By Dr. Arthur Schwartz
I am writing these words on Veterans Day (November 11, 2023).
It’s been 50 years since the American military moved to an all-volunteer force, doing away with the draft, lotteries and conscripting young people into service. Yet today our military faces new recruiting challenges. Compared to 50 years ago, Americans today have far less direct ties to a family member, friend, or neighbor who has served. Even more alarming, we are learning that even teens from military households are increasingly against joining the military.
We also know from recent surveys that Gen Z’ers express far less “national pride” than older Americans (across political party lines). Whether this change is due to our increasing political division or the dawning of a new Me-First generation, the reality is that this new portrait of America is beginning to affect our military. Just a few weeks ago, the Air Force announced that the force will fall short of its active duty recruiting goals for the first time since 1999.
And then there is the state of our current soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Too many in our military are experiencing serious problems after they retire. The stories of failed marriages, substance abuse, and political radicalism are cries to our nation to better support our veterans when they return home after serving our Nation.
When I think of Veterans Day in the context of schools, my mind immediately turns to the hundreds of photos I’ve seen of soldiers and veterans talking to students about their military experience. I also know that many schools encourage their students to regularly pledge allegiance to the flag.
But if I could wave a magic wand on this Veterans Day, it would be for schools to connect service-learning more intentionally to their school culture an curriculum. Can we imagine a future where every student has ample opportunities to experience the power of serving others, whether its older students tutoring younger students, planting a garden, collecting canned food, or volunteering their time at a nearby retirement home?
Can we imagine a future where schools encourage students to work together to develop and implement a service-learning experience that connects to an issue or concern they care deeply about? A day when every student at every school is offered the opportunity to share with others how their service experience has helped to shape and form their own civic character?
Strengthening our democracy is not a spectator sport. We can’t simply delegate its responsibility to elected officials or those in the military. All students need to feel the power of feeling connected to a set of American ideals and principles that stretch beyond their own wants and needs. To me, this is what it means to love — and serve — our country.