Roger Cohen and Civilian National Service

It has always puzzled me how many of my peers have been to more countries than they have states.

America is a beautiful place to me, because I have fun, family, and friends in small towns, big cities, collegetowns, suburbs, on the coasts, and places in between. Everywhere is fair game to visit, to observe, to meet people, and treat them respectfully.

Saying that there’s only one true, or better, America based on idealized notions of race, class, and geography is detrimental. Brooklyn is no more or less “American” than the Scottsburg, Indiana mentioned in this article.

These issues are not unique to America, and in many ways, the US actually has far more geographical linkages than almost any country in the world, despite its vastness. (see our Interstate highways, and our university system). Note how in the polycentric USA, we don’t have any word for “the provinces”. The term “flyover country” at least implies there is more than one city and region that matters.

Yet I’m troubled by how quickly folks dismiss places that they can’t claim as belonging to their own tribe–and ironically to rely on New York Times armchair travel pieces like this one to paint them a picture of “The Other”.

Thus I’m compelled by this idea of a “civilian national service” posited by Roger Cohen, a deep-reaching policy in terms of labor and infrastructure, but also one that strives for a curious brand of social and geographical horizontality.

Would American youth make better decisions about issues like college debt, family planning, and substance abuse if they had a humbling, disciplining experience like this?

What would happen, as Cohen suggests, if “where did you do your service year?” replaced “where did you go to college?” as a reflex question?


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