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We could reunite our fractured nation with this nationwide effort

We could reunite our fractured nation with national service. It could rebuild our republic and teach our young people that with freedoms come responsibilities.

We have lost faith in our country, in our system and in each other. At the core of all our political disputes and disagreements, the venom and vitriol, the hostility and anger, is this truth — we don’t know each other, and we don’t know ourselves, and as a result we don’t believe in our democracy anymore.

This is not the blind faith of aggressive nationalism, but a belief that our democracy, while imperfect, is a work in progress — that we can move forward to build a more inclusive system that better serves all citizens. A belief that we are more than our differences and that those differences are what make our country stronger.

Yet, we also need a shared belief in our country and in our system. Something that is bigger than ourselves. A nation that despite our differences, rallies to the cause of freedom and in the common pursuit of our shared economic and national security.


We cannot achieve this through more handouts or policed speech. We need to reintroduce ourselves to each other and our country. 

We are a country that has seemingly forgotten our identity and lost our drive. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows a steady decline in history and civics education. Just 13% of eighth graders met the proficiency standard for history. Barely 20% met the standard for civics. According to the 2022 Annenberg Civics Knowledge Survey, less than half of Americans could name all three branches of government; less than 25% could identify the freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Constitution.

We’re a country that cannot read. In 2022, two-thirds of eighth graders were not reading proficient. Half of high school seniors were reading at the 6th grade level. Just 37% of high school seniors met the college standards for math and reading.

We’re creating a generation of students who cannot read or do basic math, and who will be unable to compete in the globally competitive world of tomorrow. If we could bring all Americans to the sixth-grade reading level we could generate an additional $2.2 trillion in GDP.

We’re a country that is hurting. We are a country that has replaced real meaning and purpose with the hollow pursuit of instant gratification via social media. Likes, clicks, retweets, and shares are substitutes for real interaction and engagement.

In 2021 one in three teenage girls seriously considered attempting suicide. It is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds. We are a country in pain and yes, social media has a role to play in this epidemic.

Most Americans, 78% said that their children’s lives will be worse off than their own. We’re a country that’s lost faith.

We can change the course of our country. Now is the time to challenge ourselves with a new call to service. National service is a way of connecting communities and bridging gaps.

By engaging with people who are different from you in different parts of the country, you learn that there is more than unites us than divides us. That we share the same hopes and dreams, fears, and worries.

When you realize this, you realize that we are bigger than our politics. When you roll up your sleeves and embark on a meaningful and challenging mission, you better appreciate the freedoms and opportunities you have and that our country offers.

It is about creating a new compact between citizens and our democracy — a recognition that with freedoms come responsibilities, to our country and to each other. 

This is not just military service — though that is a noble and powerful calling, and one that should be encouraged. It is about creating programs and opportunities to address the growing inequality and significant issues our country is facing.

This is not a government-led or driven effort. It is the creation of a service requirement that is administered through our robust system of nonprofit initiatives, assisted by the government, and which will help bridge the growing gaps between citizens and communities.

It Is not all altruistic, of course. If you want that student loan forgiveness, spend a year in an under-served community teaching reading.

If you’re a medical student, work in a community that lacks sufficient health care services. Psychology students can help support mental health clinics. Computer science students can teach basic technology to seniors. Liberal arts students can support reading reclamation programs for low-income students.

If we raise the reading standard of the country just one level, we can raise our national GDP by almost $2 trillion dollars.


America cannot continue as we are. A generation under mental distress like we’ve never seen, a generation that is more illiterate, more isolated from each other and more pessimistic about America’s future. A generation that doesn’t see the country’s opportunity and promise, but only shame and flaws. We spend too much time seeing our differences, far too little time seeing what makes us the same. 

Mobilizing Americans through service and introducing them to their fellow citizens will make it more difficult for our politics, our adversaries and demagogues to divide us.

It allows Americans to give back to the country from which they gain the freedom and opportunity to choose their own destiny. It will remind them that our democracy must be continually renewed and invested in, lest we allow it to disappear.

National service will remind us of all that America is, and has always been, bigger than her problems, even if it doesn’t feel that way today.

It is time for national service to reawaken what it means to enjoy the freedoms we have and the opportunity to become your own person, while doing your own good in your own way.

A national service requirement will help correct the drift toward mediocrity that is taking hold of our country, bringing with it dangers of division and collapse. It is time to get America out of its comfort zone and see just how great our country really is and can become.


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