National service: Live to serve

A private members’ bill outlining the revival of national service is awaiting its second reading in Parliament. The sponsor of this, MP Philip Hollobone, believes 12 months of mandatory service for 18-26 year old’s “would prove popular with the public.”

The proposal outlines raising educational attainment if required, an exercise regime and cooking lessons for participants to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a wide range of life skills from managing personal income to respecting the elderly.

All very well, and perhaps in today’s society where many feel the next generation are merely resting on their laurels, a wise look into the past. Except the proposed scheme does not end there. National service will include living away from home and working for an organisation such as a charity, the NHS or more worryingly, ‘overseas development activity’ or indeed ‘work connected to the armed forces.’ This element of public service would apparently be chosen by the individual, but ‘choice’ can be a rather ambiguous creature.

Mr Hollobone himself admits the bill is unlikely to come to pass, commenting: “Unfortunately, the arcane nature of parliamentary procedures surrounding private member’s bills and the lack of time they have for debate will mean that the merits and demerits of the Bill are unlikely to be debated and voted upon.”

Whilst it’s unclear as to whether these ‘merits and demerits’ will have time to be debated in Parliament, they are certainly raging elsewhere. Debbie Sayers has started a petition against the bill, which as already received over 32,000 signatures.

Aside from the worrying possibility of military conscription, the bill also states that unless there is a severe mental or physical disability preventing participation, it will be a criminal offence to opt out. Sociologically speaking, this is a logical step towards promoting well being into adulthood. A step that has been beaten by the proverbial right wing stick.

The age of mandatory education has been raised to 18, and as local authorities can tell you there are many vocational alternatives available. So why aren’t we proposing that our teenagers attend a variety of government funded courses (whether it be within an academic environment or not) that teach them how to live?

If someone can find me a teenager that can use a washing machine, make a pasta bake, budget a weekly income and set up a direct debit for council tax, I will insist they become a government advisor immediately. Why are schools not promoting an open attitude towards exploring morality and what it means to be an upstanding member of society?

This isn’t about politics, nor is it about disillusioned youth. It is about remembering what it is to be a young adult. Then it’s about comprehension. Understanding the daunting feeling one would have if the world you were starting out in not only had the same horrors it always did, but institutions trying to force feed you a standardised diet of post modernity, globalisation and a can do attitude.

It isn’t about setting up a token committee of 18-year-old’s and asking them what their biggest fears in society are. It’s about teaching our children to learn, to think for themselves and use their moral compass. Friedrich Nietzsche once said that ‘the surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.’

We do not need a generation of boot polishers, we need a generation of human beings.