Millennial Money

Mr. Obama, About That Voluntary National Service—Forget It

Habitat For Humanity Volunteers

If there's one part of the coming Obama Presidency that I'm not looking forward to, it's his "voluntary" but also "universal" national service plan.

Some of this stuff is unobjectionable: expanding AmeriCorps, and doubling the size of the Peace Corps. But then there's the mandatory part of his voluntary service scheme, and here I'll let the Obama-Biden web site speak for itself: "Obama and Biden will set a goal that all middle and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year. They will develop national guidelines for service-learning and will give schools better tools both to develop programs and to document student experience."

Putting aside the question of the educational value of community service, there's simply nothing voluntary about forcing middle and high school students to do 50 hours of community service a year. Obama may have carried the youth vote, voters between the ages of 18 and 29, by a 66 to 32 margin, but I bet if kids in middle and high school could vote and they knew about Obama's plan to conscript them into this national community service program, his margin among that age group would have been a lot slimmer although he still would've won handily because the Republicans, thanks to their intransigence on social issues, have lost an entire generation of voters, but more on that in another post.

Middle school and high school were bad enough without having to do hundreds of hours of community service. I can only hope that this sort of thing won't get through Congress, and just this once I'm thankful that education policy is handled primarily at the state and local level. And as ever, I'm glad that I'm no longer a student.

Obama's web site also suggests that he'll "require 100 hours of service in college," another frightening prospect, but there's some ambiguity here because it seems as though this might be truly voluntary community service that you would do in exchange for a $4,000 tax credit. If it is mandatory, I suggest all college students try to graduate as fast possible, before this has a chance to become the law of the land.

As far as I'm concerned, this is yet another attack on the young by the political class. Obama's clearly a brilliant man, but how can he be so stupid when it comes to national service? You can't teach American kids civics by forcing them to do community service work. We're stubborn, in fact, that's our singular national virtue. For a guy who spends so much time decrying cynicism, he sure seems to be pushing a program that will make the next generation even more cynical than me and my millennial buddies, and we're a tough act to follow. Call me a skeptic, but this "Ve haf vays of making you serve" program just doesn't seem like the kind of thing that encourages civic-mindedness. In general, coercion doesn't tend to produce good results.

Here's to hoping that "national service" itself was a cynical ploy on Obama's part and he'll forget all about once he takes office. Hey, Mr. President, leave those kids alone!

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