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For the Record: Youth and National Service

by Morris Janowitz - 1971

In the spring of 1971, a small group of educators, public officials, executives of voluntary associations, and social scientists assembled in New York City under the auspices of the Russell Sage Foundation to explore the dimensions of national service. The concept, first seriously offered to the nation by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1930s, could encompass any age group. But the theme of the conference, "Youth and National Service," limited the scope and reflected the reality that the nation was debating selective service and the voluntary army. Those in attendance explored intensively and vigorously conceptual issues of national service, formulated alternative models, and assessed underlying research problems. The agonies of Vietnam and the contemporary tension concerning legitimate authority could not and were not denied for even a moment.

The eight papers published in this special issue of the Record, as well as others presented at the conference, required that there be greater clarification of, if not agreement on, the term "voluntary" or "voluntarism." There were few who held that human behavior was voluntary only when it was motivated by monetary incentives and immediate self-betterment. Young men and young women can and do express different motives in their voluntary participation, including altruistic impulses, common identification, a search for a break in educational routines, personal attachment to a youth movement, or the aspiration to deal with community and national problems.

The conference kicked off with a provocative theme, as analyzed by sociologist Charles Moskos in his essay, "The Social Equivalent of Military Service." Moskos raised the question, namely, setting aside the military function of armed forces, what elements of military service and experience need to be injected into civilian national service? What are the elements of a moral equivalent to military service, elements which make for effective basic education, personal development, and effective citizenship? Moskos, a long-time student of the enlisted culture of the armed forces, concluded that two elements are crucial: (a) the egalitarian culture of the military (albeit in an hierarchical and authoritarian setting) which de-emphasized prior personal and social characteristics and (b) the organizational conditions which oblige middle-class persons to compete on a more equal footing with lower-class personnel and which facilitate contacts across social classes and cultural groups. In effect, the sons of the middle class are underemployed while the lower class are overemployed. According to Moskos, this was one reason why many college students of middle-class origins resent military service—without regard to national military policies and the war in Vietnam.

Whatever reservations members of the conference had about an all-volunteer armed force—and many expressed strong doubts about its effectiveness and its relevance for a democratic society—it was generally assumed that the nation was moving toward such a concept. This trend derives in good part from the reaction to events in Vietnam and from the longer term transformation of the military organization which will require a marked reduction in manpower, during the 1970s.

National service, therefore, will have to adapt itself to the end of selective service and the beginning of an all-voluntary military force. In "National Service: A Third Alternative?" I sought to explore the institutional arrangements for relating volunteer civilian national service as a system parallel to the volunteer military. In short, arguments in favor of or in opposition to the all-volunteer force gave way at the conference, as it will in society in the years ahead, to the fundamental issues of developing effective youth manpower policies. A parallel system of voluntary civilian national service to a volunteer military force would help the legitimacy of each if the nation could accept the social definition of a flexible period of national service. There is no need to assume that all young people will serve, but presumably the nation could expect and could handle about 60 percent of a given age cohort. Length of service would vary from one to two years in general, depending on the type of service and on the national need. There would be differential compensation, but pay would be mainly designed to assist young people in their transition back to civilian life. A central aspect of a parallel system of civilian and military volunteer national service would be the development of a National Service Agency which would serve the interests of young people and assist them both in making their choices and in their movement out of national service.

The organization of and personnel issues involved in maintaining an all-volunteer armed force were explored by Colonel Jack R. Butler. His formulation that such a force constituted "a step toward national service" highlights the framework he employed. Butler directed the 1969 U.S. Army study on the all-volunteer concept, and subsequently was assigned to the staff section responsible for policy and plans to implement the all-volunteer armed force. By contrast, Adam Yarmolinsky, a member of the Harvard Law School and one-time advisor to President John Kennedy during the early phases of U.S. involvement in South Vietnam, sought to identify potential limitations in performance under an all-volunteer system. He saw a transformation of the military in which its public service ethic would be weakened for a trade union ethic.

The concept of national service does not only include the development of civilian programs. Thus Albert Biderman, sociologist, pointed out that the military itself was an extensive instrumentality of "civilian" national service. In "Toward Redefining the Military," he considers not only the potentials but the realities of the current scene. In a world of nuclear stand-off and no more Vietnams, while the military are the locus of counterviolence, its "people-killing" function is only a limited aspect of its life. In fact, to concentrate on the people-killing business is to weaken its legitimacy. Instead, the military needs to become more and more a national service body for emergency collective efforts that cannot be achieved by individual work—natural disasters, man-made disasters, ecological crises, air-sea rescues, forest fire-fighting, to mention only a few. In Bider-man's terms, for the last twenty-five years national defense, as mainly a military concept, has been the central collective effort of this nation; now shifting requirements have given a new meaning to the defense of the nation.

In the deliberations of the conference, there was general agreement that the topic of women in national service required more attention. The concept of voluntary national service clearly included women, although matters of priority and length and type of service had to be explored. The issue of an all-volunteer armed force meant that male "manpower" received some priority of attention. However, with the trend toward an all-volunteer force, no one doubted that recruitment of females would be more extensive in order to meet numerical requirements, and that the position of women in the military could become more vital, reflecting directions in society and enhancing the viability of the military establishment. Margaret Mead emphasized the importance of dealing with the sexual symbolism of national service, for she believes that images of sexual promiscuity would retard and disrupt a national service program.

In theory, opportunities and possibilities for national and community service are enormous. The immediate issue is priorities designed to serve that faction of youth who will actually serve. Donald Eberly of the National Service Secretariat has spent many years charting the range of potential national service programs. In his paper, "A National Service Pilot Project," he presents a careful and comprehensive estimate of the demands for and supply of national service workers. However, the theme emerging from the conference was that national service will require pilot projects. Its development will be a step-by-step process, learning from experience and avoiding the creation of an elaborate and extensive bureaucratic structure.

Mass education, and especially mass education in the inner city, presents one of the most comprehensive challenges for national voluntary service in the United States. These issues were examined by Gayle Janowitz, educator and specialist in the utilization of volunteer work and citizen participation in education. In her paper, "Educational Roles for Volunteer Youth," she sees national service personnel supplying the essential supervisory and coordinating manpower for massive use of tutors and "helping hands" in education. Current trends toward smaller classes and higher teacher salaries and reliance on elaborate technology have not increased the capacity of inner-city schools to improve academic skills. Instead, individual assistance of at least one to two hours per week for those students who are failing has been documented as a most powerful tool for the improvement of educational effectiveness. The national service concept would be essential for such a major thrust.

Voluntary national service will come as the result of pragmatic and piecemeal innovation. The United States is a nation which accepts incremental change and has a strong aversion to comprehensive social planning. In more cynical terms, the country has a powerful capacity to slip backwards into the future rather than to formulate meaningful national goals. It is striking to note, however, the extent and various forms of volunteer service which already exist and which supply the basis for future institutional building. In addition to the well-known opportunities of the Peace Corps, Teacher Corps, and VISTA, young men and women are involved in a variety of lesser-known governmental and private programs. One of the more exciting is the efforts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, which already involves many tens of thousands of young people each year. The programs of the U.S. Public Health Service and the local police cadet corps have national service elements in them. To these must be added the arrangements by which considerable numbers of young people serve for one or two years in public welfare and educational agencies before they go on to other posts. This is particularly the case in municipal welfare agencies which are dependent on these short-term service personnel.

I would estimate that over 5 percent of the young people of each age cohort between eighteen and twenty-two have had such experience on an intensive basis. The trend is certain to increase, but the vitality, relevance, and effectiveness of national service will depend to some degree on nationwide planning and direction, although the component agencies are certain to be highly decentralized and local in their organization and control.


The participants and contributors included CDR James A. Barber, Jr., USN, Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island; Albert D. Biderman, Bureau of Social Science Research, Washington, D.C.; Dr. Orville Brim, Jr., Russell Sage Foundation, New York, New York; James Brown, Jr., National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, New York, New York; Daniel Burke, FSC, President, La Salle College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Colonel Jack R. Butler, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania; Arthur J. Condliffe, Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D.C.; Colonel H. A. Davis, Jr., Project Volunteer, Hq. USAF, Washington, D.C.; Donald J. Eberly, National Service Secretariat, Washington, D.C.; Michael B. Goldstein, Director, Urban Corps, New York, New York; Dr. F. K. Heussenstaum, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Los Angeles, California; Dr. Morris Janowitz, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; Gayle Janowitz, Chicago, Illinois; David Jeffreys, National Center for Voluntary Action, Washington, D.C.; Robert Lake, Director of Manpower and Youth Conservation Programs, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.; M. K. Najarian, Executive Officer, Peace Corps, Washington, D.C.; Harry A. Marmion, President, St. Xavier College, Chicago, Illinois; Dr. Margaret Mead, American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York; Dr. Charles C. Moskos, Jr., Department of Sociology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois; Mrs. Saul Schary, President, National Council of Women of the United States, New York, New York; Laura Sharp, Bureau of Social Science Research, Washington, D.C.; Adam Yarmo-linsky, Chief Executive Officer, Welfare Island Development Corporation, New York, New York; Robert Chase, Department of Labor, Washington, D.C.; Paul Akst, Director, Selective Service, New York, New York.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 73 Number 1, 1971, p. 1-6
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1588, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 11:12:08 AM

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About the Author
  • Morris Janowitz
    University of Chicago
    Dr. Morris Janowitz, sociology professor at the University of Chicago, chaired the conference on Youth and National Service, organized by the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society, an academic and research organization of social scientists and educators. The officers of the Inter-University Seminar wish to thank Dr. Orville Brim, Jr., president of the Russell Sage Foundation, for the financial support which underwrote this enterprise.
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