Terence Blacker: National service: just what's needed

There are skills 18-year-olds should learn. This would be their chance

Share
Related Topics

At first glance, the hypothesis of Anthony Seldon's new book Trust would seem to make it a shoo-in for this year's Statement of the Bleeding Obvious Prize. We have lost trust in one another, says the headmaster/ biographer/ media pundit. Politicians, bankers, rugby players, journalists: we've come to believe they are all at it in one way or another. This universal distrust is eating away at the fabric of society.

It is hardly the most startling conclusion. This week, one survey revealed that only 13 per cent of people trusted politicians; another claimed that two-thirds of the public trusted supermarkets – but then who would really trust a survey?

Yet beyond the general keening, Seldon's book contains an idea so brave and brilliant that it is doubtful any political party will dare touch it. In order to rebuild social and personal trust, Seldon argues, a form of national service should be re-introduced for 18-year-olds. For a year, there would be army training, and environmental or pastoral work. The emphasis would be on learning social and practical skills which would include "making clothes, growing food, building furniture, leadership and emotional intelligence".

Cue laughter. There is enough material here for an entire episode of Mock the Week. Politically, the idea has drawbacks too. Not only would it be expensive but, because it runs against the grain of individual self-realisation, it would also be unpopular – indeed, distrusted. Yet any government which is serious about addressing our knackered national morale should take it seriously.

Of course, the term "national service" presents serious image problems. For the middle-aged and old, the phrase has a whiff of militarism, sergeant-majors and square-bashing. For the young, it sounds suspiciously like "community service", something deemed so unpleasant that it is used as a punishment by the courts.

Considered without these unhappy connotations, the idea of a year which would take a teenager away from home, marking the moment when he or she moves from the family into the wider community, has everything to recommend it. There is a powerful strain of idealism in many young people, a hankering to do more than just get a job or have fun. You can see it in gap-year voluntary work, in the environmental movement, even in TV events like Children in Need. There is also, in the same age group, a lost generation who have caught defeat from their parents and who are drifting into adult life, bored, self-obsessed and pessimistic. Leaving education at the age of 16, they are then pretty much abandoned by the state.

A Community Year would break the cycle of self, remind participants of a wider community and different values, and enable them to meet people who are a world away from their own background. In many case, it would, to use a much mocked phrase, help them to find themselves.

Politicians like to praise local initiatives and those who do voluntary work in the so-called "third sector". That kind of social engagement works well in the adult world, but is more urgently needed for those who are growing up. A Community Year would give a much-needed shake, a leg-up into society, to a generation which really needs it.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior IT Support Technician

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Junior IT Support Technician ...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service Engineer - Doors / Windows

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist designer and ma...

Recruitment Genius: Systems Developer

£26000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A market leading provider of tu...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - OTE £30,000+

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Here’s why I’m so full of (coffee) beans

Jane Merrick
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn