As I’ve noted before, although merely (and gratefully) comfortable myself, I live in an affluent community. I am a Marin resident, after all. In response to this affluence, the local middle and high schools, both public and private, have all jumped on the bandwagon to require “community service” as a prerequisite for grade promotion and graduation. Depending on the grade level, children have to perform six to sixteen hours of “volunteer” work per year.
Just this year, our local school upped the ante by integrating community service directly into the science curriculum. In the second trimester, the students were required to choose from causes — many of which were politically correct, such as anti-nuke, pro-green, anti-gun, etc. — to research. Although I wasn’t pleased with the menu, I didn’t mind the project. It required the children to hunt for data, analyze the data, and write up a report, which included recommendations for dealing with the “problem” — all of which struck me as suitably academic in nature. This trimester, however, the students are required to “act” on the report. That is, to the extent that they’d identified a “problem” and come up with a “solution,” their third trimester grade depends upon their implementing that solution. To that end, my child’s teacher actually signed my daughter up at an internet website to fund raise for a specific cause.
I was on the phone to the principal about five minutes after learning about what the teacher did. I explained to him that neither my child nor I would be fundraising for any causes the school selects. I admit that it’s a bit of a gray area politically. California students cannot be forced to fund-raise directly for the school itself. I’m willing to argue, though, that the prohibition against fund-raising extends to being forced — for a grade — to raise funds for a cause the school selects. The principal was, as always, very pleasant and conciliatory, but I don’t think he quite understands the real issue behind my outrage.
What I explained to him, repeatedly, and what seemed to go over his head, repeatedly, is that I, as the parent, am responsible for my children’s social development, including whether my kids develop a social conscience. If I want them to be spoiled, selfish brats, that’s my prerogative as a parent.
The school’s responsibility is to educate them with information. I understand, more than most, that the information selected will necessarily have an impact on the children’s belief systems (they’ve all been green indoctrinated, regardless of the ostensible subject matter of a given class, and their American history program struggles valiantly not to be too negative about America), but the fact remains that there is still an academic gloss overlaying the traditional subject matter teaching. This forced volunteerism, however, has nothing to do with traditional education, and everything to do with usurping the parents’ role when it comes to imparting values to a child.
As it happens, I do substantial amounts of volunteer work, so I am constantly modeling the virtues of volunteer work for my children. We also speak about those less fortunate than we are and, in past years, my children have been expected to contribute 50% of their gift money to a charity of their choice. I can make them do that because I’m their mother. For a public school to make similar demands on the children oversteps what should be the boundary between a parent, on the one hand, and a public school, on the other.
The most interesting thing about all of this is that, based on my informal polling of my children and their friends, is that the school’s efforts are backfiring. The children I know litter with impunity, never turn out lights, and can’t be bothered with recycling. Having had green-ism force fed to them for their entire lives, they are jaded about it, and do not want to be coerced. It’s true that, when they grow up, they’ll almost certainly hew to the Democrat party simply because their education has been aligned with that party, but they won’t be true believers. They’ll act reflexively, without believing anything at all. (I, of course, am working as hard as I can to stand as a bulwark against this Democrat party indoctrination, but few in my area disagree with the ideology underlying their children’s education.)
As for the enforced volunteerism, the kids are wise to that too. I got an earful from several kids in my carpool complaining bitterly about being forced to do community service as a prerequisite for their grades. They understand that, if you’re forced to do something, as they are because of their grades, than the activity is not true volunteer work. Further, they consider the community service requirement an onerous burden that is to be avoided at all costs. To that end, they routinely engage in whatever scams they can to have labeled as “community service” something that cannot in any way be considered traditional charitable work. Thanks to mandatory “volunteer service” (or, as I call it, “community servitude”), the children I know are disinclined to do any type of volunteer work and much inclined to engage in scams and cheats.
UPDATE: And with perfect timing comes a story about the Obama administration encouraging less actual education and more Leftist activism.