A Federal Case; 15
This is a federal case a weekly show that takes up an issue of government and takes a good look in Washington D.C. I am an Zill producer for the national educational radio network. This week we're going to look at something that's going on in the White House. The White House after all isn't just the place where the president lives. It isn't just the first in the easiest place in all Washington to locate. And it isn't just a grand old house which you can see part of on a tour almost every day. A great many people work at the White House either writing about what goes on there for some newspaper or working for the president in some way. Recently I talked with Stephen Hess who was appointed the new national chairman of the White House conference on Children and Youth on December 5th. Now he's going to tell what that is. Well by title I'm national chairman of the White House conference on children and youth. This is a conference has been going on ever since 1990 when Theodore Roosevelt called the first one in fact set
out the invitations all 250 of them in his own hand. And they've called it once every 10 years. By tradition it's supposed to look back over the past 10 years and assess where we've been and how well we've done and then look forward to the next 10 years. My job as since probably unique in being a working chairman in the past I think it's more a gun than a sort of an honorary chairman is to in fact organize the conference and there isn't much time although it seems like a long time but it will be held December 13th eighteen thousand nine hundred seventy. Nevertheless the things I'm thinking about in the way I want to open this up to very broad participation. That's almost around the corner. Stephen has used to be Patrick Moynihan as deputy assistant for Urban Affairs. He is 36 years old. But he has been working in government or training for for quite a while. He is a Republican who served Thomas Kitchell and Gerald Ford in the Congress and he has been in the White House before too. As a staff
assistant to President Eisenhower he has also written five books. His office is downstairs in the West Wing. The walls are lined with modern paintings by black artists which are on loan to him. He is short forthright affable even gracious. He obviously likes this new job very much. Indeed you'll feel his enthusiasm for young people and also his belief in the power of government and what it can do. It's an almost naive faith sometimes. Now you'll hear some of the background of this White House conference and what he's going to try to do with it. Why has it been kind of looked back over the last 10 years or so to see what killed you. Well to look back and to look forward. Course I don't mean that it just has some sort of tunnel vision and quite a bit of useful legislation has come out of this in fact almost you can find the root of almost all of our major
legislation in the field especially of children from the creation of the Children's Bureau in the early legislation on child labor laws right up to the Peace Corps and even find the roots of the president's family assistance plan his welfare reform plan in this. So that ultimately does make a great many recommendations for legislative action both on the federal state and local level. Rather you're you're going to get something going called the National Review policy. Right. It sounds rather grandiose. The history of that. Is this. We here in government always have summer interns and our office was no exception last year we had two very bright young men one from Harvard and one from Antioch and I asked them to assess the youth scene give give us some thoughts on it. I was surprised at how little there was just statistically or just a demographic description of who our youth and
where are they. And these fellows went about it in a very methodical way gathered their data drew some conclusions I was quite impressed and asked if it would be possible to have them give a presentation on this ecology of youth as they called it to the Presidents Urban Affairs Council the president liked the idea so much that he asked to expand it to the to the full cabinet. So three young men aged two age 21 25 presented their views on youth to the entire cabinet and the president the United States. One thing that they show that they concluded in their paper which I thought was interesting and worth pursuing was the government's own role in the field of youth programs and youth policy. They concluded that they were very inconsistent. By and large on balance they tended to elongate or prolong the period of the period between childhood and full participation in to and to
society. So as a result of this we decided we would catalog all of the youth programs agency by agency and ask exactly this question. This turned out to be a massive job and the one fellow we had doing it couldn't possibly do it by himself. So when the president appointed me to the to head this conference he suggested that we take over this project and I think hope that's exactly what we will do with our staff and of course with the many young people doing it them selves going into the agencies finding out what the youth policies are. Let me give you some example that sounds rather broad to pin it down. For example most of our higher education programs support the institution rather than the individual feeling they are being I guess that the individual is incapable of spending the money for himself but I call that a dependency
policy. Same token we have policies that are very good to support the building of college dormitories but by the same token what we may be doing is making a decision that young people at a certain period of their lives should live in institutional settings. The fact of a 21 year old vote. The fact of when people are allowed to hold office constitutionally for example I propose recently that we lower the age from 30 to 25 which a person would be eligible to serve. United States Senate. We certainly have many young congressman between 25 and 30 who I think would be perfectly splendid senators. The draft in the. Was certainly a policy that prolonged the period of youth especially as as many people chose to stay in school
rather than face military service many of them who might not have stayed in school or if there had not been a draft. Saying what but it is an unfortunate about prolonging. Well I don't I wouldn't say it's insidious. I do think on the other hand that we find that today young people physically even mature earlier. We have figures modest studies done at the end of the last century for instance which shows that a female reaches the age of men or. Men straight at a period of something like 17 years so that if she became an adult woman at 17 got married at 18 had children at 19 wow there was youth today we find that the age of monarchy is is something over 12 years. So if a female for example matures at 12 years and is not really treated as an adult so
she's finished three years of graduate school. There's a long time to feel dissatisfied with with her role in society which is not a complete one. And I think that from the letters I get in my conversations with young men and women especially on college campuses that they very much what voice in the decisions especially as the decisions very much involve them. I've got to ask you a minute ago what what exactly an account ecology of youth mand. Well this was first of all a breakdown demographically of how many young we have. Where are they. What they're doing are they in schools how many get higher education today how many graduate from high school how many are unemployed how many are in the military. It went on to questions of patterns of student protest. What are the issues that students are
protesting with the curve that you can draw what time of year do they protest if you can if you can graph it that way. If you can plot the schools that have had protests on a map what patterns emerge and that's fairly interesting because the initial protests were largely centered on the coast east and the West Coast and there's been a diffusion pattern and they've moved inland. We've done the same thing in a lesser extent at high school campuses and there they started much more as a national phenomenon. In the months that we looked at it into it from I think November of 1998 to my through March of one thousand sixty nine there were something like. Thirty eight states and the District of Columbia in which there had been high school protests So this is the type of thing that was dealt with in that particular paper. There's a lot of politics in what Stephen has been saying he's working on programs which will please young people quiet them down really giving them a few things that they think they
want being involved in decisions which affect your lives has been a slogan of the new left for several years. Yet here we have a Republican working on youth problems from his White House office who is throwing that phrase out himself. But Mr. Hess is sensitive to the notion that he might be considered just political. That what he's saying might not be taken seriously. Do you think they'll be a lot of resent governments trying to win us over trying to throw us crossing the border. My hope is that the allegation. I know I have I think these are very real thing is hardly crumbs. I think the argument that in a sense convinced me about lowering the voting age to 18 was not the standard one if you're old enough to fight you're old enough to vote but a discussion I had once with Diana FARNSWORTH The psychiatrist at Harvard who said that if his son age 18 would vote when they were sitting at breakfast table talking about an
issue he would never have to reassess his own position very carefully knowing that his son could cancel out his vote so it has it has a secondary effect of that as I think it will make people over 21 and many of them way over 21 take their own franchise far more seriously I don't consider that a crime by any means. Now what would you stand up to when you we're working on proposals during what will be discussed at this national conference. Or we have some work opposing the legislation. But going to work on many levels and they'll be many activities some of them won't be of the sort of standard taskforce proposal variety that we've been talking about but I hope many of them break out of the traditional mold of conferences which I think people by and large are quite tired of at this time. Many of them feel they've been studied to death and with some justification. For example the sort of thing that we could do and I hope will do. I gave a very small grant to a Young Poet and asked him to come up with a
proposal for an anthology or collection of youth writing now this is a very ordinary sort of idea. It's useful but not very exciting. He took this idea and really broke out of that mold and he came back with it with this counterproposal. So why don't we set up a Creative Center in Washington. We now have the technology to put this into terminal points around the country. The idea of a youth anthology means that somebody else is the editor somebody else has made the selection for our youth. Why don't we let young people go into the center near them put on the wires their poems their creative writing their criticisms short stories. These would come into the creative center in Washington would be shown on a screen would be reproduced could be hooked up to Xerox machines and binders. People who wish to come into the center could be there are letters they could pick the poems they could pick the short stories that they like to make up their
own anthology same time they could be their own critics if they had something to say to that poet too might be off in the Midwest or the Far West. They would put it back on that wire and shoot it out to him. We might also have some rooms available there where people could come and discuss and argue about the these works of art. So I thought that was a very creative. The solution to a very Monday problem I am hiring this fellow I'm saying all right go and do your own thing. If if your have any problems come back to me and I'll try to help you. I'm for this project. See if you can get the major computer companies and so forth to donate their machines see if you can get people to to give space for this. See if you can work up interest in it around the country. But that's one sort of thing that I think we can do and I'm looking for other ideas. I'll certainly throughout the creative arts field in the area of film theory of photography the area
of plastic art the area of graphic art and so forth. Now you'll hear Stephen has talking more specifically about how the conference will be set up rules for how your vision of the company is working. Well I think first of all I'd have to say that it can't be as highly structured as conferences like this have been in the past. There has to be a great deal of flexibility for people who come to the conference to talk about those things that they want to talk about not those things that I want them to talk about. Second unlike the recent conference on food health and nutrition it was something of a crash project in which just three days of hot house discussions in Washington this conference I hope will have a great deal of outreach. I hope there can be a great number of activities leading up to it throughout the state so that people don't have to find the money to come to Washington and find the time that they can
do things that can contribute to the conference much closer to home. I think one thing that the conference can do if we get the right sort of creative researchers is to survey the field and see where the gaps in our knowledge are and perhaps commission some research and commission something that would eventually be published and might indeed be used as supplemental reading in college courses around the country. This particularly appeals to me in the field of early childhood education where there have been recent years of great breakthroughs. And while I'm not an expert in this I do have the feeling that it hasn't been codified and that a great deal could be done to to tell us where what we know at this moment of history what we have to know and get good people off
finding out what we have to know. We're involved with some experts here. Yes the question would be expert. I also would like to invite a lot of young people who have. Have their youth and there's evil and their openness of mind to contribute to this and I would hope that this would have the largest percentage of young people that have ever been involved in any White House conference this in part has to do with with me with how much I can show them. This is not crumbs as you say but that we are indeed open and receptive to new ideas. I'm not. Going as some sort of surrogate youth someone who is trying to recapture his own youth I had a childhood I had a youth myself. All
I can say is that if they can sell me on an idea I will in turn try to sell the so-called powers that be. Difference between between various groups that make up today's new country. People like David I've long here like characters on demonstrations but I think this has to include all youth not just campus youth or radical you. I'm concerned and interested in working youth and the young people for example who are in military service so I don't see this is just a campus convention and anyway the big difference between what is. There.
Well the one thing I want to do and I don't know quite how yet is to try to get them here as much as possible as individuals not as representatives of an organization not to come and say I represent forty three thousand working you 24000 youth on Southwest college campuses or something like that but but reach out to those as well who who don't ordinarily come to the surface because they get elected president of some group and this especially applies to those who are dropouts. Those may be unemployed youth who don't have the same sort of highly structured organization that can send a delegate to represent them. Do you envision something like a domestic Peace Corps that's been talked about something some big sort of I don't know there have been a number of proposals for some sort of national service corps. I think some of that will depend on whether and how quickly we go
to the concept of an all volunteer army. I don't personally see National Service Corps as an alternative to the draft but certainly we should consider treating those who have. Given these years of service if we set up such a program the equivalent of the G.I. Bill which we do to those who served in the in the military service. Well what about an all volunteer army. What's it going to take a position on that. Certainly if I had been asked to to think about this job three months ago I would have said emphatically yes I would have to find out whether the questions of the draft are still as much burning questions now since there has been a draft reform. But I would say that if they are and if this is something that young people want to discuss want to make proposals for.
I would be very receptive to proposals that have to do with further reform of the draft or eventual all volunteer army and the pluses and minuses of of an all volunteer army. No doubt diplomatic means to his his theory is the new chairman of the Nixon conference on youth and he's saying that he's going to ask the young he's going to go to them and see what they have to say. Well I say after this conference you get a number of indications from a wide group of people you've talked to that. That's something like some example like an all volunteer army happens to be very popular. Then what happens next. Well we must have some follow up. The president when he spoke to the hunger conference said that all White House conferences in the future would have some sort of mechanism to report back to him a year later to see what actions had been taken. And so we clearly have a mandate to do that. For example the
president has recently set up something called the Center for voluntary action. Which is an attempt to mobilize the private sector in social action programs. I would hope in the White House conference that we would be working very closely with the staff of this center for voluntary action because after all we and most of the White House conference closes down a year from now but that group will continue in place and in existence and they could be a very useful mechanism to continue to push for the programs of the proposals that come out of the White House conference. Now if you're one of those youth listening in I wonder how you reacted this center for voluntary action. My own thought was This is sort of weak. It's not a strong fall through to any conference proposals and it isn't going to go far to satisfy a lot of the young people who want to see some definite actions right away a center for
voluntary action just doesn't sound promising. Here's has on more philosophical grounds. Do you think there is a very large generation gap now. The answer I think is yes. Having studied and written some in American history I tend to think that we've had some some generation gaps before and perhaps our own overwhelms us now. For example we have a long history of student protest and campus rebellion in this in this country. It goes right back to colonial times. And if you look at the the early histories of those oldest of American schools such as Harvard Princeton and brown you find many examples of protests that were in fact far more radical.
And then anything we have today I think. But perhaps more than anything else the war in Vietnam has caused young people to have a cynicism and a skepticism about government that is very pervasive and maybe more so than at any time in history so that the role of the young person these of the the state is perhaps reaching crisis proportion. And this conference which has to be called anyway almost by tradition comes at a very opportune time for us to reach out to to young people and. I don't know maybe it's maybe it's one of our last opportunities. There's another whole group of young people that I perhaps come in contact with in Washington who are working or working in some way in the government are the only say working in Washington as a government is here. People like the Nader's
Raiders are the few other groups of that sort who are not particularly cynical but they're extraordinarily demanding that government live up to what it's supposed to be that there's democracy and indeed be a democracy that the institutions of government work the way there's meant to and that kind of thing. Well that's very healthy yeah I mean that is one group young people deal with young people as far as I can predict seem to be turning to questions of the environment. And as you know April 22nd will be a national teach in on this subject. And personally I'm all for that. And I think that the government without in any way tried to smother it should certainly cooperate with this and that it does focus attention and perhaps generate new thoughts in a very serious area and certainly one that involves young people more than others are going to be breathing the air and drinking the water a lot longer than most of the rest of us.
What's the best kind of outcome in general terms you can expect from your references here in the conference. Well I keep going back to government because that's what I'm a part of and most intimately involved in. But I certainly think on the governmental side that if we can review and make useful changes in our own policies if we can find ways to bring young people more actively into participation on the government level and if we can by our own openness and and concern make government service or just service. For in the social action field and in general more attractive to young people. That alone would constitute a major plus. I think the remarkable thing about Stephen has working away in the problems of youth from inside the White House is first that he's there at all. And second that he does exhibit a strong what seemed to me to be thoroughly genuine faith in government. Now
it's supposed to be that this administration has no touch at all with the majority of young people. Whether that's true or not has yet to be proven. But this administration at least recognizes the problem and Stephen has has a big job to do this year. Maybe almost a year from now you'll have heard a great deal more about this White House conference on children and youth whether you have heard good or bad news is your guess at this point. This is been a federal case. Your correspondent.
Program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
- A Federal Case
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- National Educational Radio Network
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- "A Federal Case" is a weekly program produced by the National Educational Radio Network which examines current political topics in the United States and Washington, D.C. Each episode features interviews with experts, members of the public, and lawmakers concerning a specific issue of government.
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Identifier: 69-38-15 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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