National Service

Teaching ideas regarding national service for high school teachers.


In a now long ago campaign season, a presidential candidate named John F. Kennedy asked University of Michigan students at a 2 a.m. campaign stop if they would be willing to serve. In his inaugural address, he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” And then, in on March 1, 1961, he established the Peace Corps by executive action.

An article by Stan McChrystal, “A Retired General Calls for a National Service” is the particular inspiration for the following teaching idea for a government class or an English class looking for a compelling debate topic.


Students will investigate, discuss, and debate ongoing structures and new ideas for national service.


Give students this quotation by Stan McChrystal from this article: “Our goal is to have 1 million young Americans complete a civilian service year by 2023. We envision an American national service that is voluntary, but socially expected. A young person would perform a year of full-time service between the ages of 18 and 28 and receive a modest stipend.” 

Provide students with real life examples of national service (Peace Corps. Americorps, etc.). 

Ask students to react to McChrystal’s statements that “Service confers a measure of empathy, patience, and a willingness to sacrifice in those who are fortunate. It can empower those who are less so. Active citizenship, when tied to a common endeavor, instills pride in a nation. Civic participation grants a sense of ownership to citizens.” Ask what they have gained from their own experiences as volunteers. How might national service build on their high school community service?

Divide students into pairs/teams to research topics such as the following:

  • Definitions of national service.
  • The Franklin Project (McChrystal’s).
  • Current presidential nominee platforms on national service.
  • Relationship of national service to military service.
  • Current relevant programs such as AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, Teach for America, or national service in other countries.

After each team has shared what it has learned, let students decide as class on what to do with information learned. Possibilities might include:

  • A survey of students in the school and/or community to get their views on McChrystal’s proposal (a 2013 poll found 48% of American voters were interested).
  • A video or newspaper/school blog article to interest/educate students.
  • Ask the presidential candidates project by Twitter questions “What is your position on national service?"
  • A debate: “A young person should be required to perform a year of national service.”

Frameworks and Standards

Enduring Understandings

  • The benefits of completing one year of national service are can be observed both in the community being served and in the individual serving the community.

Essential Questions

  • What does service mean to you?


  • PSC 12.10
  • BS 12.17
  • Political Systems 08-6.8

Contributed by the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA). Author: Angene Wilson

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