Friday, November 7, 2008

A little more on our new president's plans for your kids

Now what country and leader in the past had that youth corp?
Remember how that turned out?
And what if a kid or his parents refuse?


J.D. Tuccille

When I wrote in September about Barack Obama's plan to mandate fifty hours of community service for high school students, I had to pull together two different documents to make the case. One was the national service plan (PDF) on his campaign Website, which said that "Schools that require service as part of the educational experience create improved learning environments and serve as resources for their communities." The other was a speech he gave in December 2007, promising that "[a]t the middle and high school level, we'll make federal assistance conditional on school districts developing service programs, and give schools resources to offer new service opportunities."

I thought the overall policy direction contained there was painfully clear, and so did editors at the Providence Journal and the East Valley Tribune, who ran versions of that column. But I got some flack from people who found wiggle room in the need to draw a line between those two statements.

Well, no more. On the president-elect's official transition Website,, the "America Serves" page now contains the following language:

The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year. Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.

No extrapolation needed, thank you. The policy intent is now written out plain to see.

Yes, I'm aware that fifty hours of mandatory community service hardly rises to the level of a military draft. It's not even the mandatory universal citizen service his new chief of staff wants to inflict on everybody between the ages of 18 and 25. But it is a top-down mandate by the federal government that students perform state-approved labor.

I personally object to such requirements even when they come from the local school district. I want my kid to learn to volunteer and to contribute to the community, but that means volunteer, and for causes he picks, to the extent that he believes is appropriate, with a little nudging from within the family, not from bureaucrats. Government mandates destroy the whole idea of volunteerism, and the inevitable insistence that service be performed for an approved organization or cause (which is the case with most existing service requirements) is, frankly, a bit totalitarian.

Our children, as well as ourselves, are independent individuals. We are not resources to be drawn upon by politicians. Nor do we owe our labor to the government.

We've had enough of authoritarianism under the Bush administration. We don't need to begin the Obama administration with a dose of involuntary servitude.

posted by J.D. Tuccille

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