Change.gov once said:
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.
That bit of bald faced authoritarianism made a lot of people absolutely furious, myself included. If we have a bunch of people waltzing into the whitehouse who do not appreciate the full implications of the use of the word "require" by a policy maker we are in very serious trouble.
While I wonder whether separating the act of service from any sense of agency defeats much of the purpose of the exercise, characterizing this proposal as "bald faced authoritarianism" is a bit over the top. The "Call to Service" is a time-worn transition idea. Perhaps President Bush's community service initiative was more to your liking?
In 2002, the USA Freedom Corps, a coordinating council and White House office, was launched to help Americans answer President George W. Bush's nationwide call to service.
Certainly one can question the necessity for, and appropriateness of, a federally mandated service-learning graduation requirement, but this idea has a long history, and in some school districts such programs are already in place. The federal government has been funding these programs for years now.
Here's a summary of the situation:
A 50-state policy scan conducted by the Education Commission of the States in March 2001 found that:
* Seven states (AR, CT, DE, MN, OK, RI, WI) permit community service or service-learning activities to be applied toward high school graduation requirements.
* One state (MD) includes service-learning as a requirement for high school graduation.
* Eight states (AR, CA, GA, ID, IL, LA, MT, UT) have policies regarding rules, regulations, and the creation or purpose of programs related to service-learning.
* Ten states (CA, CT, FL, IN, MI, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX) plus the District of Columbia encourage the use of service-learning as a mechanism for increasing student achievement and engagement.
* Six states (ID, MI, MN, NJ, NM, VT) include service-learning in the state's education standards.
* Six states (MA, MN, MS, NJ, NM, VT) have policies regarding the authorization of funding appropriations and the creation of service-learning activities and programs.
* Twenty-three states have no mention of service-learning in any state policy.
So the prevailing norm is to let local districts decide, but for the federal government to lend its support to any state or district that opts to require or encourage "service-learning".
For more detail, see, in Maryland (*):
In July 1992, Maryland's State Board of Education took a bold step; it mandated service-learning participation as a graduation requirement (see the historical timeline). They passed the following mandate as part of Code of Maryland Regulations to enact the service-learning requirement:
General Instructional Programs 13A.03.02.06
D. Student Service. Students shall complete one of the following: ....
(1) seventy-five hours of student service that includes preparation, action, and reflection components and that, at the discretion of the local school system, may begin during the middle grades;
(2) a locally-designed program in student service that has been approved by the State Superintendent of Schools.
The mandate took effect in the Fall of 1993, impacting the graduating class of 1997. Every public school student in Maryland will be involved in service-learning as a condition of graduation. This includes all special education students, unless exceptions are specifically noted in their individual education plans (IEPs). No other state has a similar requirement yet, although many private schools and public school districts do have service requirements.
In 2004, the LAUSD advised:
While community service has long been a part of school activities through service, club, student government, and leadership activities, it is often an “add-on” that is not integrated into the core curriculum. Through service-learning, a service activity can be made into an educational experience, directly tied to the standards.
Here's the Long Beach district, back in 2003:
A proposal to add a service learning graduation requirement for 26,000 high school students in California's third-largest school district this week was unanimously approved by the Board of Education. It will link classroom instruction with the real-world work of community service.
Starting with the class of 2007, all students must complete 40 hours of service learning in order to qualify for a high school diploma. An estimated 60 percent of local high school students already contribute at least this much community service.
Other major school districts from Chico to Chicago have successful service learning requirements. Some private and parochial schools have required students to contribute community service for years.
Here is Broward County, in Florida:
Students, who wish to earn a Standard Diploma, must meet the graduation requirement of 40 service learning hours plus a written reflection. Students should be encouraged to use their service learning experiences as discussion or written topics whenever appropriate as a part of class assignments.
I like the idea of formally recognizing the efforts of students who choose to serve, whether by folding it into existing systems of tiered diplomas, or by some other means. But I'm generally not in favor of a mandatory, one-size-fits-all requirement, whether at the local, state, or federal level. My opposition derives from the view that Requiring undermines rather than encourages the Spirit of service. There is something to be said for 'helping' people over the initial hurdle of engagement, in much the same way that "Motor Voter" laws might encourage a few more people to vote. I might support a federal requirement for 1 hour of service, if there was some evidence that it "worked" (i.e., that people volunteered additional hours of their own choosing).
RE: Changes at Change.gov