Posted by Devin Parker

Here's something that I feel uneasy about.

This is from, "The Office of the President-Elect". In the Agenda section of the website, under Service, the following goals are listed:

Expand Service-Learning in Our Nation's Schools: Obama and Biden will set a goal that all middle and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year. They will develop national guidelines for service- learning and will give schools better tools both to develop programs and to document student experience.

Isn't this involuntary servitude?

Likewise, there is a goal to "Require 100 Hours of Service in College", though with this one there is a promise to provide compensation in the form of "a new American Opportunity Tax Credit that is worth $4,000 a year".

Another thing that concerns me is the establishment of "a Classroom Corps to help teachers and students, with a priority placed on underserved schools". Given instances like this:

(and further discussed here), I worry about exactly what kind of education climate a government-appointed Classroom Corps would result in.

Didn't mean to go all conspiracy theory on you, but this raised some red flags in my mind.

This entry was posted on Friday, November 07, 2008 at Friday, November 07, 2008 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Wow—comparing requiring community service in high school with "involuntary servitude"? Dude.

That's one I can certainly get behind. Many high schools (including Rim) already require some community service, and for those from families who might never get the opportunity (or drudgery) to do something, I like that having to spend 12 hours a year helping someone else is a part of the learning process.

The "Classroom Corps" might be more worrying—we'll have to see how that one plays out. But if it helps students in our urban public schools develop some actual skills, it might be worth quite a lot. Besides, everything else about public schools is already "government appointed," so I'm not certain how this will differ.

2:09 PM

I'm going to have to go with Michael on the community service idea. I think it's great. However I will say that they are going to have to be careful as to what type of community service. And parents should always have input and the option to ask for a different type/location. One thing that does make me concerned is when the schools are supposed to find the time for it. What activity/class are they going to give up next, math or social studies, perhaps civics? Because we know they're not giving up the afterschool sports and music and art have been off the class list for years now.

The video of the teacher was disturbing. She's obviously biased and was out of line. Both in her negative reaction to the McCain supporters and her telling the child that supporting McCain could mean her father would be in Iraq for another, did she say, 100 years. That was outrageous enough but then for the teacher to claim she did "not" react negatively was perposterous.

6:54 PM

I totally agree that that teacher was out of line, and her defense (if the video was not "doctored," as she claimed—which it didn't seem to be to my untrained eye), was pitiful.

I'm not sure what that has to do with the proposed "Classroom Corps," though, unless somehow, Mr. Devin, you're assuming they're going to be some kind of partisan political thought police (which would be worrying). I don't see even a suggestion of that, though.

And utterly off the subject, the verification word I have for this entry is "robble." I swear. The Hamburglar has hacked your site!

10:53 PM

Stabble, stabble...

(Sorry - private joke)

Like I said, I might just be in a paranoid state of mind today. It's possible that this may work out to be a very beneficial set of programs; I can imagine how putting our youth to work in such a way could achieve quite a bit. It's the mandatory aspect of it that concerns me. Aside from making the time in childrens' schedules for both school and time with the family and community service (and this is something that you can speak to with far more authority than me, for obvious reasons), isn't there already an issue in public schools regarding low performance? Given how overscheduling kids' lives has become an issue in recent times, wouldn't this worsen the situation? And does this extend across the board to people who homeschool or attend private schools, or is it just limited to federally-funded schools?

I suppose that would be part of the purpose of the Classroom Corps - to improve the quality of education first-hand. But who would fill these roles? Would it be someone like the woman in the video, who behaves as a sort of dispenser of official party thought? If these are government employees, I guess they might be placed under sharper scrutiny for such things. Or perhaps they wouldn't perform any such role, simply working "behind the scenes" as a sort of teacher's aide? I don't know - obviously it's all vague propositions at this point and there won't be a lot more known until details are provided.

Still - even during the Depression, with the formation of work organizations like the ones my grandfather worked for, joining wasn't compulsory (at least, not to my knowledge - correct me if I'm wrong!), and there was compensation for the work. I know it's not the same thing - we're not talking about literally starving students - but something about this really rubs me the wrong way.

In addition, as Marilyn mentioned, how much choice would there be on the part of the parents/child/student in what sort of volunteer work they do? Would working in a church count? Or would that be considered a breach of separation of church and state, since this is state-mandated labor? I assume that they would be working in their own neighborhoods; or would they be sent to different ones than the one they reside in?

I'm not asking rhetorical questions; I really do wonder about how this will take shape, and I freely admit that it's not without a degree of concern.

1:58 AM

You're right about this all being vague—at this point, it will really depend on the details.

I can say that those schools that already require public service (which are many of them) allow students to essentially pick whatever service they'd like, writing their own proposals about what they would do with some review to make sure it's actual service of some kind. ("I'm helping to keep kids like me off the street by staying inside and playing Wii all day.") There are generally opportunities in the local area as well as in other communities. At Rim, it's part of the senior project that the students have to submit if they want to graduate, and the teachers I've talked to suggest that it's often something that really changes students' lives. I know that currently working with a church's program is allowed if it's providing a community service (like working in a church-based soup kitchen). At Valley, we requires students in the Honors program to perform community service as well, and we attempt to be as liberal as possible in allowing students to do what they'd like.

The timing issue is one to bear in mind, but right now students aren't overworked (I don't think), but just under-taught. Besides, as I mentioned, 50 hours of service in high school works out to a bit over 12 hours a year, and I just can't see that as being a burden. That's an hour and a few minutes a month during the school year.

The mandatory nature would seem necessary if you were going to get any but the most naturally selfless kids to participate, anyway—and they're probably already volunteering. Like any other homework, requiring it be completed is generally the only way to get it done.

In reference to the Classroom Corps, I just wasn't sure what made you think this example of an off-base teacher would in some way connect to that idea. Any individual within the school system can go rogue; we certainly hear such stories, but they stand out because they are the exception, not the rule. Most teachers are far more even-handed when discussing such issues.

The Conservation Corps formed during the Depression were specifically created to provide jobs and incomes for people who did not have them. It was an employment program, and the remuneration was the whole point. The work was useful to the country, certainly, but the main point was to get people some money to survive.

9:28 AM

I'm a little hazy at the moment, thanks to my first cold of the school year, but I'll throw out a couple of comments and chew on the rest.

That video was sooooo disturbing, and is exactly the reason that all the teachers at my site wouldn't touch the election discussions with a ten foot pole. I wasn't even comfortable talking about the issues or who stood for what, and I did not even allude to how I was voting. Kids are influenced by those who are in authority in their lives, whether they want to admit it or wrong. Those kids were too young to be having that kind of a discussion. My students talked about how they wanted certain propositions to go (especially 8) and which candidate they wanted, but I just listened.

I haven't had time yet to look and see exactly what this Classroom Corps idea is, but it makes me nervous and angry at the same time. The idea of community service sounds ok to me, as long as they make it open enough to include a wide variety of things. If anything related to church is going to be excluded, then that's not right or fair.

My biggest issues with the community service thing are: funding, and enforcement. What are they going to do with kids who don't fulfill the requirement? Do they not graduate? Do they get their high school equivelance but not their diploma (just like the kids who pass high school but not the CAHSEE)? As far as funding goes, who's going to be in charge of monitoring and supervising these community service requirements? Is it adding another duty onto the plate of an already overworked counselor, or is it going to be a new position that we have to pay for which will take the job of another teacher that's actually NEEDED? I'm incredibly bitter about the whole budget/funding/NCLB issue right now, and getting worse. So, unless they're actually willing to provide more funding for the things that we actually need and give us the freedom to do our jobs that we actually went to school for (unlike those making these decisions), don't add more requirements or another area to take away from our already pathetic funding.

As far as the college funding for community service, that's a great idea. I'm not sure where they're going to get the money from, but it's a good idea. As a part of my degree from University of Redlands, I was actually required to do a certain number of hours of community service. I didn't mind except for the fact that when you calculate it out, I PAID to do community service in order to get my degree. So the idea of having had the government help pay for a portion of my education in exchange for that instead of me paying for it appeals to me quite a bit.

I know that big changes need to be made to our education system, but this seems a ridiculous place to start. We need more money, we need perhaps more educated oversight in how districts spend their money (my district's board is ludicrous), and we need to do some radical things if we want to improve our educational standing in the world. I'd like to see someone actually willing to do it instead of throwing out more fluff or added requirements without thinking out HOW it's going to be accomplished.

3:56 PM

Too tired to comment coherently - but in regards to the community service and the separation of church/state - when our clients are given a community service requirement as part of their court-ordered probation or deferral program (often on minor misdemeanor charges, the DA's will drop the charges upon proof of a specific number of community service hours), they can choose whatever non-profit organization they want. MOST folks tend to volunteer at their churches, or at local rescue missions/food banks, which tend to be run by churches around here. I've never heard of anyone bringing up the issue of separation of church/state.

I think that mandatory community service for high schoolers is a lovely idea. We had to do it through our church as a prerequisite for Confirmation - and although 30 or 40 hours sounds like a lot, it's really not if you spread it out over a year - or two, or three, or four. IMHO, anything that gets kids in the habit of interacting with their community - be it church or park service or nursing home or WHATEVER - is a Very Good Thing.

9:16 PM

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