a bit like the debate that I noted was stated as Goal 13 of Service Nation.

4. Khazei's view of Mandatory Part-time Service for School Children. In 2003 Khazei and Michael Brown wrote with seeming approval (see below) of programs in Maryland, Philadelphia, and Chicago that require service-learning for graduation or promotion (they include required hours of actual service). Khazei and Brown further wrote: "we should . . . provide incentives for states to require service-learning in every school district." They also wrote of making "service-learning an integral part of every child's education from kindergarten through college."

As to the definition of service learning, Khazei and Brown cite the National Service Learning Website. Not only does that website define service-learning in a way that requires actual "tasks" or "service," but it states that "all seem to agree" with that core definition:

Even though there are many different interpretations of service-learning as well as different objectives and contexts, we can say that there is a core concept upon which all seem to agree:

Service-learning combines service objectives with learning objectives with the intent that the activity change both the recipient and the provider of the service. This is accomplished by combining service tasks with structured opportunities that link the task to self-reflection, self-discovery, and the acquisition and comprehension of values, skills, and knowledge content.

For example, if school students collect trash out of an urban streambed, they are providing a service to the community as volunteers; a service that is highly valued and important. When school students collect trash from an urban streambed, then analyze what they found and possible sources so they can share the results with residents of the neighborhood along with suggestions for reducing pollution, they are engaging in service-learning. In the service-learning example, the students are providing an important service to the community AND, at the same time, learning about water quality and laboratory analysis, developing an understanding of pollution issues, learning to interpret science issues to the public, and practicing communications skills by speaking to residents. They may also reflect on their personal and career interests in science, the environment, public policy or other related areas. Thus, we see that service-learning combines SERVICE with LEARNING in intentional ways. --- National Service Learning Website.

Despite Khazei's expressed support in 2003 for states requiring service-learning (and thus apparently actual service) in every school district in the state and his support for making "service-learning an integral part of every child's education from kindergarten through college," Khazei has never (to my knowledge) referred to his own views as compulsory -- indeed, the word appears to be taboo in some segments of the movement.

I quote Khazei's own words at length so you can judge for yourself whether he favors schools or states imposing part-time compulsory service as a requirement for graduation:

Alan Khazei and Michael Brown, New Pathways to Civic Renewal, in Shaping the Future of American Youth: Youth Policy in the 21st Century (2003):

Our vision is that one day the most commonly asked question of a young person will be: "Where are you going to do your service year?" It is time for our system of national service to evolve into a civic institution for the new century. . . .

We believe that in order to answer such a large challenge, the nation should set and meet three ambitious goals:

Make service-learning an integral part of every child's education from kindergarten through college, including a year of national service;

• Create a new "Senior Heroes" program . . .

• Expand AmeriCorps to enroll a critical mass of one million young people annually by 2020 . . . .


To build national service to scale, we need to simultaneously develop the key programs in which people will serve and the funding infrastructure required to make those programs sustainable. We recommend developing five key programmatic initiatives:


Even the youngest elementary school children can make a difference in the lives of senior citizens or help plant community gardens and provide food for the homeless. In doing so, children develop a lifetime sense of pride and ownership in their communities. Because of the excellent work of schools, community programs, universities, and such programs as Learn and Serve America, over 13 million students during the 2000-2001 school year were able to participate in service-learning activities. Service-learning combines structured opportunities to serve with academic curriculum that encourages self-reflection, self-discovery, and the development of values, skills, and knowledge. Research shows that involving young people in these activities has a positive impact on their personal development, sense of civic and social responsibility, citizenship skills, academic skills and knowledge, and career aspirations. Furthermore, service-learning has a positive impact on schools and contributes to community renewal.

Our goal should be to engage all public school students to pursue service-learning activities as an essential part of their school curricula by the year 2020. Already, the state of Maryland and several cities, including Philadelphia and Chicago, require their students to participate in service-learning activities. Seven states now permit students to apply community service or service-learning activities toward their high school graduation requirements. Ten states, and the District of Columbia encourage service-learning in classrooms. To promote greater use of service-learning in classrooms across America we should increase federal funding to Learn and Serve America, provide incentives for states to require service-learning in every school district, and leverage AmeriCorps members to help schools implement service-learning programs. The scope and impact of service-learning should be expanded by:

• Providing schools with "Community Service Coaches. Research suggests that adult leadership is crucial in communicating civic principles of tolerance and social justice to children. To ensure the success of nation-wide service-learning curricula, we should use federal and state funds to provide each public school with a full-time "Community Service Coach." They would coordinate each school's service-learning activities and run additional service programs for students, such as after-school and weekend service clubs. AmeriCorps alumni would be likely candidates to serve as co mmunity service coaches.

Thus, though Alan Khazei does not favor mandatory full-time national service at this time --- he has argued that the debate over making full-time service mandatory is premature until the service infrastructure is brought up to scale — I leave it to readers to decide if he nonetheless favors mandatory part-time service for school children.