Hard work to save kids


Now that the dust has settled over South-Central Los Angeles; now that people are pointing fingers; now that most agree that Rodney King got a bad deal; now that outrage has shattered the belief that there is ethnic harmony in this nation -- it might be a good time to rethink the role of the disenfranchised, the jobless and the poverty-stricken who dwell within our troubled boundaries.

Now is a good time to rethink the role of young people, especially the high school drop-out -- in Baltimore the rate is over 56 percent. They are the kids with no future and not enough education to become motivated.

Let's begin with that age. Let's get the dopers, the punks and the rudderless off the streets. Let's give all young people an economic opportunity, a chance to achieve.

Here's my suggestion: national compulsory service training for a year, a Public Service Corps. Recruit those between age 17 and 24 and, of course, pay them.

This is an idea I came across shortly after the Persian Gulf war when I heard Barbara Walters ask Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf what he was going to do when he retired, and what he thought about compulsory military training for youth.

He said, in effect, that he would like to see a national compulsory service, but not military. And he gave examples of the type of services: the forestry, the environment, rebuilding the infrastructure of our cities -- and he, himself, would like to head up something like that.

A while back in the New York Times, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, said that he'd like to see compulsory national service for youth from forest rangers to helping in hospitals and slum areas. Young people would benefit while giving something to society.

This is not a new idea, but it might be an idea whose time has come.

Most industrialized countries have a compulsory military year of training for their youth.

Now that the president has toured L.A. and told us that government has "an absolute responsibility to solve this problem," we wait to see just what he will do about the urban crisis.

Often, however, his rhetoric is different from his actions. It is going to take drastic measures to get people jobs and to create urban tranquillity.

So what about a year's service for high school grads and/or drop-outs? Yes, some would be exempt, those who have been accepted into college and those who are gainfully employed already.

I know this will not be a popular concept with young people, but it might help their families, even take some off the welfare roles. It would be something like the Peace Corps -- now in its 31st year -- or the Job Corps of 1964 that takes young people between age 16 and 20 and trains them, gives them incentive. Or go back further. Look at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) founded in 1933 by President Roosevelt -- it put 3 million Americans to work building bridges and roads and planting.

Yes, these are all federally funded. But, in truth, the government has to help.

And the program has to be run without politics. A former soldier like General Schwarzkopf would be a good leader.

The urban "have-nots" would gain new hope to know that their children might obtain beneficial work experience and some much-needed focus.

All of us know that the high school graduate is often undecided about where to go, what to do. It can be a time of anxiety and restlessness.

Now that we have some empty barracks and some closed military bases, let's use them. Let's recruit the youth of our country -- our greatest national resource -- let's give them a sense of purpose and self-esteem.

Who'd pay? I don't know, maybe Ross Perot, if he doesn't make it to the presidency.

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