Study: Service mandate cuts volunteering

Maryland’s community service requirement — high school students must complete 75 hours to earn a diploma — may reduce their later volunteering, according to a new study. The mandate increased volunteering by 8th graders, but decreased it for 12th graders, concludes Involuntary Volunteering. Instead of creating lifelong service, the graduation requirement may discourage voluntary volunteering.

“If this is for school, how do we know [students] are considering this as community service, rather than just homework for school?” said the study’s author, Sara E. Helms, an assistant professor of economics at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. “One of the interpretations that is more convincing is, maybe we are substituting this [requirement] for being self-motivated. Does it dilute the signal value of volunteering?”

“Service learning” — students earn credit for volunteering in their communities — is expanding, reports Education Week.  “In 2011, 19 states allowed districts to award credit toward graduation for volunteering or service learning, and seven states allowed districts to require service for graduation.”

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  1. Fortunately, my kids graduated and the younger kids moved before they were affected by MD’s mandatory volunteering (a contradiction in terms if there ever was one). At least at that time, there were pretty strict rules about what counted; nothing associated with a church or synagogue, even through a sponsored Scout troop was one of the big ones. IIRC, it was OK to help with progressive causes, but nothing like Right to Life etc. The paperwork drill favored large organizations that were willing to do it, as opposed to small organizations or individuals. We knew many kids who volunteered through religious organizations and locally, but it didn’t count. Our kids did unpaid yard work/snow removal/ various household chores etc. for people unable to do their own, but that couldn’t have been approved. Such issues aside, schools aren’t doing so well academically that they should be taking on additional responsibilities, let alone ideologically driven ones.

    • I had to complete the requirement. Church stuff didn’t count, free babysitting to harried new moms didn’t count. But acting as a “runner” at the National Press Club’s annual Book/Author festival? That counted. The requirement encouraged flashy resume boosting acts over actual service to communities and neighbors.

      It was a total waste and, frankly, not any of the school’s business. If we want to encourage kids to be community-minded, it needs to happen at home and in the neighborhood. Mandatory volunteer time doesn’t teach civic virtue anymore than making license plates in the state penitentiary teaches ‘work ethic.;

      And most HS kids see school as closer to prison than to ‘community.’

  2. I could be OK with schools choosing to count volunteering as an elective, similar to work-study or vo-tech classes. Unless they had trustworthy on-site supervisors, though, I don’t know how they’d ensure that the kids actually did something useful. The last thing that schools need to encourage is more resume-building with high profile but useless fluff for kids who have connections.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Way too much subjective choice on the subject of what counts and what does not. Clearly, left-wing stuff is favored. If a parent objected, his kid could be graded down and the grade could not be compared to objective scores on tests.

  4. “Service learning” — students earn credit for volunteering in their communities — is expanding

    Orwell alert: If it’s required, they’re not “volunteering”.