Wednesday, July 23, 2008

When service becomes conscription....

What I find remarkable in all the coverage of Senator Barack Obama's discussion of his proposed national service agenda is that almost nobody ever quotes the part where the volunteering becomes, well, mandatory....

From the actual text of his speech in Colorado:

Finally, we need to integrate service into education, so that young Americans are called upon and prepared to be active citizens.

Just as we teach math and writing, arts and athletics, we need to teach young Americans to take citizenship seriously. Study after study shows that students who serve do better in school, are more likely to go to college, and more likely to maintain that service as adults. So when I'm President, I will set a goal for all American middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year, and for all college students to perform 100 hours of service a year. This means that by the time you graduate college, you'll have done 17 weeks of service.

We'll reach this goal in several ways. At 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. At the community level, we'll develop public-private partnerships so students can serve more outside the classroom.

I've got nothing against encouraging volunteerism--I have encouraged my own kids with all sorts of dire consequences, but, hey, they're my kids.*

Last I looked, the government was not their parents.

So what happens when their school is required to have a service program or lose Federal education funds?

I get a note sent home that says, "Greetings...." for the kids?

Then I send back my reply that says, "Sorry. No thanks. We'll choose our own forms of service in the Newton family, thank you."

What happens then? One parent, one child, no problem. What about fifty or 100 parents and their children? What happens to the school district where enough parents refuse to place their children at the service of the State so as to endanger consolidate grant funding under Title I? At a guess, some school boards move to make pseudo-service a graduation requirement.

It will happen, because in this I'm completely with J. D. Tuccille at Disloyal Opposition:

If I'm covered by the proposed national service requirement, I plan to refuse to comply. If I'm not covered, I plan to counsel those who are covered to refuse, and to help them do so.

*I have a strong foreboding that many non-Libertarians who read this will see a refusal to participate in required "service learning" as another example of Libertarian selfishness. Quite the contrary. From Scouts to Church groups to bell-ringing for the Salvation Army and many others, we have raised our children to see that they have a social obligation to service. But it is not, damn it, the government's role either to mandate such service or to direct it into specific channels.


Anonymous said...

I figure that one can either refuse to serve, or make that service objectionable - just treat it like it is...

Show up in slave chains and black-face - maybe a T-shirt with the 13th Amendment on it, overprinted with "Doesn't apply to students" - or "I'm only here for the financial aid money"

You get the idea... Or perhaps, depending on the rules for "servitude" do a service that involves protesting the rules requiring the service...


Drew80 said...

One of the problems of such a "service" program, of course, is defining precisely what is and what is not an acceptable "service". Will volunteer work in a nursing home be sanctioned and volunteer work in a church be unsanctioned?

These creepy, 60's-tinged ideas of Obama are very unsettling--and, of course, indescribably retrograde.


Anonymous said...

Okay... even though I think volunteering is great, I don't like the mandate. (okay, maybe I sorta do, Although, I don't see this becoming mandatory for the very reasons you state)

Funny, one of the things I liked most about Obama's healthcare plan was that it wasn't mandated. Go figure.

Now, don't get excited... I'm still lovin' me some Obama! ;-)

Steven H. Newton said...

If I were an Obama supporter this wouldn't be enough to push me away either, because you know what? It ain't going to happen. Americorps has been a joke since it started, and in the budget situation a Prez Obama would inherit, guess what? This is going to be non-essential, and it's not going to get done.