September 12, 2008

Must-See TV: Reflections on the ServiceNation Presidential Forum

As you know, civic leaders from across the country and all walks of life gathered at Columbia University in New York city last night for the ServiceNation Presidential Forum on National Service. It was the first time Senators John McCain and Barack Obama appeared together on stage since receiving the nominations of their political parties. It was nationally televised and aired on CNN, Fox-News, and local PBS stations. The only thing missing was the red carpet.

When I started this entry, I thought I would share a few service-learning highlights--and even a little critique--for those who missed last night's broadcast. But rather than get caught up in trying to report back exactly what the candidates said or didn't say (and in case you're wondering, neither said "service-learning"), I wanted to share the point that frankly strikes me the most.

In a single week, the sitting President of the United States and the two major candidates vying to become the next President of the United States all considered the importance of young people engaged in service and the need to learn the habits of engaged citizenship at an early age.

Yes, I would've loved to hear them all say more about the power of children and youth engaged in service--especially service combined with intentional learning and instruction. I probably would've leaped for joy if I actually heard the words "service-learning" uttered from the podium on the South Lawn of the White House or if someone would've mentioned Learn and Serve America as a key federal program on that national stage at Lerner Hall at Columbia University last night.

But I'm happy because our political reality is different now. Service-learning is included in presidential platforms and on the list of accomplishments of a president reflecting on the work of his administration. For the first time, the policy debate is not whether support for national service and service-learning should exist--but rather how and that's a pretty big deal.

Now, I'm not wearing rose colored glasses. I see that while there is much talk about creating a ServiceNation where civic engagement is truly in the fabric of our country, its institutions, and its people, there is not enough talk about the role K-12 youth can play in that process as active contributors and leaders, not just recipients of that service.

But that said, this moment is still not lost on me. Call me a nerd (most people do).

So--at least for this post--I'll save the critique and analysis for another post and for now, will just enjoy being in the same room as Spider Man and the Terminator.

More from me later.

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