Over at the National Youth Rights Association forums there is a conversation bubbling about school-mandated community service. I couldn’t help but enter the fray this morning as the convo drifted from labeling service as socialist to promoting the idea with caveats. The following is adapted from a response I shared there:
In my experience I have found that school-mandated community service is generally intended to help students get out-of-the-classroom learning experiences while contributing something to the greater society they are members of.
I’m afraid that too many schools mandate it without ever really teaching why and how it matters. When I have helped adults in schools think about it these types of projects they usually think they are helping improve the public perception of young people, which could be something youth may appreciate. Think about it: Smashing the popular perceptions of youth being narcissistic, apathetic, and/or indifferent to the problems in the world around them cannot be that difficult when there are young people out in the community actually doing things that make the community a better place to live.
We have all heard about the ways volunteerism has shot up in today’s generation of youth. The last election cycle we celebrated the increased #s of voters among the youth who can vote. And increasingly we’re hearing about students who are actually improving their schools, improving their communities and improving the world we live in. Did these trends happen out of nowhere? Do these behaviors get established by accident? I would suggest, as ugly as it may seem, the school-mandated community service may at least be partly to blame for this reality.
Instead of seeing mandatory community service as an oppressive mechanism of the state designed to thwart and otherwise repress young people, is there a way young people can re-envision their role and challenge their schools to make those experiences substantive and meaningful? I think so. Teach me.