Should Americans Be Required to Serve? Update = Probably Not!

Update 3: Thanks for the mention, Instapundit! Here is the original page with the requirement language intact, so that it is not airbrushed into oblivion.

Update: (!!!) Change was the Mantra of the Obama campaign, and within 12 hours, the office of the president-elect has already changed the language on their AMERICASERVES website from requiring community service to setting a goal for community service. Already the mandate is softening. It got me thinking, though. I spent a good thirty minutes blogging about this subject today; I wonder if the time spent blogging on this plan on my blog that is accessible by the entire internet community is worth .5 AMERICASERVES credits? Also, check out my plan for the AMERICASERVES Cap and Trade system.

That’s a nice perque when you’re running a government entirely online: if you throw something out there that is all jacked up, you just update your site, and tons of people don’t notice!

President – Elect Obama intends to expand existing civilian national service organizations, and add a mandatory service requirement:

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.

My first take on this initiative is that the required part will disappear pretty quickly; the Democratic base may be fired up about impressing  6th graders into government service for a week every year, but the intrusiveness of such a program would no doubt be met with fierce resistance from the right and libertarian-minded independents. Right now, surprisingly, people like Tom Friedman and other center-leftists think this is a great idea.

I have trouble fathoming this, to be honest. The Federal Government is going to require college students to serve the government for nearly three months  while they are earning their undergraduate degrees? This isn’t much to ask of a college student, unless he has to work 40 + hours a week during the summer and part time at school to make ends meet, and if he is a political science major, not an electrical engineering or pre-med student who barely has enough time to sleep after studying, let alone work the kitchen of the local homeless shelter.

How will the middle school mandatory service program work? When the sixth grader finishes her 50th hour of scrubbing the floors at the local nursing home for the year, will she go to the AMERICASERVES headquarters to get her paperwork stamped COMPLETE by a paid (probably unionized) AMERICASERVES civil servant? Or will she just log on to and update her account? What if she does not have a computer?

Oh yeah, what if I don’t want my 13 year old son or daughter to work for the government, or to dictate the way I contribute to my community? Am I out of luck?

Freedom is the ability to do what you want to do, when you want to do it.  If tomorrow the government requires you to do something new, whether it is through paying taxes, or providing your time and work, then tomorrow you will not be quite as free as you are today.

UPDATE: Harvard University political philosopher Michael Sandel, extolling President-elect Obama’s call for a national service program,  said that “Obama’s campaign tapped a dormant civic idealism, a hunger among Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves, a yearning to be citizens again”; look at this wonderful civics lesson provided in a Fayetteville, North Carolina public school:

Is a taxpayer investment of millions (billions?) of dollars and the mandate of weeks or months of community service going to erase the damage done by the ignorant/incompetent teachers of this country? Probably not.


64 thoughts on “Should Americans Be Required to Serve? Update = Probably Not!

  1. Thanks for your wonderful comment at my blog. There was something very fishy about “Educator’s” claims about the military, and I’m glad you addressed her as forcefully as you did.

  2. nicedeb,

    thanks, for the nice comments, for actually looking at my blog (you are about the third visitor, including my mom, ha ha!) and for having an insightful blog yourself. Keep up the good work!


  3. They may have deleted or airbrushed out the ‘required’ bit,but the original intent was clear….and it speaks volumes about Obozo’s mind set and ideology

  4. I think you’re right, but it almost seems too easy of an issue for the right to pummel them on, from a variety of angles.

  5. I think a mandatory community service requirement could be called the “Slave for a Day Program.” It would take slightly more than one slave day per month to satisfy Obama’s requirement.

  6. Thanks for your insightful comments on my blog, much appreciated!

    I may be getting to this entry late, as it now includes updates which greatly alter the premise of community service to which prompted you to blog in the first place.

    I’ll play devil’s advocate for just a moment: to improve our economy, political system and utter lack of bipartisan cooperation, Obama and others have said — rightly so — that it will require sacrifice on the part of all American citizens.

    While the cited community service ‘mandate’ has already been reworded, the fear or ire raised by such a mandate (in general) would suggest to me that many Americans agree sacrifices are required to solve our problems… as long as some one else does the sacrificing.

    If ‘required’ community service is outside one’s comfort zone, wait till the economy collapses and our record unemployment doubles while we sit at home waiting for delivery from our failings — that will be true discomfort and none will get to sidestep it by preference or their busy Day-Planner schedule.

    Obama has proposed time and again about giving tuition tax credits to college students in exchange for community service. Your point about working umpteen hours each week on top of college studies would, of course, be lessened if said student didn’t have to work so hard to pay for college themselves. Less work to pay for education, more time to devote in part to community service in repayment that tuition help. To argue only half of that equation is misleading.

    If the mandate has already been watered down or out, then there’s really nothing to worry about. But America sure could use a highly suggested booster shot of community spirit, of local effort to improve neighborhoods, and yes of some selfless sweat and elbow grease given in a few hours to help others and thus ourselves.

    The impulses toward selfish isolation and civic withdrawal have created some highly damaging problems in our society — yet taking opposite actions can also reverse these trends.

    I quite agree that to inspire is much better than to mandate, and no doubt such a program would be more effective (and popular) were citizens inspired to serve by our national leader’s example and invitation. It will certainly make a most welcome contrast to our prior example imploring rampant consumerism and civil divisiveness.

    True community service will never be convenient and it will always take time away from something else we could be doing — the point is to make such efforts a benefit to the one giving as well as those receiving. I think that is a national ideal worth pursuing and encouraging. It certainly is the ideological opposite of “slavery” in every way.

  7. Sheesh, weitzpaper, that’s some Orwellian bent you got there.
    “ others and thus ourselves.”
    Service is Freedom! War is Peace!

    “But America sure could use a highly suggested booster shot of community spirit, of local effort to improve neighborhoods, and yes of some selfless sweat and elbow grease given in a few hours ..”
    Well, I have 40 acres of cotton that ain’t pickin’ itself. How about you come over and help me pick it. And I’m not paying you for it. And I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. But hey, it’s not slavery.

    Of course, maybe it’s not ‘mandatory’.

    “Nice diploma ya got goin’ there, kid”, said the broken-nosed gov’t official, “be a shame to have sumthin’ happen to it, if you don’t ‘volunteer'”.

  8. It’s not airbrushing. It was rewritten to fit the language that fits the “service” page under the “issues” section on the site. The original language was inconsistent with the actual plan that was outlined on that page. The college community service has always been tied into the 4,000 tuition credit, but as an option. Obama routinely mentioned it in his speeches, and even his DNC speech.

  9. When Barack Obama worked with William Ayers on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, they supported organizations that were controlled by them or had ideologically compatible people in charge. So the money did not go to Chicago Algebra project, it went to Black and Native American self-esteem improvement organizations. These organizations tried to make various ethnic groups feel better by saying they were at the center of the universe.

    “Community Service” seems like a hardly veiled version of this same idea. Your “community service” is ACORN. Your “community service” is helping one of those self esteem programs. Your community service is not, in other words, working on projects that are politically neutral. It’s a way for him to consolidate power and indoctrinate children, at a national level.

    In short, mandatory community service means mandatory liberalism, and woe be the person with an independent mind.

    It seems superficially reasonable to ask for something in return when the government gives you loans or scholarships. But it’s very dangerous when the content of the programs is likely to be determined by Bill Ayers and his ilk, as I am certain it will be.


  10. Hey weitzpaper, why don’t we get all those homeless people to start feeding themselves in the homeless kitchen.

  11. Leave my kids out of the Obama brownshirt brigade, they already help those who are less fortunate on their own, without a mandatory volunteer program.

  12. Oh please!
    I am so very tired of this drivel. I know more people in my church and surrounding community that already do far more for each other and in helping those in need through actual “hands on” and also with money if needed.
    We give a “hand up” whenever and wherever there is a need.
    There is joy in knowing that you are making a real difference and I sure do NOT need the government coming in and telling me or others that I know are helping that we need to do more and where and when to do it.
    By example we have recruited many others that come and help when and how they can.
    All you have to do is look at the difference in the charitable giving between the politicians on the left and those on the right.
    The difference is staggering – those on the right give ten fold more because we believe that we do have to be “our brother’s keeper” in tithe and in deeds.
    Seems that the President-elect has a real problem with that when it comes to his own family – that says it all from my point of view.

  13. You have to remember that to Liberals “quotas” and “goals” are the same thing.

    So no one will be “required” to volunteer, but the schools will have to make it part of the graduation requirement.

  14. I think the real message of the day is “A president does not change a nation; a nation must change itself.” I feel confident most of us would agree we don’t want the government to tell us how, where or when we should serve our community but would agree our communities need more voluntary (voluntary = fully of one’s own choice) support.

    We need donors for blood drives, visitors for those without family, walkers for dogs in shelters, organizers to bring art to schools without funding for programs, volunteers to build wheelchair ramps, adopt-a-highway crews and the list goes on. Why do we need these volunteers? The easy answer is accidents happen and people need blood or too many dogs are not spayed or neutered, etc. In reality, maybe we need all these volunteers to bind us as a community and not simply individuals who happen to share a geographical area.

    Yes, mandatory service is bad news for community spirit. BUT we certainly need more encouragement for everyone to get involved in their community.

  15. What kind of “community service” and promotion of volunteerism is it when, in effect, it is paid? How does that teach any valuable lesson about sharing, caring, etc? It is just required selfishness.

  16. Forcing people to volunteer in order to achieve a sense of community is like using Affirmative Action to get blacks into elite schools.

    You’re superficially painting over the problem without actually correcting the problem. Or as Obama would say, you’re just putting lipstick on a Palin. You stay classy, Obama.

  17. This reminds me of when I was a cadet at the USAF Academy and it was time for the Red Cross blood drive…our squadron AOC told is…’this is voluntary,gentlemen….but we’ve ALWAYS had 100% participation.”

  18. Weitzpaper:

    College tuition increases are partially correlated to anticipated soft & hard government match and as more people signed on (or are signed on since this has “volunteer mission creep” written all over it) that’s what the taxcredit/stipend will be seen as. Not fair, not nice, but that’s how it works. Trust, me the students doing the volunteer work will be running to stand still. Add to that the fact (IMHO anyway) that higher ed’s goal should be professional development not supplying an underpaid workforce for social good as noble and needed as that good may be. I’d rather see students passing Calculus 2 or landing internships than feeding the homeless. If they want to volunteer on their own time, that is their private choice, not something that should be recorded for non-academic eyes to see and approve.

    More importantly volunteerism is and must be a private choice and should be nobody else’s business (read Mark 6:2, and I say that as an heathen atheist!) . By “federalizing” if you will, what should be personal (and in some cases based on some of our choices deeply intimate) decisions makes volunteerism not an uplifting choice but a politicized duty — one that will no doubt require an “approved” beneficiary and a petty nosey bureaucrat there to record it all in its exploitative splendor. And volunteerism will be made dirty because of it.

  19. I approach this with caution and curiosity, as if it were a serpent with fruit or Pandora’s box. How can I use this to my advantage without getting burned? Is there something that I am already doing for free that I can get Soros and the Sandler Family to subsidize? How about my band playing pro bono for the Rabbit Hash General Store? (By the way, Travis the cat lost the mayoral race – a travis-ty by any measure.)

  20. Well done –impressive– you and Instapundit can now think about setting policy for the Obama administration. Since everyone up there has drunk the Kool-Aid they will depend on us to provide helpful suggestions. Kind of a free vetting service, in fact maybe you and Instapundit can ask for your hours blogging to apply to your national service hour requirement/goal/suggestion/guilt trip/coming into the light.

    Why don’t you just make yourself a new seal-The Department of Volunteer Hours approval and gin up some nice “certificates of live hours” (COLH) and there you go –presto chango.

    Here….I did one for you

    also here if your html tags work.

  21. “We need donors for blood drives, visitors for those without family, walkers for dogs in shelters, organizers to bring art to schools without funding for programs, volunteers to build wheelchair ramps, adopt-a-highway crews and the list goes on.”

    Those are all worthy causes. You tell me which one my 12-year-old middle schooler can do.

    Let’s see. Can’t donate blood, not a great conversationalist with strange adults yet, probably isn’t going to teach art, not very handy with a hammer, I’m not thrilled with the idea of him working a few feet from cars going 70 mph, and I also think I’ll pass on him walking formerly abused dogs who outweigh him by 50 pounds, thank you very much.

    Where are all of these non-profits that are just DYING for hundreds of hours of 11 and 12 year old labor? Last summer my 15-year-old tried to find a place to volunteer, and was turned down by every one because he wasn’t 18.

    You know how it’s going to be done? It will end up being done during school hours, and the kids will have to give up one of their electives to do it. There is simply no other way it’s workable. PE is mandatory, so the schools are going to be forced to eliminate things like art and music instead. They can’t risk their federal funding by leaving it in the students’ hands, because there is no way it would get done.

  22. This is a bad idea, and mainly serves the ego of those who came up with it. There is already some of this going on in a few schools, and they get to decide what meets the qualifications. My cousin’s son could not use helping his grandparents, who were elderly and had multiple health issues. It had to be someone he wasn’t related to. Nice, huh?

    What is the estimated cost, who pays it, and how much good will it really do? Will it just become another form of ACORN?

  23. Help me get this straight-the Office of the President-Elect encourages volunteerism among college students, and to get them to “volunteer”, is willing to tax ME and pay them $40 per hour for their volunteer work?

    That’s change I can believe in!

  24. “dormant civic idealism”

    Where is it dormant? Americans are absolutely unique in the world in the amount of voluntary work and charity they give.

    Nothing similar can be found in the social democratic countries of Western Europe. This is precisely because taking care of the community and the weak is seen as the job of the government, not so much the individual citizen (who pays a lot in taxes to be left alone).

    The government takes it over, the government destroys the spirit of civic idealism. This spirit cannot be coerced into being.

  25. Another brilliant plan whose sole effect will be to instantly raise the cost of going to college by $4000. It’s just mind-boggling (and let’s not get into the whole “Obama Youth” thing) that politicians STILL can’t figure out that throwing more financial aid at college students simply results in colleges hiking tuition commensurately.

  26. It only stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master.

    Ayn Rand

  27. I wonder if you’ll get credit by volunteering as an intern at the NRA, or working with an organization that counsels pregnant teens in an effort to convince them to avoid abortion and instead offer the child up for adoption?

    Somehow, I think those sort of jobs won’t count.

  28. French peasants were forced to do “corvee” labor for the state during the reigns of the Kings Louis XIV, XV and XVI. We know how well that turned out.

  29. Thanks for all the comments, everyone. Especially all the people who don’t agree with my take on things, and tear me out of any coccoon I may be weaving!

    To all the commenters who say that the original web-posting was simply a mistake, well, fair enough, we’ll wait to see what the incoming administration proposes.

    However, there are good reasons to think that mandatory was right on. The most innocuous one is the Rahm Emmanuel pick. Emmanuel wrote a book about this stuff.

    The lesser defined, more paranoid take is the Bill Ayers, small communism, create an organization to indoctrinate the masses. a bunch of happy marching smiling people, worthy of one of those people’s republic posters.

    I will give President-elect Obama the benefit of the doubt that he is simply trying to help communities and provide a venue for people to earn scholarship money, and let others explore the indoc piece. For now.

    I have concerns with the scale, scope and administration of the program, though. $4000 dollars for 100 hours of community service?
    Under such a program, a few weekends cleaning up trash on the local interstate (what the government gets for next-to-nothing now from DUI convictions) at $40 dollars per hour does not seem like money well spent. Lower the Federal mandate for minimum Blood Alcohol Content another percentage point, and increase the community service time fine by a significant amount for DUIs and like offenses, and the government can reach this great unmet need of a community-service force for billions of dollars less.

    CAnd what about community service administered/managed through the school systems? You saw the link above with that teacher, do you want her deciding what your children should/should not do as part of a community service program?

    And if a bunch of seniors throw a party, charge admission of $5 to everyone who attends, then donate a portion of the proceeds (after they pay their operating costs and the deposit for the keg) to the Ronald McDonald House, does that qualify as community service and put them on their way towards the 4k scholarship? I would place my bet on “yes”.

    And why create a system where school funds are tied to community service programs? Most schools in urban areas struggle enough teaching kids the basics. The fifteen English-As-A-Second-Language kids in my son’s class here in Northern VA will benefit much more from increased time studying English and Math than they will “volunteering” at the local hospital. If more students developed solid academic skills, there would be less of a need for many of these community programs in the first place.

    I simply cannot see this program being implemented without adding billions of dollars to the Federal budget, and seriously doubt that it would dramatically achieve many of its stated goals, or reduce the cynicism people feel towards the government.

  30. the intrusiveness of such a program would no doubt be met with fierce resistance from the right

    I think you people who assume we can fight back as we have in the past have no idea what’s coming.

  31. Beej,

    my children will NEVER participate in a government mandated community service program. Let them come.

  32. More problems, with it, not only does it demonstrate a gap the volunteer opportunities between the urban (read the folk who come up with such stupid ideas for the nation) and rural (who have less opportunities for volunteers and beneficiaries (they already volunteer on the farm as I understand), the 4k (that’s $40/h takehome not counting the tuition creep that will likely accompany this) money is more than a student will make for equivalent labor in professional development activities like COOPs and internships and just working in their intended fields . Heck, they will be making more than some of their profs. Volokh Conspiracy commented on how unions will LOVE some of that.

    Just a dumb idea thought of by people who live in an urban activist bubble. A nice idea on paper, like my kids idea to dig to china for real takeout, it’s not moral, it’s not practical, it’s not going to succeed (but I’m sure they’ll try to make it work). And I thought a country run by the cast and crew of sex in the city could be the worst case scenario. At least they know the value of a dollar.

  33. I am reminded of the old saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

    I don’t have a good feeling about this whole thing. But we still have hope.

  34. Mandatory “volunteerism” is conscription. It’s the return of the draft. The left loves for people to be slaves of the state, which they deem is more important than the individual. And what better time to indoctrinate the citizenry of the country than in their energetic youth, when you can get some grunt work out of them and at the same time acclimate them to their future life as either economic or chattel slaves of the state?

  35. The dialog coming out of the Democratic Party is amazingly similar to the villains in an Ayn Rand novel. In the American of Comrade Obama you have the choice of being a slave and a slave master. I chose freedom!

    I have been rereading my 40 year old collector’s edition of Atlas Shrugged. For a novel which is now 50 years old, it is amazing to be reminded that the words and slogans of the enemies of freedom have not changed in all that time. If you have never read Atlas Shrugged or have not read it recently, read it now. The road we must travel is clear the struggle will be difficult but freedom is always worth the price.

  36. It seems that you don’t really understand Obama’s proposal. Its completely constitutional under the spending clause. Have you ever heard of South Dakota v. Dole? Obama wants to make certain federal funding for education contingent upon school districts developing community service programs. This is authorized under the spending clause, and has been for years.

  37. Adam,

    That is how the proposal reads NOW; the original wording of the document clearly stated it was going to REQUIRE students to do community service.

    I was not questioning the legality of the program, although other people were; I was arguing that mandating service is an erosion of one’s personal freedom by the state. I also question the overall effectiveness of a program executed at such a grand scale.

  38. 150 days from now, the world will be in a state of War. The horrors will be worse than any Hitler or Stalin ever commited. It won’t last long but will bring us all to our knees. After that time, THAT’S when obamas mandatory socialist/communist plans will be enforced. I truly hope I’m wrong, time will tell. God help us all.

  39. DEr…reading is good. Especially when you read entire plans instead of just cherry-picking key phrases that are contrary to your ideological preconceptions.

    The so-called “requirements” are for those who would like to acquire financial credits toward their education. You deliberately make it sound like there is some compulsory mechanism involved, when in fact there is not. So if programs like this don’t effect one, why does one care? They exist in the interests or organizing community social capital. But I guess that’s a bad thing? A real libertarian would actually look at the plan as a potentially good measure, because it localizes social capital rather than forcing communities to derive resources from over-stretched, compulsory, industrialized means.

  40. Julie B. – You quote my very short list of the multitude of volunteer options. I remember cleaning along a county highway as part of a 4-H project at age 12. The highway we were assigned was low traffic with a speed limit of 55. Adults did areas closer to the road, we youth worked more in the ditch area. Shelter Dogs come in all sizes and with many backgrounds, some are still puppies. Cats also need people to pet them. There are opportunities to sew patches on vests for dogs in training to be helper dogs. My point is there IS something for everyone if one is willing to look. AND again, I AGREE: MANDATORY SERVICE is BAD NEWS for COMMUNITY SPIRIT. You are worried about your children’s safety (as am I when I involve my children in volunteering). When I lived in Dane County, WI I used this site: The site’s “full search” option allows one to search by age group as well as interest.
    Best wishes on finding something fitting and fun in your area if and when you wish to volunteer. 🙂

  41. Jesse,

    The original cut of this policy proposal specifically said “required”; this was on the President-Elect site, not the “Obama for President” site. The fact that they changed the language hours after rolling out the site shows that, at a minimum, the language was confusing. Many people picked up on the original language, including people on both the right and the left who agreed with it.

    And I disagree with your “it doesn’t effect you so why do you care” point, as well.
    First of all, I don’t think expanding the scale and scope of government at a time when we are facing larger and larger budget deficits is prudent. I personally would rather not pay higher taxes due to programs like these, and still watch the federal deficit balloon all the while.

    Also, I have four kids, and if the federal government is going to invest in school systems, I would rather see it done to improve programs and services that directly impact the schools and the students, and are tied directly to improving the schools.

    Cheers, and thanks for reading.

  42. I would agree that the change of language is questionable, but imposing their reasons for doing so is tenuous at best.

    But the whole anti-government expansion argument is a moot point; government expansion is intrinsic to the growth of a nation. And you’ve heard it a thousand times, but let’s not forget that “conservative” Bush took huge surpluses and turned them into the largest deficits in history whilst expanding government, and its domestic intrusions, to their largest measure. But historically, at times like these the point (expressed by Obama) is not simply to enlarge government but to apply it in such a way that it performs the equivalent function of a chemical catalyst. You use government to create jobs by regulating industrial subsidies and exercising a degree of market incentivization, and you do it only in a passive, restrained sense. I don’t want to get into some long-winded bit of economic theory (theories in which conventional distinctions of conservative and liberal disappeared long ago). But basically the plan is to create social capital through local networks. In plans like these, much like the WPA of the thirties, the intention is always to cancel the costs of these programs with their benefits, and typically the substantive benefits exceed the costs.

    Also it’s another misleading tract to look at the imposed service requirement (if indeed it exists) as something new. At both my high school and my middle school we had to perform a requisite number of community service hours, with more of a mentor-oriented program in effect during high school (the “senior project”). Personally I think that mentor/internship capacity high school positions are exactly what schools need these days because school now put so little emphasis on real world experience and so much emphasis on teaching to the test because of No Child Left Behind. Such anecdotes are easy to come by, of course, but as a first generation college student I was sincerely disillusioned to find that due to dwindling public school and community service standards, and also just changing cultural standards, our nation’s education system has turned four-year schools into the professional/trade schools that high schools once functioned as. Seriously. I’d suggest any older folks go take a look around at their local college campus in order to understand how the old college myths have been systematically dismantled and replaced with what is basically a high school extension program with more booze. But, that’s completely off-point and I’ve unnecessarily opened up the ole bag of educational policy issues; time to quit filling the internet with more hot air.

    All I can say is, in an irritatingly social-sciencey way, the project of creating social capital networks is to make the debts self canceling and to get people involved in their local communities again, rather than conditioning them to rely on over-extended government dole-out programs. “Social capital” is sure to become the new buzzword for old things, but if you take a look into its theory, its strikingly apolitical, though slightly libertarian in function.

    Thank you!

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