138: A National Civilian Service Academy

Today's post covers a dramatic proposal I see as a clear winner. It's big and bold but everyone benefits from it. Its challenges are in garnering support and implementation, but once started I see it sustaining itself as a national jewel.

First some context.

I've talked about my return from Shanghai a few years ago to a crumbling airport, creaky trains, and crumbling train stations. Anyone can see this nation's crumbling bridges, roads, and infrastructure.

Same with my train trip across the country. Amtrak is a third-world train system. It measures its delays in hours. First-world train systems measure delays in minutes and seconds.

As a New Yorker I see our subway, which carries billions of rides annually, has fallen to disrepair. Its slipshod weekend repair schedule means you can't predict what lines will work or how long to plan a trip. First-world systems have built whole cities worth of systems. Other cultures update old systems instead of starving them like ours. We act like a few new stations are a big deal. That pride is a shame.

From New Orleans after Katrina, Miami's regular floods at high tide, New York after Sandy, California after earthquakes, Puerto Rico, Flint, MI, the list goes on, of our poor preparedness. Same with the aircraft carriers we send around the world after natural disasters. We do the best we can, but far from our potential.

The climate-based challenges are only increasing as the planet warms. The future's normal is a world where such challenges are normal. We'll have to move cities.

The nation lacks readiness to respond to aging infrastructure and climate change. Those problems are our future.

I propose a civilian service academy.

Its goal would be to teach trades -- construction, carpentry, electrical, programming, engineering, and so on. What we'd need to rebuild cities -- in the style of military academies, requiring academics, physical training, sports, arts, but civilian, not military.

It would embody a culture of rigor that would include uniforms, marching, honor, service, and military precision, but not military. More like engineering precision. Making beds, teamwork. Elite opportunities. Leadership through practice.

It would provide the leadership among and for the millions of students, veterans, and young people of McChrystal's program.

Listen for more depth.


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