Three Mondays ago, a series of tragic events unfolded in Boston, Massachusetts. Now, I'm not going to take paragraphs to talk about what has already been widely covered by the media. But I will state one fact: humans are not naturally born to hate and be criminals. Hate is usually something that is learned or instilled by someone else. "Why do people hate?" we wonder, but we never get any solid response back. For the past 25-plus years, our society has been marred with hate crimes that hurt, or even kill innocent civilians going about their daily lives. Why is what we are doing so ineffective? It's because the government can only do so much.
But service learning can change all of that.
For most middle school, high school, and college students in the United States, the study of American History or Global Studies is a required part of graduation -- and there's a good reason it should be. History is not a rote memorization of facts, but rather something to be learned to apply to your general knowledge and awareness of your world. Like students across the country and the world, I've also learned about the countless conflicts -- sometimes over petty missteps -- that could have easily been avoided if nations would cooperate.
Now, I'm not criticizing ideological differences between political parties or economic systems: everyone is certainly entitled to his or her own opinion, and oftentimes peaceful arguments are good as long as something is achieved. Nevertheless, the 21st century United States will have drastically more severe problems as it did in the 20th century, 19th century, and 18th century. Everything from the War on Terror, to the global warming conflict, to the most divided U.S. Congress in history has signaled that the problems that my generation will have to face will be unprecedented.
But can the idea of service -- community service, civil service -- solve all the problems I listed? There's a good chance that a long-term investment in service education -- a term used in the nonprofit sector to describe a program that integrates community service into the classroom -- can encourage young people to cooperate and work together to solve problems that history has never seen before. I think it's worth a try.
Successful programs including the Seeds of Peace, National Security Language Initiative for Youth, and Peace Corps programs have all been able to tear down barriers between youth of nations in which conflicts exist in hopes that the current conflicts will gradually dissolve with the new generation. Charities, including the Smile Train and UNICEF, engage young people in service projects to aid those less fortunate in developing countries, offering students an opportunity to cooperate and build teamwork through their charitable endeavors. Not only does service-learning create a greater understanding among volunteers, but it also creates a greater understanding among the recipients of help. Those who've been able to receive free educational resources and books from programs, such as Kids Change the World's Education Preparation program or the University of Pennsylvania's Student Reading Initiative, are many times one step ahead of their parents and will be able to be better global citizens that make better, informed decisions.
It is my hope that people will begin to value the power of service to bring people of different backgrounds to work together for a common cause to help other people. Through service, youth can build a mutual understanding of others so that we can reduce hate. Through service, youth can learn to work collectively. Through service, those of each succeeding generation can have a more peaceful, kind world and an example to follow.
Let all these tragedies not be times to mourn, but times to reflect on ourselves. Starting with this youth generation, we need to build a strong generation from the ground up through service -- a generation that will work together to overcome whatever lies before it, and a generation that will serve as a model for peace for generations to come.
Service: the little-known, long-term solution to the world's most pressing challenges for years to come.