Serve or flunk

Barack Obama wants to make federal funds contingent on schools and colleges requiring students to perform community service. He proposes 50 hours a year in middle and high school and 100 hours a year in college.

“These are the voices that will tell you — not just what you can’t do — but what you won’t do,” Obama said. “Young Americans won’t serve their country — they’re too selfish, too apathetic or too lazy. This is the soft sell of the status quo. The voice that tells you to settle because settling isn’t that bad.”

Actually, many young people volunteer voluntarily — often through their church, sometimes in political campaigns like Obama’s. Others work after school to help pay the rent, cover their expenses or save for college. In college, many students risk academic failure because they’re spending too much time working and not enough studying.

A Colorado superintendent, Cindy Stevenson, wondered how service would be defined. Who decides what counts?

“The difficulty is, when you start making it a graduation requirement,” she said. “That’s when individual value systems among parents and different groups in the community . . . you can get an awful lot of conflict.”

If schools want service to be “service learning,” they need to devote teacher time to designing programs and following through; it will take class time too. Is this the best use of time and energy? It depends on the subject, but probably not.

In my unmandated volunteering, I’ve run into groups of kids who are putting in their service hours; they go through the motions and make sure someone signs their “hours” sheet. I also work with some terrific teens who volunteer willingly on a team that prepares a meal for the homeless. One girl’s specialty is cutting up donated cakes and pies. Has she learned geometry? Compassion? Teamwork? She had the skills and values from the start.

Matt Yglesias is dubious about mandating service in order to build civic spirit.

It seems worth noting that the best “service” initiatives around, like the Peace Corps and Teach For America, aren’t so much “service” as they are public sector jobs that are simply structured as to operate outside the normal contours of recruitment and employment. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the relevant test should be effectiveness of outcomes (does TFA help kids learn, does the Peace Corps help build the American brand) not whether or not it’s creating an awesome servicey spirit.

The only way to get everyone to serve meaningfully is to draft every 18-year-old into the military or into a civilian job designed to mimic military service. That would build a unified spirit — hatred for the draft — but it would burden the Army or National Guard with unwilling, unfit, short-term soldiers.

Update: Do we need a U.S. Public Service Academy to train young people for government jobs?

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Comments

  1. Marshall says:

    My local school has a graduation requirement that includes 20 hours of “volunteer” service.
    When my daughter ran up against that, I suggested several things she could do:

    1) Campaign against school bond initiatives.
    2) Hand out anti-CTA literature at school.
    3) Start a school rifle team.
    (and several others along these lines)

    Sadly, she chose none of these.

    “Mandatory volunteer” reeks of NewSpeak.

  2. if it’s mandatory they can no longer be volunteers, draft anyone.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    The only good to come out of the 70s was the elimination of the draft, I saw the slaughter of under-trained conscripts and determined then that a man has to want to be a soldier to be a soldier.
    We saw one consequence of the elimination of the draft in the remarkably low casualties in Desert Storm I & II, and in Afghanistan. No more cannon fodder. Remember, if you can coerce men to become soldiers you can make girls become comfort girls.
    [To those who remember, I was “RA All the Way”.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    One of the things that will come out of mandatory community service is that the children of the elite will get the jobs that look good on resumes and the children of the bottom half will be picking up trash or other make work jobs.

  5. “100 hours a year in college”

    Many of my students are non-traditional students – or they work full time while trying to go to school. (Or the trifecta – going to school, working full or near-full time, and raising a family).

    And now you’re gonna tell them, over the course of the next 32 (or however many constitute a school year) weeks, you need to find 3 hours or more a week to be doing something for the good of the community?

    I’m all for serving the community – heck, I do it myself.

    But don’t FORCE me to.

    (And I suspect what’s coming next? People in the workforce “need” to find 150 hours a year to “donate” to community service. Kind of like a tax on our time, I suppose…)

  6. Cadence says:

    Unless these hours can be done during the summer, most college students who want to do well in their classes and need a job to pay for their education will not have the extra 100 hour needed. I once calculated how much time various school and work things take me per semester, and out of the 2352 hours in my university’s semester, there were a mere 63 hours for which I could not account. But believe me, I don’t spend 63 hours a semester twiddling my thumbs!

    I have, however, volunteered in the past, when I was younger and classes were easier. I like to volunteer and plan to do it again after I graduate and have a more stable schedule (regular days off, set hours, etc.) Right now I simply don’t have that option, since most of my college funding is GPA-based. What about that? Would this plan reward students who don’t go to class, don’t do their homework, but do meet their volunteer hours?

  7. Funny, I thought we’d moved past the point in this where free citizens could be forced to do unpaid labor. I guess Barack Obama has forgotten (or simply doesn’t care) that more than 99% of college students are legal adults.

    And ricki, give it time, it’ll happen.

  8. Get used to the level of nanny statism that will come.

  9. Richard Nieporent says:

    During his time in power Pol Pot imposed a version of agrarian collectivization whereby city dwellers were relocated to the countryside to work in collective farms and forced labor projects with the goal of restarting civilization in “Year Zero”. The combined effect of slave labour, malnutrition, poor medical care and executions had an estimated death toll of 750,000 to 1.7 million (approximately 26% of the population at that time).

    Could this be what Obama has in mind?

  10. Obama: “Young Americans won’t serve their country — they’re too selfish, too apathetic or too lazy.”

    1)Many young Americans join the military. This form of service, though, doesn’t seem to be very much respected by the “progressive” wing of the Democratic party.
    2)Some young Americans choose to do dangerous work as policemen or firemen.
    3)Some sign up for fairly dangerous private-sector jobs like offshore oil platform work, underground coal mining, and commercial fishing. I guess to a Democrat, the fact that their checks don’t come from the government means that their work doesn’t count as public service.
    4)And some start new businesses. I don’t think Obama and those around him have any clue as to how much of a service that is to the country.

  11. Aarghh… I’m leaning more Libertarian all the time.

    Besides, this goes against my Christian beliefs — Christ said that when you give, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Having to report my volunteer hours to Big Brother conflicts with that philosophy.

    But there are plenty of reasons to disagree with forced volunteerism.

  12. For that matter – do we really WANT these (hypothetically) “too selfish, too apathetic, or too lazy” young Americans in our community-service programs?

    I had an experience on a camp workday – 75% of the kids we took worked hard and diligently. The 25% who didn’t want to be there (but were sent by their parents) made it all the harder for the rest of us – we were constantly chasing them down, telling them not to wave the rakes around. And at the end of the day, they had DISAPPEARED and we had to spend 1/2 hour searching for them.

    I would hate having to be the “volunteer” supervisor to a group of kids where several of those kids did not want to be there, and were just putting in their hours.

    And I suspect that forcing “volunteer” work will lead to a downturn in the quality of the work and the workers…

  13. Parent2 says:

    Enforced community service is also known as serfdom.

  14. Parent2 says:

    Also, just what U.S. high schools need, another barrier to graduation for students who don’t see the value of a high school diploma.

  15. Margo/Mom says:

    My local district has a requirement of 120 hours community service for graduation. I recall my daughter’s counselor calling me at the end of her junior year to tell me to make sure that I got her involved in some community service over the summer. The problem wasn’t that she hadn’t done any–but that the documentation had never gotten turned in. The counselor made one phone call, to one of the places where my daughter had helped out, and discovered that she had garnered well over 120 hours. But that’s just how my family does things. Nobody at school particularly cared about anything except whether it got done and checked off.

    I also had an experience with a charter school that was using community service very well by setting up volunteer internships that actually related to the students’ areas of interest.

    Like most of the bright ideas in education, there is no magic and it is possible to make it a useless annoyance or a helpful and integral part of the overall educational experience. Depends a good bit on the involvement and motivation of the adults who are responsible.

  16. Why is it “community service” to tend other people’s elderly parents but not your own, or to tend other people’s children but not your younger siblings? Indeed, why is it “community service” to deliver Meals on Wheels but not Domino’s Pizza?

    Some good may result from Senator Obama’s proposal: homeschooling looka increasingly attractive.

  17. Mrs. Davis says:

    I wonder how many kids will look at it as community slavery the rest of their lives.

  18. BadaBing says:

    During the depression Nazi Germany had a highly successful public service corps for teenagers. It was regimented like the military and even paralleled military service in many ways. Kids actually had to leave home and live in barracks to do it. It also served as an effective springboard for soldiering in the Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS. But Germany’s population was extraordinarily nationalistic back then, including its teenagers.

    America and Americans are not nationalistic, especially on the coasts, where the most important people live. On the contrary, we are hedonistic and narcissistic, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just can’t imagine legions of American youth happily serving the country, the community, anyone or anything except themselves, even if it is their hero’s idea to do so. I predict there will be tons of bitching, moaning and loophole-finding if this idiocy ever gets off the ground.

  19. Exactly who are these people who think that no one will serve their communities unless they’re nudged by the government? According to the annual “Volunteering in the United States” study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 25 and 30 percent of Americans (and between 25 and 30 percent of teens) volunteered last year for some sort of organization. That’s 60,800,000 civic-minded Americans (I assume of every ideological stripe) who didn’t wait for approval from a politician or bureaucrat. Plans like Obama’s would prevent many of these people from doing the good deeds they want to do in favor of doing what the government of the moment thinks they should do.

  20. This idea sounds like it would make a lot more work for “community organizers,” who would presumably be paid to organize and supervise the forced volunteers. Remember, Mr. and Mrs. Obama seem to think that “community organizer” is the highest calling. Other jobs are less important, but are sometimes taken on to pay off large student debts like the Obamas had.

  21. Richard Nieporent says:

    I guess if community service is good enough for these people and these people it should be good enough for selfish, apathetic and lazy students.

  22. mjtyson says:

    God forbid if a child wants to use his Boy Scout or her Girl Scout service hours to meet this requirement. I’m sure that won’t count.

  23. Parent2 says:

    Enforced volunteering is not volunteering, just as enforced donations are not charity.

    I suspect civil servitude would decrease volunteering in the long run, as those who’ve “done their service” would not sign up for it again. Thus, long term, the country would lose the local civic minded volunteers who run many small towns.

    The ending of the draft improved the public opinion of the army. I think civil servitude, if imposed, will go a long way to ruining the public opinion of “volunteering.”

    Oh, and, if the high school dropouts refuse to volunteer, and don’t want the diploma, will the government force them to serve?

  24. Richard said, “During his time in power Pol Pot imposed a version of agrarian collectivization whereby city dwellers were relocated to the countryside to work in collective farms and forced labor projects with the goal of restarting civilization in “Year Zero”. The combined effect of slave labour, malnutrition, poor medical care and executions had an estimated death toll of 750,000 to 1.7 million (approximately 26% of the population at that time). Could this be what Obama has in mind?”

    Yes, that is what all folks like Obama have in mind. It’s his vision, don’t you see?

  25. SuperSub says:

    Well, they want to regulate our employed work, what we do with our property, how we spend our money, what we say in confidence to our associates, what we say in public, how we eat, what we do in our homes, and now how we help our fellow Americans.

    Are we far away from being told how long to sleep?

  26. Ragnarok says:

    Yes, Mr. Obama wants to ahve nothing to do with rigour in schools – but forced community service, ah, well, that’s a different kettle of fish.

  27. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Mandatory volunteering – wow, how contradictions collapse.

    Is the aim here to make kids/young adults HATE public service? This seems a very effective way to do it.

    For a time when I was in college, I was a volunteer firefighter. Something tells me that wouldn’t have counted either as volunteer work. Amazingly, when I did that, no one had to tell me; I just went down to the fire station and inquired about it and did it. (So do thousands of other Americans.)

  28. On the basis of the way Obama’s mandatory volunteerism brought ’em boiling out of the woodwork on this blog I predict a “refinement” of the position and charges that the media misrepresented the idea.

    As predictions go I’d say that’s a safe one.

  29. elizabeth says:

    Actually, I think community service is a good idea. My son’s high school required 20 hours and the graduating senior class of 62 students did well over 3000 hours over four years. My son chose to do manual labor for his community service. He helped on a habitat for humanity build, he dug up honey suckle and privot hedge in a local park that has significant meaning to him and our family, he helped out at a cross country race in freezing conditions and he helped the middle school orchestra during their concert.

    What I believe he learned from this experience is he could do manual labor and do it well in adverse weather conditions. (This is a child who really did not like being outside in adverse weather conditions – too hot or too cold.) He also learned that it is fun to help others in whatever way he contributed.

    His college requires community service and enrichment hours (60 over four years). He completed one hour during orientation and will complete many of the community service hours during the first few days of schools. I believe the value of the program is it opens the students’ eyes to the opportunities to either continue learning by attending informative events, recitals, etc. In addition, I believe the program does get many of the self-center kids looking outward rather than remaining hidden in the social group where everyone looks just like them.

    My younger son’s public high school requires community service but only if you join a certain club or two. The requirement of those clubs is fifty hours over four years.

    With the wide variety of opportunities in our community for community service, I, again, think it is a good idea.

  30. Walter E. Wallis says:

    My progressive city, Palo Alto, is conscripting another bit of my time with a zero waste program that will make me, akin to India’s untouchables, sort trash. Perhaps someday I will be promoted to low Beta.

  31. Richard Nieporent says:

    Actually, I think community service is a good idea.

    Elizabeth I think you missed the point. I don’t believe that anyone here objects to community service per se. It is being forced to “volunteer” that is the problem. One would have thought that Obama would be familiar with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

    Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

  32. Richard Nieporent says:

    Yes, that is what all folks like Obama have in mind. It’s his vision, don’t you see?

    So Anon, do you think I was being a little harsh on Obama? Sometimes a little hyperbole is needed to make a point. It certainly got your attention. By the way, you do see the irony in the fact that Obama of all people is proposing to institute involuntary servitude forced volunteerism, don’t you?

  33. I think it is a safe prediction that there are many Obama supporters who will charge that anyone against his plan for a service requirement for students must be against voluntarism. I think a good response to that is to reply that you are in favor of “true voluntarism”, but solidly against “mandatory volunteerism”, or “pretend voluntarism”. If your antagonist dismisses the distinctions you are trying to make, perhaps you would do well to charge your antagonist with simplistic thinking, on the obvious basis that they cannot follow your distinctions.

    I don’t like to have to think about tactics and strategies of argument, as I am obviously doing in the previous paragraph. I would prefer to analyze the quality and effectiveness of volunteer effort, and the subtle interplay of motivations, and the variations of unintended consequences, under various methods of recruitment of volunteers. But experience leads me to think thoughts like these are like water off a ducks back to true believers.

    In the past I have given some careful thought to the subtleties mentioned above. Here’s a link:
    http://www.brianrude.com/mediat.htm

  34. But only certain kinds of experiences count…in true Bolshevik-styled eulogies about the value of labor fashion, nothing that smacks of bourgeois activities count (Linux is free), just physical labor force participation counts. Volunteering at your own church won’t count either (keep God out of it), nor will volunteering to post campaign signs for the next Republican presidential candidate.

    The fact that you graduate from college and do something so valuable that your community is willing to pay you two hundred thousand dollars a year for that service doesn’t count as “giving back to the community” either. No. You have to do something that is so easy and mindless that anyone off the street can do it, (and usually does when volunteeers aren’t around) for minimum wage or coerced through adjudication. Now THAT’s making a difference and you can sit back in all of your 16 or 19 years of age smug and happy knowing that YOU made a difference in your volunteer work all the while bashing everyone else for being materialistic.

    “I am really, really proud of the kids. You have these girls that are not that big. They are hoisting around 80 pound bags of concrete, digging holes in trenches, and just getting dirty. I am proud of them,”

    My goodness, just think of the bottles of Fiji, Voss, or Dasani that were drunk.

  35. Parent2 says:

    elizabeth, it’s within the power of an individual school to require community service for graduation. Many already do. I would hope that the school in question has a well-thought out plan for the service, and a mission which gives the service a deeper meaning, rather than an item on a checklist. There is nothing wrong with _voluntary_ unpaid service.

    This proposal reveals a conception of government which rejoices in its power to _make citizens do things_.

  36. Perhaps Mr Obama would be willing to regale us with some tales of his own “community service”? I’m sure he has served on the boards of non-profits and such, but I don’t recall any clips of him swinging a hammer, picking up trash or driving meals to the elderly. Mandating that others do what you chose not to is rank hypocrisy.

  37. Mrs. Davis says:

    it’s within the power of an individual school to require community service for graduation.

    No, it’s not. Exactly which part of the XIII amendment don’t you understand?

  38. Parent2 says:

    Hah hah Mrs. Davis. Very funny. Many private schools require it as a matter of course. Public high schools in our neck of the woods are requiring it as well. It’s in their power to require it, and they do.

  39. Elizabeth says:

    This is patently unfair. First of all, mandatory volunteering is a contradiction in terms. Secondly, for those of us who worked in HS and College (as in HAD to work) this is completely unfair.

  40. Parent2 says:

    As I don’t wish to identify myself, a section of Wikipedia might suffice:

    High school graduation

    In many educational jurisdictions, a certain number of hours of community service is required to graduate from high school. In some high schools in Washington State, for example, students must complete 60 hours of community service to receive a high school diploma. Some Washington school districts, including Seattle Public Schools, have differentiated between community service and “service learning,” requiring students to demonstrate that their work has contributed to their education.[1] If a student in high school is taking an avid course, community service is required. Some students do it because they desire to help, but for others, it is a requirement – just another assignment.

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_service#High_school_graduation)

  41. Margo/Mom says:

    It’s awfully hard to tell if the animosity is towards Obama, the concept of community service or the idea that there can be any requirements levied on individuals by the government.

    Personally I hate the term and concept of “volunteer work,” and the image it conjures up–as several have alluded to. The idea of showing up somewhere to do some task requiring minimal skills in order to reenforce the idea that one can afford to give labor for free to some deserving but underfunded good cause really smacks of elitism in my mind. It also usually over-rates the efforts of the “giver” at the expense of the “receiver.” This is quite distinct from “community service,” which I consider to be a responsibility because I live, breathe, consume and walk around on this planet and enjoy the fruits of a civil and democratic society. I have not problem teaching this to our youth through our institutes of education.

    So many of the respondents are chafing already at “rules” that haven’t been written (boy scout experience doesn’t count, only physical labor counts, it must be “something that is so easy and mindless that anyone off the street can do it”), it does make one wonder if they are responding to something other than the suggestion.

  42. Parent2 – You should get a friend to do a Westlaw search on public schools requiring communuty service as a graduation requirement. In every case filed the Public School District has lost on 14th Amendment grounds. Seattle Public schools did not originally have a “Service Learning” distinction until they were sued under their original requirements.

  43. Richard Nieporent says:

    Parent2, as usual, Mrs. Davis is concise, cogent and correct. What could be clearer than the text of the 13th Amendment? Unlike the 2nd amendment, there is not a preamble to this amendment, so even Leftists should be able to understand its meaning.

    Of course private schools can require one to “volunteer”. That is because they are private schools. However government schools are governed by the constitution and therefore should not be able to force anyone to work for free under the guise of a community service requirement. The fact that some schools systems do it doesn’t mean that it is constitutional. After all DC thought that they could flout the 2nd Amendment, but they were wrong.

  44. Perhaps Mr Obama would be willing to regale us with some tales of his own “community service”?

    Well, there was the photo op of Obama filling sandbags at the recent flooding in Western Illinois. (Just to be fair).

    I still think enforced volunteerism is a bad idea, though.

  45. After reading Obanma’s comment, I have to wonder why so many young people are clamoring for his election?

  46. dkzody, I suspect it’s because his fans think themselves the “right” sort of people, and not those selfish, lazy, apathetic types.

  47. The chafing is actually simple to explain: The US is a free country, and mandatory unpaid service is not something a free country does. There has been no point in US History where government used the force of law to force people to labor for free. Remember, even draftees got paid.

  48. Ronnie Day says:

    It reeks to me of more big brother and a loss of the liberty to choose,we have laws against forced child labor where the young people are getting paid,now we want to force them to do it unpaid?
    I started with a VFD when I was 14 and am now in my 33rd year and have uderstood for a long time that not everybody can do what I do or be a Hospice Vol etc etc. A lot of the children he wants to force into this are going to grow up and hopfully be in the middle or upper income levels of the nation.The last thing we want to do is give them a bad taste about volunteer organizations while they are in school.We count on people who have the money but not the time or willingness for funding.

  49. MargoMom said: “It’s awfully hard to tell if the animosity is towards Obama, the concept of community service or the idea that there can be any requirements levied on individuals by the government.”

    Margo, are those our only 3 possibile reasons to be against required-volunteerism? It sounds like you’re saying we’re just using the Constitution to make excuses for our racism, classism, disdain for the needy, or secret anarchist tendencies. Is there any reason to not take our arguments at face value instead of assuming underlying animosity?

    Isn’t the argument about constitutionality enough all by itself?

  50. Margo/Mom says:

    Lori:

    The constitutional argument is shaky at best. I recall a student from Wisconsin a couple of summers ago who tried to make a case that a summer reading list was involuntary servitude. He lost. At least one state (Maryland) currently has a service learning requirement for high school graduation. Seven states (AR, CT, DE, MN, OK, RI, WI) permit service learning as a requirement for graduation. (Source: Education Commission for the States)

    Setting up straw men based on inflammatory but imagined future requirements for service (manual labor, anti-boy scout, anti-church, etc) doesn’t inspire a belief in a straight-forward agenda. But, I have not assumed racism or a disdain for the poor. Some community service may benefit “the poor,” but as much is for the general good: ie: election poll work, beautification projects or community gardening. It is also true that not all community service is totally “unpaid”–as examples: VISTA and City Year, both of which provide stipends to allow a year of mutually beneficial service.

  51. We aren’t just talking about the involuntary volunteering of high school and college age kids who are already old enough to be in the work force, but about middle school children- aren’t there child labor laws in this country?

  52. Richard Aubrey says:

    It is simply immoral, dishonest, and obscene to try to teach kids that something which is mandatory is voluntary. Talk about opportunities to learn to distrust and dislike the government….. Wait…. Hell, let’s go for it!

    If we have a universal draft, get everybody. No exceptions. But don’t put them in the military. As of this point, only just over a quarter of the relevant age group qualifies, anyway.

    Tighten up the borders and have the draftees doing stoop labor in the fields. Clearing brush in the forests. Picking up trash along the highways.

    Do not, under any circumstances, stuff them into the military.

  53. MargoMom said: “It’s awfully hard to tell if the animosity is towards Obama, the concept of community service or the idea that there can be any requirements levied on individuals by the government.”

    It’s definitely the last one, but you’re turning it into a straw man. The real question is this: Can the government tell a free citizen that he must spend 100 hours of his or her life doing only government approved activities?

    The answer should be blatantly obvious. But since it’s apparently not, I’ll say it: In a free society, the government cannot require free citizens that they must spend a certain amount of time doing government approved activities.

    The government in this society does not tell people that the have to work to produce taxes, nor do they tell people with a particular skill that they must employ that skill for the national good. There’s a thin line between proscribing certain behavior and requiring certain behavior, and Obama’s proposal crosses it.

    That’s why the pro-liberty folks here are annoyed with his proposal, and it’s an absolutely legitimate gripe.

  54. Margo/Mom says:

    “In a free society, the government cannot require free citizens that they must spend a certain amount of time doing government approved activities.”

    I presume that this would include school attendance.

  55. Of course it includes school attendance. Most compulsory education laws state that parents must provide children with an education, but does not require it to take place in a gov’t school.

  56. Compulsory attendance laws sit right on the edge of the line, in my book, but there is the point that the apply to minors. As I’ve said before, Obama’s proposal would apply to free citizen adults in college. The last time a free citizen was told by the government to be a specific place to do a specific thing without consent was the last time we had draftees in the Army.

    I thought we as a society had outgrown that. I guess I was wrong.

  57. Margo/Mom says:

    S & Q:

    If education is not unconstitutional (because it is not REQUIRED to take place within a government school), then requirement for service in order to achieve a diploma from a government school would also, following your argument, not be unconstitutional.

    I don’t know what profession Quincy is in, but many fields require a time of unpaid or barely paid participation in service learning in order to receive a credential. These would include the medical profession, teaching, social work, mental health, etc. Of course, one could seek a university that receives all its funding from non-governmental sources and grants credentials without the governmental endorsement. Not sure who would be willing to employ you, but hey, it’s a free country, right?

  58. The many people who are defending this national service proposal with statements like “my school system does this and it works fine” or “my kid had to do this and it was good for him” are missing the point. If your school system wants to do this, then fine, but there’s a difference between letting schools choose to do this and empowering the federal government to force “service” upon high school and college students.
    If Obama wants to give passionate speeches encouraging young people to go volunteer in their communities, that’s great. But compulsory service overseen by the federal government? No way.

  59. Margo/Mom –

    I’m not sure whether you’re being obtuse just to get a cheap shot in at me or whether you really don’t get this, but there is a tremendous difference between a profession that I *choose* requiring work and the federal government using the force of law to *mandate* that I work. “Choose” and “mandate”, what part of the difference between these two words isn’t clear?

    Oh, while you’re talking about constitutionality, you do realize that compulsory attendance laws for *adults* would be unconstitutional under the 13th Amendment, right? Right?

  60. Mrs. Davis says:

    Psrent 2 I stand corrected. Like any soviet the power they have. It’s the legal authority they lack.

  61. mjtyson says:

    little-e elizabeth,

    I agree with others that many of us have NO problem with volunteering. My problem is that I fully expect the gov’t schools to count only certain volunteering as meeting the graduation requirement. I seriously doubt the public schools would be happy if many of their graduating seniors want to claim their Sundays helping teach Sunday school, or an Eagle Scout project.

    As for college, I think this is the same as those PC classes many entering freshmen have to take. My wife and I finished our bachelors while on active duty in the Air Force. How the hell were we supposed to do volunteer work when it was hard enough to schedule classes around deployments and shift work???

  62. Margo/Mom says:

    Quincy–it was YOU who said, “Obama’s proposal would apply to free citizen adults in college.” Now unless I am sadly mistaken, no one is currently, or proposed to be, required to attend college. There is no mandate for colleges (or states, for that matter) to accept Federal dollars and whatever strings come along with them. Each of these things is a choice.

    If you don’t like the terms, like I said, it’s a free country. There are plenty of folks who advertise no-hassle degrees of many kinds. You are free to purchase whatever they are peddling. The problem is, you may have some difficulty selling your credentials in the market-place.

  63. Margo/Mom says:

    mjtyson:

    You are, of course, aware that the US Department of Education, through its Office of Civil Rights, is charged with ensuring that members of the Boy Scouts of America (this would include Eagle Scouts) are not discriminated against. I’m not making this up. Look into it.

  64. Margo/Mom –

    I did, and I also never said it was unconstitutional. I said it violated the principle of a free country. I still have yet to be convinced otherwise. (And here’s a hint, calling me selfish just because I’m pro-liberty and anti-government won’t do it.)

    For the government to use its power of taxation and wealth redistribution to force anyone seeking a college education at a college that accepts federal funds is problematic in and of itself, but when one considers the fact that almost every college accepts federal money, the situation ends up kinda like this:

    “There are plenty of folks who advertise no-hassle degrees of many kinds. You are free to purchase whatever they are peddling. The problem is, you may have some difficulty selling your credentials in the market-place.”

    So, either submit to 100 hours a year of servitude or be shut out of the government-funded college monopoly? Is that really your idea of a free country? I seem to remember people on the left railing against a little company up in Washington state called Microsoft for misusing its monopoly power when it bundled the Internet Explorer browser with Windows 95, even though users still had the choice to run any other browser they so wished.

    So, either Obama would be misusing the fact that it’s nigh impossible to find a college that doesn’t accept federal money to enforce “community service” or Microsoft was absolutely within the bounds of propriety to offer IE integrated into Windows. Which is it?

  65. There is no mandate for colleges (or states, for that matter) to accept Federal dollars and whatever strings come along with them. Each of these things is a choice.

    Also, on the Microsoft thing, there was never any mandate for PC manufacturers to all load MS Windows, that was a choice too. Still doesn’t negate the fact that by controlling 95% of machines, Microsoft had a lot of power. So, by your logic here, Microsoft was perfectly in the right do to whatever it wanted with Windows and that the entire anti-trust suit was pure bunk.

    If you don’t think that’s the case, then why hold a corporation that cannot legally force people to do business with them to a higher moral standard than the government, which can?

  66. Margo/Mom says:

    OK, Quincy, put the tin foil back in your hat. You caught me. I am in league with all the folks who are conspiring against you.

  67. Wow, Margo, your comeback there was just dynamite. I’ll have to remember it the next time someone blows a gaping hole in my logic.

  68. Andy Freeman says:

    I’m confused.

    If a parent thinks that volunteering is a good idea for their child, why is a govt/school requirement relevant?

    Is the precious little darling out of control? That doesn’t sound like much of a qualification for commenting on how other people’s children should be handled.

  69. Andy Freeman says:

    Service learning is at least marginally related to a specific educational goal of the student.

    Perhaps the advocates of “mandatory voluntary work” will tell us what student-specific educational goal is being addressed. (This will be interesting because the requirement doesn’t seem to have any student-specific requirements other than “unpaid labor” in some acceptable field.) Or, do I have it backwards? Is the work supposed to define the student’s education or goals?

    I wonder if shaking down biz for donations to political causes (Obama’s “community service”) is going to be acceptable. (Of course it is, as long as the causes are acceptable.)

  70. Some of this discussion has been legalistic, and certainly that is relevant, but it seems to me that the idea, mandatory voluntarism, ought to be rejected on grounds that it is ineffective, and probably counterproductive, to any worthwhile educational goals. Whether or not it’s in violation of our basic legal or moral principles probably can never be settled to everyone’s satisfaction.

    Another angle which I think would be worthwhile to consider is motivation. Why does the idea appeal to Obama, or why does he think it would appeal to voters? I am not suggesting that we should accept or reject the idea based on motivation. Indeed I think quite the opposite. The idea should be accepted or rejected on its merits. (And in my humble opinion rejection wins hands down.) But motivation is still a fair subject to speculate about, and it may be productive to do so.

    It seems to me that the motivation for proposing a service requirement for students is more of a mindset than anything else. I call it the “let’s do it together” mindset. This requires some explanation and development, which, of course, I did a few years ago – at length. Here’s a link: http://www.brianrude.com/let's-do.htm

  71. Opps! That link won’t work. This one should: Let’s Do It Together

  72. Margo/Mom says:

    Despite the fact that this thread has gone off into some really offtopic tangents (Microsoft, for instance, really appears to be searching for a different conversation), I do think it is important to “stick to the facts.” The originial article referenced provided some indication of the proposal (which does not refer to “volunteer work,” but “community service”):

    Service proposals

    * Asking people to join the military, with goals of adding 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines.

    * Increase AmeriCorps ranks from 75,000 to 250,000.

    * Double the size of the Peace Corps.

    * Expand USA Freedom Corps to create online network where people can browse volunteer opportunities.

    * Launch new Social Investment Fund Network to include faith-based groups, private sector and government.

    * Goal of 50 hours of service a year for middle and high school students and 100 hours of service for college students.

    * Launch training for military veterans in “green” jobs.

    * Expand YouthBuild Program, which puts young Americans to work building affordable housing.

    Experiential learning certainly does have educational benefit. I clicked a few links to look at some of the listings on the USA Freedom Corps site. There are a wide variety of partners, curricular tie-ins, and a listing of opportunities by zip code. Certainly history and civics were pplentiful among the educational goals, but opportunities tied to physical education, the arts, research, technology, health as well as some of the “softer” skills (collaboration, oorganization, planning, etc) were also present. Some partners were religious organizations.

    It is also interesting that the proposal built upon the earlier efforts of several Presidents: Kennedy/Johnson (who launched and developed the Peace Corp; and VISTA, the forerunner to Americorps), Bush (who built USA Freedom Corps–which appears to be derivative of the earlier Thousand Points of Light concept), Carter (who was instrumental in Habitat for Humanity–similar to Youthbuild). It is pretty hard to detect a partisan trend in this one.

  73. Walter E. Wallis says:

    “Green” jobs. Like rickshaw operators to replace gas burning taxis?

  74. Richard Aubrey says:

    Margo/Mom.
    Practically anything is acceptable if it is not mandatory. That’s the crux of the problem. The other stuff is window dressing.
    Except for the civilian security corps, or whatever the hell he’s calling it.
    FYI, the Posse Comitatus act forbids federal troops from acting in criminal matters. They can’t even put down a riot absent a declaration of martial law. That’s why the Guard, a state army, is first on scene and the regulars so rarely used.
    The huge civilian security corps will probably devolve to a quarter million snitches not covered by the Posse Comitatus act. Great.

    Just a quick question: Is there anybody here who really thinks this is a good idea if it impacted YOU? Didn’t think so. Thanks for the response.

  75. Ragnarok says:

    Margo,

    You keep missing the point with quite startling consistency. Perhaps you’d have better results if you deliberately tried to miss ’em?

  76. Margo/Mom says:

    The point being? That requiring community service as a part of education is somehow fundamentally different than requiring students to log in seat time, to study particular subjects, or to garner an education at all?

  77. Ragnarok says:

    Per Quincy:

    “Choose” and “mandate”, what part of the difference between these two words isn’t clear?

  78. Margo/Mom says:

    R:

    I reiterate. Given the many MANDATES that are already deeply entrenched in (public) education today, how is this one different?

  79. Margo –

    You say: “The point being? That requiring community service as a part of education is somehow fundamentally different than requiring students to log in seat time, to study particular subjects, or to garner an education at all?”

    The federal government has no power to require anyone to seek an education. The states only have the power to require minors seek an education. No one can force an adult into a classroom.

    Besides that, it comes back to the coerciveness of the federal government’s monopoly position in higher education. If they fund almost all (99.99%) the colleges, and therefore have regulatory authority over them, then it can reasonably be said that the requirement is being placed on anyone seeking a college education.

    I’ll grant you that no one has to get a college education. But that’s not the point. The point is that the federal government is abusing a monopoly power it created for itself to extract 100 hours per year from every person seeking a college education. If there were a reasonable alternative to federally-funded colleges, I wouldn’t be complaining.

    Oh, and if you can’t see the parallels between Microsoft using its monopoly power and the way Obama’s proposal would use the federal government’s, you’re just not looking hard enough.

  80. R:

    I reiterate. Given the many MANDATES that are already deeply entrenched in (public) education today, how is this one different?

    Here’s a hint, none of them are right simply because they exist, and none of the federal mandates exist in the Constitution.

  81. Ragnarok says:

    Hmm, so you’ve now admitted that this is forced, unpaid labour (“mandated service”), the opposite of volunteerism? That’s a start.

    Second: You can’t argue that the existence of other mandates justifies this one. Not so?

    Third: Considering the squawking from the Left about the “unfunded” mandates of NCLB, I would’ve expected you to attack this with great vigour.

  82. Margo/Mom says:

    R:

    I led off with a description of my personal distaste for both the term and the concept of “volunteerism.”

    I would argue that the educational benefits of community service justify its inclusion in school curriculum–just as the carnegie unit, as a rough measure of equivalency has justified mandates regarding “seat time,” and the benefits of an educated citizenry have justified mandated education (and the public health benefits of combatting disease have justified mandated innoculations, the dangers of untrained drivers have justifed mandated drivers tests, etc). It is analogous to many of these other mandates that most who have posted here appear to have no problem with (begging my earlier suggestions that perhaps the problem was the source, or something inherent within the particular concept of community service).

    While you may identify me as a member of the “Left,” with a certain set of pre-ordained attitudes (such as unfunded mandates of NCLB), I regard my opinions to be my own, with complete freedom to disagree (as I do) with those who charge that NCLB is an unfunded mandate.

  83. When I saw this, I immediately thought of the practical issues…who is going to get middle schoolers to and from volunteer work? I didn’t have a car until I graduated from college (living in a semi-rural area). I did some tutoring and organized/worked on some food drives, but my walking-distance options were limited. Maybe my time in various musical groups would count, but really it would seem unfair for me to count stuff I enjoy (or even teaching it to kids) the same as picking up trash.

    I’m now a mostly-at-home mom and I do more volunteer work than ever – tutoring and other work, all through my church. I also cook for sick folks, college church groups, etc. I’m thrilled to be able to do this, but the fact that I didn’t do as much when I was younger was not because I didn’t care – it was a lack of a car and other resources. Even if there were no other issues, I’d be hesitant to dump more obligations on folks who may not have the resources to handle them (and don’t get me started on how this might affect my community college students, who work and raise kids while taking classes).

  84. Richard Aubrey says:

    Margo.
    Would the benefits of community service be obvious to and in those who strongly disliked it?

    Both my kids were involved in various community service activities when in school. But if it were mandated, I’d insist they put up a stink. I’d pull them out of school.

    IMO, the wonderfulness of the draft is most obvious to those who were not drafted. You get to know a lot of people from all over the country. Ditto college. Different socio-economic classes. Ditto, plus, in late adolescence, most people aren’t mature enough to take any lessons.

    The exception is the determined liberal kid from a white background who goes into the Army neutral and comes out racist. There’s an epiphany for you.

  85. “and the public health benefits of combatting disease have justified mandated innoculations, the dangers of untrained drivers have justifed mandated drivers tests, etc”

    So these measures, which legitimately protect the public from harm (communicable diseases and death/injury due to unfit drivers) fall into the same category as a community service mandate? Wow.

    I think I understand why people fall for this ****. They can’t tell the difference between government proscribing things that would cause others injury and mandating things for people’s own good.

  86. Ragnarok says:

    “I would argue that the educational benefits of community service justify its inclusion in school curriculum…”

    What educational benefits? I doubt that this would amount to anything more than checking a box.

    As I said earlier: choice vs. forced unpaid labour.

    And for the record, I believe in volunteering, but I’ll resist any attempt to force me to “do good”.

  87. Andy Freeman says:

    > I would argue that the educational benefits of community service justify its inclusion in school curriculum

    What are the “educational benefits” of Meals on Wheels as distinct from those of working at McDonalds?

    If they have the same educational benefits, then why not let kids work at McDonalds to satisfy their “community service” requirement?

    I note that cleaning up parks is also community service. If the mandate is expanded to include doing my yard-work (which is just as educational), I’ll support it.

  88. mjtyson says:

    There’s the unspoken assumption of Obama and supporters that “community service” is a better way to spend time compared to other things a person could spend that time doing. That is what really goads me. That Obama and others have the audacity to not only elevate their own particular interests into moral goods, but then to make their interests our mandatory interests. I should not have to “prove” to anyone that any of my time is spent in a morally or ethically proper way. It’s oddly puritanical.

  89. Richard Aubrey says:

    Good point, MJT.
    Like the Puritans, they do not intend to leave you alone, not in the smallest part of your life.Like the Puritans, they appeal to a superior power–then God’s word, now their idea of the common good, against which none can argue–but the penalty now will probably be bankruptcy through legal fees than hanging.

  90. SuperSub says:

    Margo-
    I’d say that you analogies are a bit off the mark. In the cases you cited, the mandates had measureable effects that could not be reached though other measures.
    Immunizations drastically improved public health and are safe and effective… and the same effect could not be achieved through any other way. Piecemeal implementation of immunizations by cities, counties, or states would be ineffective also… the mandate must be universal.
    The Carnegie unit was established as a way to provide some evidence of learning in a nation that had tremendous growth in secondary education. Without some sort of universal standard, every new student would have to be individually evaluated for entrance to a school. Also, it is the concept of the Carnegie unit that allows for authentic or alternative forms of assessment to high-stakes testing… without it, all college-bound seniors would have to depend upon some sort of entrance examination.
    Driving licenses are also required for basic public safety and health, and the same effect could not be achieved through other methods.

    As for mandated community service… it does not have a measureable goal (how do you measure appreciation of volunteer work?) nor is a federal mandate required for it to occur (as many other have pointed out). In fact, the only measureable factor would be the amount of money the government would theoretically save by forcing citizens to perform basic labor.
    Service learning and educational internships (doctors, teachers, etc.) are different because their goals are measureable and usually test an individual’s knowledge of certain fields.
    And as for your “straw-man” argument against the examples of possible exceptions to acceptable community service… there is a huge body of evidence for over-regulation in just about every established law we have. There will be some types of “service” that most people would consider as volunteer work that will not be counted for one reason or another, either due to a lack of imagination or malice on the legislators’ part.

  91. 2 more questions – what about for real work like bagging groceries or working at Dunkin donuts? Secondly – wouldn’t the schools have to add more beaurocracy to track this volunteering? Since this isn’t most schools forte would they expect the teachers to do it? Or would the magical hopesy unicorns do it?

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  1. […] 5. Joanne Jacobs: Serve or flunk Barack Obama wants to make federal funds contingent on schools and colleges requiring students to perform community service. He proposes 50 hours a year in middle and high school and 100 hours a year in college. […]

  2. […] 5. Joanne Jacobs: Serve or flunk Barack Obama wants to make federal funds contingent on schools and colleges requiring students to perform community service. He proposes 50 hours a year in middle and high school and 100 hours a year in college. […]

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  4. […] like a noble idea, but a draft, is a draft, is a draft…an’ that ain’t good. 5. Joanne Jacobs: Serve or flunk Barack Obama wants to make federal funds contingent on schools and colleges requiring students to […]