Camp of Labor and Rest
That was a euphemistic name of the camp we were sent to when I finished 7th grade of school back in Odessa, in the former Soviet Union. We were sent to a collective farm to work in the fields for a week (or was it 2 weeks?). At the end of the school year we were required to write a letter of "request" to be sent to this camp. The letter was dictated to us in class. That was something we came to call "voluntary-mandatory", meaning that while "on paper" the required activity was voluntary, we really were not given any choice in the matter. Prior to 7th grade we were required to help in school with cleaning and repairs. Keep in mind that all that was cutting into summer vacation, so nobody was very anxious to participate in those activities.
Later, in college, we were sent to a collective farm for a month, usually in September. At least then it did not cut into the vacation time, and we were paid (although, very little). But it did cut into our studies, so part of the material had to be skipped.
So, why am I talking about it now? Because it looks like the "voluntary-mandatory" practices of my old country, that I thought I left behind and that I thought my children will never experience, are catching up with me. Enter President-Elect Barack Obama. On his transition site there is a section called "America Serves":
The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive (emphasis mine – Eric-Odessit) a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free. Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.
Now, you might notice that it says "setting a goal", which does not sound too ominous. However, it appears that the wording has changed: it used to say "require". Original wording is available here. There is also further analysis of this proposal here and here. Do follow these links: they are very useful for understanding what might happen. There is also another article describing Rahm Emanuel’s, Obama’s new Chief of Staff, views:
"…Here’s how it would work. Young people will know that between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, the nation will enlist them for three months of civilian service. They’ll be asked to report for three months of basic civil defense training in their state or community, where they will learn what to do in the event of biochemical, nuclear or conventional attack; how to assist others in an evacuation; how to respond when a levee breaks or we’re hit by a natural disaster. These young people will be available to address their communities’ most pressing needs."
To be fair, there is an argument to be made that the community service requirement is not necessarily a bad idea. In fact it already exists to a certain extent on local level: my wife had to do it in order to get enough credit for acceptance into the SDSU Nursing School. Furthermore, there is an argument to be made that even Rahm Emanuel’s idea of compulsory civil service has some merit, especially during war time. However, these ideas have a lot of similarities with the old Soviet Union, to which I have to point out. Additionally, these ideas have a potential of generating some "buyer’s remorse" among the young people who were so enthusiastic about Obama’s Presidency.
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