On School-Based Community Service — A Dissenting View

Strong parental involvement is essential in education, public or private. And, true, public schools need to do better. But while public (government) schools have been deprecated by many education critics — particularly because they have repeatedly shown that increasing per-pupil spending has not resulted in the expected academic return and because of persistent disciplinary and scholastic problems — public schools, at least in Middle Georgia, have one big plus over many of our private or independent schools:

They do not require compulsory community service for graduation. Most independent schools in Middle Georgia do. In fact, students must complete 75 to 300 hours of “community service (CS)” before graduation from high school.

How, you ask, can anyone complain about having young people serve in their communities, allowing them to give of themselves to those who are less fortunate and assist our fellowmen in need? Certainly, in the short term it’s an excellent public relations requirement that could preemptively disarm critics of private education. But is it really good in the long term for students and our communities?

Rooted in dictatorship

First, compulsory community service has its root in authoritarianism and collectivism — e.g., the Total State of Benito Mussolini (compassion fascism), the Soviet Communism of Lenin and Stalin, Nazi Germany (Hitler Youth), the Little Red Book of Mao-Tse-Tung (the Red Guards), and in my native Cuba, the Young Pioneers of dictator Fidel Castro.

Community service is about teaching the young to conform in society — for the ultimate benefit of the State.

Second, CS is obligatory, not freely given. It is not charity. It is not altruism. It is compulsion, and thus deprived of genuine good faith and voluntarism.

It may do more harm than good. It teaches students to submit and not to think for themselves. Discipline to facilitate learning and respect for authority are one thing; blind obedience and forced labor are another.

Moreover, a country that already has an abundance of freely giving volunteers (over 90 million citizens) for humanitarian and other projects and which donates billions of dollars a year to philanthropy does not need to force children to “volunteer” in obligatory CS.

As Thomas Sowell wrote in Human Events a year or so ago, the actual theme of CS is “compulsory submission” where students are used as “pawns in a propaganda program, which is more in keeping with what happens in totalitarian societies.” He is correct!

CS teaches conformity

Rather than engendering a sense of true philanthropy and charity, as is the case with volunteering for good works carried out disinterestedly by churches, synagogues and other benevolent institutions of society, school compulsory community service teaches students to conform and to surrender personal liberty.

Since it was forced upon them, many students will be adverse to it when they grow up. Unlike the Boy Scouts, whose purpose is to teach benevolence as much as the outdoors, schools should be institutions of learning and the acquisition of knowledge. They should not serve as conduits to teach students blind submission to authority. They should not force students to perform CS not freely given.

It’s not by chance that Karl Marx’s 8th plank of the Communist Manifesto promulgates “equal liability of all to labor,” and the 10th plank, the establishment of industrial armies and the combination of education with labor for industrial production. From privately sponsored CS to state-sponsored obligatory national service, there is just a small dangerous step.

Certainly national service was not what our Founding Fathers intended for a free people endowed by their Creator with the precious natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Independent (private) schools in Middle Georgia should discard this authoritarian notion, this collectivist requirement, and instead promote true, genuine acts of unselfish, voluntary, individual philanthropy, while continuing their tradition of high academic standards.

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria Jr., M.D., a Macon physician, is editor-in-chief of the Medical Sentinel of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.

© 2001 The Macon Telegraph Publishing Co.