Friday, January 16, 2009

The "Community Service" Injustice

President-elect Barack Obama promised to use the federal government’s increasing control over public education to compel students to perform a minimum number of hours of so-called “community service” (service to the state, actually) as a condition for graduation. But that scary Orwellian practice is already here. The colorful and always thought-provoking Thomas Sowell has nailed the sinister essence of such programs. Here are some excerpts from his recent article, Freedom and the Left.

The arrogance of commandeering young people's time, instead of leaving them and their parents free to decide for themselves how to use that time, is exceeded only by the arrogance of imposing your own notions as to what is or is not a service to the community.

Working in a homeless shelter is widely regarded as "community service"-- as if aiding and abetting vagrancy is necessarily a service, rather than a disservice, to the community.

What "entitlements" for some people mean is forcing other people to work for their benefit. As a bumper sticker put it: "Work harder. Millions of people on welfare are depending on you."

The most fundamental problem, however, is not which particular activities students are required to engage in under the title of "community service."

The most fundamental question is: What in the world qualifies teachers and members of college admissions committees to define what is good for society as a whole, or even for the students on whom they impose their arbitrary notions?

What expertise do they have that justifies overriding other people's freedom?

What lessons do students get from this, except submission to arbitrary power?

Supposedly students are to get a sense of compassion or noblesse oblige from serving others. But this all depends on who defines compassion. In practice, it means forcing students to undergo a propaganda experience to make them receptive to the left's vision of the world.

In other words, people on the left want the right to impose their idea of what is good for society on others-- a right that they vehemently deny to those whose idea of what is good for society differs from their own.

The essence of bigotry is refusing to others the rights that you demand for yourself. Such bigotry is inherently incompatible with freedom, even though many on the left would be shocked to be considered opposed to freedom.

Government-imposed community service mandates are completely contrary to the proper purpose of education, and of a free society. They inculcate in children the premise of obedience, rather than independence. But education should prepare children to become self-confident, purpose-driven, rational adults able to act upon their own judgement, rather than to submit to the authority of others. The coercive nature of the “community service” mandates undermines the very qualities that make for responsible adults. Coercion and education are, in fact, mutually exclusive. Education, in the sense of developing in the child a sense of self-generated purposeful action and an independent mind, ends where coercion begins. (Coercion, in this context, means the initiation of force. It should not be confused with proper discipline, based upon objective rules of conduct that the child is able to understand such as respecting the rights of others or of the teacher’s guidance.)

Viewed from the perspective of the motives of the peddlers of “community service”, this is perfectly consistent with their statist ambitions. A collective society requires an obedient, unthinking population focused on “others”, rather than independent reasoning individuals willing to make their own judgements and focused on their own self-interest.

The fact is that the best “service” any student can do for the “community” is to pursue a productive career in a field one enjoys. Being himself a member of the “community”, a young person working toward the achievement of his own personal goals, well-being, and happiness is the essence of serving the betterment of “society”. A productive, successful career means simply this; the creation of life-enhancing values that others are willing to purchase from you for their own betterment, even as their purchase advances your own life.

Helping others is a peripheral issue, to be engaged in not out of a sense of duty or coercion but of good will. Charity is a consequence of productiveness and personal happiness, as well as being a voluntary choice based upon one’s own values. Anything else is slavery. The world is not filled with helpless souls in constant need of servants. The needy are a small minority in any relatively free country such as America, and most of those are able-bodied, of sound mind, and are “needy” by their own choice and actions…hardly deserving of the sacrifice of the education of the young. At any rate, the need of others does not and should not constitute a ball and chain around the ankles of the ambitions of anyone, young or old.

Thomas Sowell’s insightful article focuses attention on an issue that, on the surface, seems silly and benign, but is anything but. At best, valuable education hours will be wasted and, at worst, the youthful spirit of life’s anticipation will be hampered and stunted by the altruistic message that one’s life is meaningless except as a means to the betterment of others…which is an attack on self-esteem and, thus, the beginning of the destructive entitlement mentality.

No comments: