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To What Extent Would Service Under Obama be Mandatory?

Ilya Somin points to a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Shikha Dalmia about McCain's and Obama's service proposals. The main differences appear to be their scope and the mandatory nature of some of Obama's.

I should note that the tone of Barack Obama's recent comments on service at the NYC Service Nation forum couldn't have been more different from his December and July major addresses on the subject. There are several indications in his remarks that Obama (or his staffers) had read my criticisms. And Obama sought to present his views in the least offensive terms possible (eg, two mentions of service for high school, but not a word about middle school; no promises to require all middle and high schools to adopt service programs by denying schools federal funding if they refuse).

One question that has arisen in discussions is the extent to which his "Universal Voluntary Service Plan" is nonetheless mandatory.

Because Obama calls his plan voluntary, it's important to understand exactly what he says and doesn't say. In the first two of his main speeches on national service -- on July 2, 2008 and on December 5, 2007 -- Barack Obama set his goal of 50 hours of service a year, promised that "We'll reach this goal," and explained how he would do so for middle and high school children:

So when I'm President, I will set a goal for all American middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year, and for all college students to perform 100 hours of service a year. This means that by the time you graduate college, you'll have done 17 weeks of service.

We'll reach this goal in several ways. At the middle and high school level, we'll make federal assistance conditional on school districts developing service programs, and give schools resources to offer new service opportunities.

So one hurdle that Obama's plan must vault is the U.S. Constitution, which limits the federal government to enumerated powers. Lacking the power to mandate universal community service directly, Obama candidly discloses his strategy: making federal funds contingent on schools having service programs that meet federal standards.

If Obama hadn't promised that "We'll reach this goal" of 50 hours a year of service, one might read his proposal as indicating that he would require schools to have service programs, but that these programs might not require 50 hours of service. Yet the only way that almost every 11-year old public school student in the country would serve 50 hours a year -- i.e., the only way that Obama could reach his goal -- is by doing what he seems to indicate he's going to do: setting a federal goal of 50 hours a year for each middle school student and reaching that goal by making federal funds contingent on middle schools requiring their students to serve those 50 hours.

Thus, it would be the public schools that would impose federal standards of coerced service on each child as part of their requirements for graduation. For students, service would be involuntary. Even for the public schools, their participation would be only nominally voluntary -- for how many public schools can survive without federal assistance?

Lest there be any remaining doubt that Barack Obama's "voluntary" universal service plan contemplates mandatory service for children, his Service Plan praises mandatory service in the sentence that immediately precedes his call for 50 hours of service: "Schools that require service as part of the educational experience create improved learning environments and serve as resources for their communities." Moreover, in his Plan, he promises to "develop national guidelines for service-learning and community service programs," thus not leaving the content of service programs to the states.

I suspect that Obama describes his mandatory plan as voluntary for good reasons: (1) part of his plan -- i.e., participating in his many new "Corps" -- is indeed voluntary, and (2) people bristle at the word "mandatory." In the movement for national service, it is common to describe mandatory plans as voluntary. For example, Representative Charles Rangel's National Service Act, which is languishing before Congress, provides for a universal draft with two years of service for virtually all persons ages 18-42, with no deferment for college. This explicitly mandatory service is described in the bill as "Voluntary Service" because "A person subject to induction . . . may volunteer to perform national service in lieu of being inducted."

Nonetheless, there still remain some ambiguities in Obama's Service Plan. Does Obama intend to force states to include private and parochial school students within his scheme? Obama does not say whether private middle and high schools would also be required to impose 50 hours a year. I assume that would depend on whether they rely on federal grants.

Also, how will students who defy their high schools or the state be punished? Will they be prosecuted, placed in re-education programs, or merely flunked? Obama's proposal never says.

mccain:
you don't really think Obama read your stuff, do you?

What he's doing is simply his m.o.? Say something extreme to get the lefties excited, then backtrack, hedge, and change course so the moderates don't get outraged.

Obama = no principles = Bill Clinton
9.18.2008 12:27am
Kazinski:
I really do not think this could get through Congress, I cannot imagine a Congressman being this suicidal. From Heath Schuler to Maxine Waters, the anger a proposal like this would create would reverberate around their districts, and belive me young voters would know who was doing this to them.

The only congressional demographic I can see supporting this wholeheartedly would be the limosine liberals from Hollywood and Manhatten.
9.18.2008 12:35am
fullerene:

Yet the only way that almost every 11-year old public school student in the country would serve 50 hours a year -- i.e., the only way that Obama could reach his goal -- is by doing what he seems to indicate he's going to do: setting a federal goal of 50 hours a year for each middle school student and reaching that goal by making federal funds contingent on middle schools requiring their students to serve those 50 hours.


I am not sure why you would interpret it this way. You assume that not every kid would volunteer for service without some form of compulsion. This is probably fair. But you also assume that Obama could achieve his goal if he supplied the right compulsion. Thus, you say, he must intend to force people to volunteer.

This actually may be the case, but I would challenge your second assumption. Even if service were mandatory for graduation, Obama would not achieve if his goal. Heck, even if service were necessary to avoid prison, Obama would not achieve his goal. Some people would simply not perform any service.

And this isn't exactly news to anyone. Obama is speaking hyperbolically. From what he has said, we really do not know what degree of compulsion he intends to place upon students. Maybe he is naive enough to think that all students will volunteer if the opportunities are there before them. Maybe he is he naive enough to think that with the right compulsion all students will volunteer. Beats me. Both seem possible.
9.18.2008 12:44am
Waldensian (mail):

There are several indications in his remarks that Obama (or his staffers) had read my criticisms.

What indications led you to this conclusion? Because it's eerily familiar; I've long had suspicions that Obama (or his staffers) have been reading my mail.
9.18.2008 12:45am
DangerMouse:
I've long had suspicions that Obama (or his staffers) have been reading my mail.

They hacked your account after hacking Palin's?
9.18.2008 12:48am
Nunzio:

This is the surest way to ensure 100 years of libertarian rule. The nation's school children will rise up as one and chant: "I am Spartacus"
9.18.2008 12:55am
K:
I think Obama could and would get it through Congress. If he is elected at all there is a good chance he will have a filibuster proof Senate.

For the first few months the media will applaud anything he does and the next election will seem far distant. It is not the nature of even insecure Representatives to defy their President and their party leadership soon after an election.

To the most obstinate Obama will dispense goodies and hint that should the program cause problems he will ease off next year.

If large tax boosts are in order they will also be passed ASAP. And national health care if they really intend the Full Monty.

With solid control I would expect something along the lines of Roosevelt's 100 days. Prescribe the medicines, and force them down in double doses.
9.18.2008 1:00am
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
Jim, how dare you try to influence people into not voting for Senator Obama by telling them that Obama really does intend to do what he has repeatedly proclaimed he'll do?
9.18.2008 1:03am
ed (mail) (www):
Hmmmm.

I wonder what kind of uniform the Obama Youth Korps will wear.

And if it'll have a stylish dagger along with silver collar skulls in the ensemble.
9.18.2008 1:41am
Jen:
My law school (and many others) has a mandatory 40 hour pro bono service requirement for graduation. There's nothing as gratifying as paying tuition to serve others (read sarcastically).

Likewise, my son's public high school had a mandatory 8 hour community service requirement for graduation. In both cases, graduation is contingent upon meeting the service requirement. The degree is the carrot. It's a bit on the hysterical side to suggest that Obama would support prosecuting someone or sending them to a re-education camp if they failed to serve.

Washing fire trucks on a Saturday did not kill my son but it didn't really make him a better person, either. I fail to see the big benefit since kids who don't want to do something aren't usually the most effective workers, but I also fail to see the reason for outrage. This proposal has exactly zero impact on my vote.

Just a bit of busywork for everyone to do, no?
9.18.2008 1:50am
cboldt (mail):
-- This is the surest way to ensure 100 years of libertarian rule. --
.
Heh. Even the draft to support the war in VietNam didn't accomplish that sort of durable reaction, although it certainly did spark a significant amount of stiff resistance.
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For all we know, the "community service" could be satisfied by trolling the internet or "spreading the Obama-gospel" to whoever one encounters on a hiking trail. IOW, the participants already do it for free.
9.18.2008 1:50am
Tatil:
Your zeal to find faults with Obama is forcing you to read too much into it. He claims that we will meet this goal by forcing schools to come up with "voluntary" service plans. Why is it so outrageous to claim that making it easier and enticing for students to participate in community service will lead more students to actually participate? Whether this plan will eventually meet the 50 hour per student goal or whether the goal by itself is a laudable one is another matter for debate (my answer is "no" to the latter one and "it depends on the enticements" for the former), but none of his statement implies a mandate for the students. Of course, if you believe he is the devil incarnate, why let the facts interfere with opinions.
9.18.2008 1:54am
cboldt (mail):
Would teaching Sunday School qualify for "community service"?
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-- This proposal has exactly zero impact on my vote. --
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Me too, because I wouldn't vote for Obama if he was my blood brother. He's an empty-suit chimera punk who is clueless about human nature.
9.18.2008 1:55am
RW Rogers (mail):
Wonder if anything the Boy Scouts of America do will qualify as authorized volunteer work? Will there will be a litmus test for organizations? What about religious volunteer groups? If this does get enacted, our new National Service Tsar will quickly build a bureaucracy to implement it. Local authorities will be bought off with cash to mitigate the cost of that compliance.
9.18.2008 1:57am
cboldt (mail):
-- none of his statement implies a mandate for the students --
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Only on the technicality that it isn't a direct mandate. Just like the Feds didn't impose seat belt or 55 MPH speed limits. They let the states do the imposing. Obama won't impose either, the schools will.
9.18.2008 2:00am
Can't find a good name:
I think it's silly to suggest that students who fail to perform community service under the Obama plan would be prosecuted. It's much more likely that the legislation would say that schools subject to the requirements would make the community service a graduation requirement, and students who failed to complete the service would be denied a diploma.
9.18.2008 2:17am
Bill McGonigle (www):
McCain has been angling for mandatory national service for a while. Oh, is he backing down on that now that there's an election at stake? He must be genuine, then, my bad.

McCain is all about "Country First" and 'everybody should be as good a citizen as me whether I have to force them or not'. How about Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness first? Crazy idea, no? One we get that down, there will be plenty of opportunity for the nation. This is all to presume that a man working in a job the citizenry finds useful to be not working for the nation, which is itself complete government-centric bulls hit.

So, how can someone who puts the supremacy of the society over the individual not be labeled a socialist? Do we really have to hope that Palin succeeds him early?
9.18.2008 2:21am
Mark Rockwell (mail):
I am not entirely sure what is wrong with requiring schools to setup a plan that encourages students to volunteer in their community.

Just so we're all clear, if your church sets up community service program and strongly encourages the entire youth group to volunteer, that's liberty. But if the public school does it, it's fascism?

And while we're at it, is it equally fascistic to require students to take a civics course, in the hopes that they become better, more informed citizens?
9.18.2008 2:37am
one of many:
yes, M. McGonigle McCain has agitated for mandatory national service, why just check the article Reason based their claim on, where he actually goes so far as to not call for reinstating the draft.
9.18.2008 2:46am
one of many:
Oh, and in case you cannot be bothered to read the source of the claim that McCain is for mandatory voluntary service, the above post was sarcasm.
9.18.2008 2:47am
cboldt (mail):
-- I am not entirely sure what is wrong with requiring schools to setup a plan that encourages students to volunteer in their community. --
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There is a difference between "encouraging" and "conditioning graduation on." The former is just so much hot air, and can be dismissed as such.
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Civics class and current events are intellectual pursuits. Volunteering your time for others has a different character.
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How about we require all teachers to take a one week cut in pay, that is, volunteer their talents for one week, as a condition of employment. They can lead by example.
9.18.2008 2:49am
Mark Rockwell (mail):

Civics class and current events are intellectual pursuits. Volunteering your time for others has a different character.


I'm not sure that I see the difference. Of course, I understand what you are getting at. But volunteering is to civics class what gym is to health class.

Obviously there would be a lot of issues to work out if a plan like this ever came to fruition (what service counts, how is it counted, etc) but that doesn't make it impossible or without benefit.

Does anyone really think that kids being involved in their community is a bad idea? Rich kids seeing soup kitchens, poor kids cleaning up their neighborhoods, and generally people intermingling with other groups in social settings? To me it seems like an educational enhancement. And a feel good, self-esteem, confidence building tool.

Is the only downside the fear that Obama is attempting to reinstate the Hitler youth? I really don't think that the Hitler youth was the segment of Hitler's platform that everyone got all upset about.
9.18.2008 3:05am
RW Rogers (mail):
Mark, I think telling someone "You can't graduate unless you complete 50 hours of community service per year" is a very bad idea. As you say: Obviously there would be a lot of issues to work out if a plan like this ever came to fruition (what service counts, how is it counted, etc) but that doesn't make it impossible or without benefit. The definition of what service counts and, particularly, which organizations end up on the approved list will end up being extremely political.
9.18.2008 3:15am
cboldt (mail):
-- But volunteering is to civics class what gym is to health class. --
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No. Volunteering and "mandatory" are mutually exclusive.
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The issues are what constitutes qualified community service, and what are the consequences/options flowing from a refusal to submit.
9.18.2008 3:26am
cboldt (mail):
-- poor kids cleaning up their neighborhoods --
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Does picking up in your own yard count? For everybody, rich and poor alike? Mowing the lawn?
9.18.2008 3:28am
alpha:
Rich kids seeing soup kitchens, poor kids cleaning up their neighborhoods, and generally people intermingling with other groups in social settings? To me it seems like an educational enhancement.

Note what it is NOT. It is not the freedom for kids to study math, fool around on their computers learning the latest web framework, read fiction books, or get a summer job.

In other words, it is neither leisure time nor economically productive labor. You're basically expropriating people's time and energy to use for tasks that YOU think are beneficial. 50 hours a year is 2.5 weeks, more than most people get in vacation -- except this ain't no picnic. People want their neighborhoods clean? Either pick up their own trash or hire a streetsweeper. Don't press gang innocent kids into doing the things that you can't do for yourself.

Similarly, I'd rather have my kid working on an Intel Science Fair project than ladling out soup to the "homeless". The "homeless" have become a sacred group in this society, but most of them are mentally ill or drug addicted. Just go to San Francisco some day, you'll see. Rather than incentivize them to remain on the streets and return to soup kitchens for their meals, they need to be institutionalized for their own safety and the safety/cleanliness of the public.

All these projects -- soup kitchens, helping "underrepresented" minorities, and the like -- have a distinctly leftist tinge to them. Mandatory national service will become yet another vehicle for leftist indoctrination. Haven't we helped underrepresented minorities via ACORN and "anti-redlining" statutes to the tune of trillions of dollars during this mortgage crisis alone? I don't want my kid imbibing yet more leftist ideology, and I doubt that I'm alone in this. Do you think that Obama would allow kids to get community service credit for volunteering at a pro-life org, starting a company, protesting taxes, or engaging in any kind of right wing activity -- let alone military service?

The question answers itself.
9.18.2008 4:08am
Rich Rostrom (mail):
I am less concerned by any coercion implicit in Obama's program than by the probability (verging on certainty IMHO) that his "volunteer service corps" would be Federally funded boondoggles for leftist activism. The mandate for "community service" could easily morph into "put in 50 (paid) hours with ACORN" (or a comparable NGO).
9.18.2008 6:44am
Ryan Waxx (mail):
He claims that we will meet this goal by forcing schools to come up with "voluntary" service plans. Why is it so outrageous to claim that making it easier and enticing for students to participate in community service will lead more students to actually participate?


First sentence, meet second sentence.

Seriously though, it takes a certain degree of denial to support a candidate because you don't think he'll do what he's promised to do, on the grounds that you don't think what he's promised to do makes any sense.
9.18.2008 8:19am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

Also, how will students who defy their high schools or the state be punished? Will they be prosecuted, placed in re-education programs, or merely flunked?


Sadly, but appropriately, they will be relegated to the dustbin of failed capitalist history, and as their fellow students who, unlike them, took The Glorious Path march past them smiling, forthright, fully prepared to carry The Message of Oba-National-Munism to the under-informed, the under-utilized, they will but hang their heads in shame realizing they are not needed, not tolerated, no longer Americans.
9.18.2008 9:16am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
It's amazing how many people can look at this and ask with obviously false innocence, "What's wrong with volunteering?"
9.18.2008 9:22am
Floridan:
Actually, this proposal is not particularly earth-shattering.

When my son graduated from the local public high school several years ago he had to perform, as part of the graduation requirement, a total of 40 hours of volunteer community service.

I know that the local Catholic high school has similar requirements.

There were few, if any, restrictions on what type of volunteering qualified for credits.

I have no idea what the consequences of not completing the 40 hours might have been -- I never heard of anything specific.

One can argue whether or not required volunteering is, in fact, volunteering. I do think that there was educational value for most of the students who participated in the program.
9.18.2008 9:59am
Sarcastro (www):
Glenn W. Bowen has pointed out that Obama is just like Mao. Or Pol Pot, I can never keep my Paths right.

And then there are the Hitle Youth comparisons. Also Stalin.

And, of course cboldt pointing out Obama's resemblance to the legendary Empty-Suit Chimera Punk.

If he's it's elected we can only hope in it's mercy, it keeps one in 3 of us alive.
9.18.2008 10:04am
Patrick216:
Mandatory volunteerism is becoming more and more prevalent. My (private) high school required me to do 40 hours of community service. A lot of law schools now require their students to do community service (Harvard, where I went, implemented an 80 hour requirement the year after I started--so, thankfully, I was exempt). Now that I'm in the private sector, my employer requires me to donate 1% of my gross compensation to the United Way. My previous employer required about a 0.3%-of-gross donation to two charities, plus 50 hours of pro bono, plus another 30 hours or so do community service.

Two observations.

1) In my own experience, mandatory volunteerism is never about the poor people and it's never about teaching or benefiting the "volunteer." Rather, it's about improving the lot of the person forcing the other to volunteer. My high school used to put out lots of press releases and get on the local news with the "giving spirit" of their students. Law schools use their conscripted labor to staff various left-wing special interest programs (e.g. "housing clinics," which exist to allow deadbeat tenants to get out of paying their rent and fund themselves by setting up grossly unfair "sting operations" to catch landlords allegedly discriminating). My employers got their names in the newspapers and got to go to various dinners and so forth to celebrate the firms' "generosity."

2) Mandatory volunteerism crowds out "real" volunteerism. For example, when I started my new job and had a compulsory 1%-of-gross donation, I immediately ceased all other charitable contributions. So now, rather than my money going to charities that actually do good work, my money goes to United Way, which is a giant scam. Likewise, I volunteer my time in a few organizations, and really felt as though my time was well spent. I was not able to participate in those groups when I was forced to volunteer doing pro bono and other crap, and I can tell you that my "pro bono" time and mandatory community service really didn't help anyone that deserved to be helped and was generally a waste.

People really need to start putting their feet down and demanding that this crap cease. It really perverts the notion of charity and really hurts those true charitable organizations that make a REAL difference in the community.
9.18.2008 10:32am
Ryan Waxx (mail):
Mandatory volunteerism crowds out "real" volunteerism.


That's a feature, not a bug. If you were to donate your own time and money, you might pick the wrong organization to donate to. Worse, you might not be furthering the political goals of the person who is requiring the donations.
9.18.2008 10:41am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
ya know, judges sentence people to community service.
9.18.2008 10:51am
Shertaugh:
Oddly, Obama's service requirement dovetails nicely with the Bush administration's nationalizing of the financial industry and McCain's promise to crack down on greed.

Seems pretty clear that communism is on the rise in America.
9.18.2008 10:59am
Matt_T:
Mandatory community service is a stupid idea. It serves no pedagogical purpose at the middle school, high school or college level other than (depending on the program) forcing the guilt of one generation onto the next.

Additionally, the federal funding provision is a huge problem: does anyonr really think students in the inner city have the same advantages that kids in the suburbs do to the extent that community service will be equally feasible? If Obama follows through with this plan, he will undercut his ability to give federal money one of his core constituencies. I'd be happy to watch Obama implode (as I would be happy to watch McCain implode) but this is a pathetic way to do it.
9.18.2008 11:08am
Ben Franklin (mail):
This was a good subject to bring up. I thought I was the only one angered by the notion of involuntary servitude as proposed by many politicians. Jim did a good job pointing out a couple of things I didn't know about the specifics.

One problem is the fact that we have already lost this argument... or rather our ancestors did. If the government can compell you to send your child to school then they can compell you to submit your child to other types of indoctrination as well. If they can tax your time in the form of telling you how you must spend it then they can do so with national service just as easily as in any other form.

One thing I want to know though... how are they going to get around the minimum wage laws? If I want to hire a teenager for something that is actually productive then I have to pay a minimum amount in return for his labor whether he can produce that much value for my business or not. Who is going to be the recipient of all of this free/slave labor and how can we each get our share of it to stay competitive?

I went without a salary for the first three years of my business but I have created something that has employed hundreds of people and I make a decent but not lavish amount (about 50k in salary). Does this count as community service? If so what can I do with my excess hours? Can I sell them to others? Can I get education credits?

Of course not. If you have to create an artificial reward to get people to engage in an activity then obviously the reward for participating in that activity wasn't enough to make it worth engaging in to start with. And by rewards I mean spiritual, emotional, financial... you name it. Why we want to shift our energies and incentives into doing non-productive things is something we will have to ask the Chinese to study after they buy us.
9.18.2008 11:09am
Elliot123 (mail):
I would expect every kid who did any volunter work for non-government organizations would immediately stop since the government would demand additional hours of work. The same may be true for some adults who figure the government now has millions of eager kids to do the work they had been doing.

If the kid could fulfill his requirement by bringing in a chit from some organization saying he volunteered, the country would be flooded with sham groups peddling chits.

But consider the upside. We would see high school kids cleaning up neighborhoods while the residents sat on their porches watching the show.
9.18.2008 11:47am
Happyshooter:
Will the name of this new Corps be the "Handschar Division"?
9.18.2008 11:54am
Obvious (mail):
"for how many public schools can survive without federal assistance?"

Ironically, the answer when many of us went to school was "all of them"...
9.18.2008 11:58am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
I prefer the form of community service that involves work for pay. You learn important social lessons and the activity is self supporting so it can spread virally.

Mandatory service plans do not satisfy religious charitible requirements because they are mandatory rather than being the moral choice of an individual.
9.18.2008 12:02pm
gasman (mail):

Washing fire trucks on a Saturday did not kill my son but it didn't really make him a better person, either. I fail to see the big benefit since kids who don't want to do something aren't usually the most effective workers, but I also fail to see the reason for outrage. This proposal has exactly zero impact on my vote.

Just a bit of busywork for everyone to do, no?

Yes, it is a bit of busywork. And the government only intends to apply 17 weeks of additional busywork for your child, on top of all the crap that passes for public education now. If you accept those 17 weeks too readily, then where will you draw the line when the government wants to come back for more?
We have a responsibility to ensure that our children are educated; this is a goal directed activity that people may choose to accomplish by public, private, or home schooled means. Hours of service is not an educational objective, it's enforced unpaid labor by the government. Finally, don't shrug off the service hours as no skin off your nose (only your child's) because who do you think is going to have their after-school driving schedule shot all to hell.
9.18.2008 12:05pm
kimsch (mail) (www):
50 hours is a lot. You're looking at at least 2 hours a week and maybe more to get that number of hours in in a school year.

These kids have homework, extracurricular activities, and many high-schoolers have part time jobs too.

Just where are these kids supposed to find that amount of time every week?

And doesn't the 13th Amendment Section 1 come into play here? These students haven't been convicted of crimes...
9.18.2008 12:22pm
therut (mail):
Instead of this crap they need a mandatory class in Capitalism. Teach the children how to make mone. Teach them what this country is ignorant about. I really do not think the FEDS should mandate anything to schools. It should be Stae and local. Leave our children alone--PLEASE. Next time we may not say please........
9.18.2008 12:55pm
one of many:
"for how many public schools can survive without federal assistance?"
Ironically, the answer when many of us went to school was "all of them"...

Interestingly about 7 years ago over NCLB mandatory testing at least one school district near me did a feasibility study of forgoing federal education funding and determined that by dropping all federally funded programs would actually lowering the burden on local taxpayers. There was serious doubt anyone would accept the striped down school plan (it would have been a major change: no cafeteria, no DARE, no lots of things) but the entire issue became moot when the state made state funding dependent on NCLB testing.
9.18.2008 12:58pm
taney71:
So would sports and clubs count?

Sounds like Obama needs to watch "V for Vendetta" sometime before the election. Stupid liberals trying to make a fascist state look good.
9.18.2008 1:17pm
therut (mail):
No Cafeteria----Oh please. We had a cafateria before free lunchs were available. Now maybe the fact that most kids get "free" lunches have something to do with not having a cafeteria at school if Fed. funds were pulled. Oh the Humanity. There were about 4 kids in grade school who WORKED in the lunch room for their meals. OH the HUMANITY. Everyone around me was much poorer at that time but parents payed for their children to be fed.
9.18.2008 1:24pm
kurt9 (mail):
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe most funding for K-12 education comes from local and state taxes, not federal funding. It is the universities that get lots of money (mostly for R&D) from the feds.
9.18.2008 1:46pm
kurt9 (mail):
Again I ask: Is public service defined as any productive activity that increases the prosperity and well-being of society as a whole? Or is it limited to social work?

Would it not make more sense to get those brainy kids to help develop a cure for cancer or fusion power (which would benefit ALL of us) rather than to make them work in a soup kitchen? The latter strikes me as a waste of their intellectual resource.
9.18.2008 1:59pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):
Elliot123 -

I wouldn't overstate the case. Not everyone would stop, but many would... and more important, as time progresses, many more wouldn't start in the first place who otherwise might have.
9.18.2008 2:31pm
Suzy (mail):
Okay, at this point the dishonesty of the arguments is getting a little ridiculous. Obama says that he would like to tie receipt of federal funding to a school system's development of a service program. I have yet to see any suggestion that every student must be forced to participate in such a program, or that such programs could only involve non-educational "volunteerism" for charity, much less anything to warrant the absurd speculation that those who resist might be "prosecuted" or sent to a "re-education" program. Good God, what a straw man.

Excuse me for sticking to some concrete facts, but here's what one such service program looks like, today: students in writing and history courses are helping to develop a historical archive of interviews on local history, presented on the WWW so that anyone in the community can access it. I hope they don't learn anything about, say, writing or history while they're being forced into this charitable work for fear of being prosecuted! Goodness knows we wouldn't want them taking the work seriously, since they'll be creating a finished product like this.

Okay, sarcasm off: is anyone who opposes this service idea willing to at least be honest about what it entails? Is it outrageous to model it on what already happens? I think you'd still have plenty of reasons to object, but the debate would be a LOT more productive and honest than it is here right now.
9.18.2008 2:43pm
one of many:
No Cafeteria----Oh please. We had a cafateria before free lunchs were available. Now maybe the fact that most kids get "free" lunches have something to do with not having a cafeteria at school if Fed. funds were pulled. Oh the Humanity. There were about 4 kids in grade school who WORKED in the lunch room for their meals. OH the HUMANITY. Everyone around me was much poorer at that time but parents payed for their children to be fed

I remind you it never got past the study phase. For the purposes of the study they cut all programs which received federal funding. What the actual result would have been of implementing a no-federal money policy is another issue, one which was never gotten to. I imagine in actual practice a revenue nuetral cafeteria would have been adopted if possible or the taxpayers would have given up some of the savings from dumping the federal government to subsidize a cafeteria.
9.18.2008 2:49pm
Suzy (mail):
Oh, here's another real life example I just heard about today: a group of students in a biology class are engaged in a service project to clean weeds out of a river channel. The weeds have recently taken hold because of unusual weather conditions, but they are disrupting the water flow, causing negative effects for fish, birds, and agricultural water needs. The students learn about ecology and the impacts of the variable water flows, as well as how weather affects this. Then they can see and measure the effects before and after their project.

I mean, I know it's slave labor, but I suspect they're going to learn a lot about science that might even stay with them, longer than some other problem set they turned in that only looked at such matters in the abstract through the pages of a textbook. They don't do this stuff every day, it's a once a year thing, but I think it's very memorable and vivid experience that might even inspire some of the interested students to pursue science further.
9.18.2008 2:50pm
Bill McGonigle (www):
one of many: thanks for the better link. "While it is not currently politically practical to revive the draft" is a great phrase. It concurs with his recently agreeing that a draft to get enough people in the military to hunt down UBL is a good idea.
9.18.2008 3:05pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Suzy,
We're talking about mandatory, here. As you know.
Voluntary volunteering is already available and doesn't need government action.
If we're going to have coerced activity, we need government.

You did this before and got nowhere. You ought to simply admit that you favor mandatory, coerced community service for kids as young as middle school. Then you could argue something.

Instead, you're pretending--very poorly--that this is all about voluntary. You keep getting busted. But, to give you some points, you keep trying.
9.18.2008 3:48pm
egrim (mail):
Suzy,

"At this point the dishonesty of [your] arguments is getting a little ridiculous." Every time this topic comes up you post saying something to the effect that "I have yet to see any suggestion that every student must be forced to participate in such a program" (from your post of 1:43 PM in this thread).

You are the one who is being dishonest, pretending that Obama's plan, by his own description, is not mandatory.

Would you stop lying? You will be more credible if you do.
9.18.2008 3:51pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):

Okay, at this point the dishonesty of the arguments is getting a little ridiculous.


Yes, it is.


Obama says that he would like to tie receipt of federal funding to a school system's development of a service program. I have yet to see any suggestion that every student must be forced to participate in such a program


First sentence, meet second sentence. Unless of course you were postulating Obama will use sorcery instead of federal funds?


Excuse me for sticking to some concrete facts...


...but here's my cherry-picked examples that doesn't resemble most forced-volunteerism programs.

I mean, I know it's slave labor, but I suspect they're going to learn a lot about science that might even stay with them


And if they are especially lucky, they can learn about medical subjects like what effects stagnant water has on cuts. Forget learning about how to recognize hawks from falcons on sight, pulling weeds is REAL experience. Real Change. Change that you can trust.
9.18.2008 4:01pm
Suzy (mail):
Assertion #1: Federal funds would be tied to school systems developing service programs, on this proposal.
Assertion #2: The service programs of school systems would mandate that all students perform volunteer charity work.

I see evidence in Obama's statements and on his web page for assertion 1, but not for assertion 2. However, a chorus of claims that 1 is identical with 2 are made, and yes, that's dishonest. Not dishonest of me to point it out, even if you disagree with me.

If I am misrepresenting service learning, then that would be dishonest. However, I have given nothing but real life examples of programs at my child's school or at another school in my town. I'm not "cherry picking" them--I'm just telling you what I know about. I'm sure it's possible to design educationally useless and ideologically controversial service programs. If most of the programs are indeed like this, then I think the opposition should win this argument. However, the ones I know of are no more ideologically controversial than anything else in school, and I think they provide tangible educational benefits.

I would love to see debate about the value real programs. If the evidence shows that they really are useless and not instructional, I'm open to that conclusion. However, speculating that students might be "prosecuted" or "re-educated", followed by comments vacillating randomly between suspecting Obama must be a commie or fascist because of these programs... well, that's not helping. And for the sake of your side, the average "PTA mom" is not going to be terribly afraid of the slave labor aspect of these programs, so a better pitch just might be needed if you're opposed.
9.18.2008 4:27pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):

However, a chorus of claims that 1 is identical with 2 are made, and yes, that's dishonest.


Again, unless you are postulating sorcery, then it is you who are dishonest, and proud of it... or have less than no understanding of human nature... or are deciding to pretend that Obama hasn't made specific participation levels promises, ones not possible without compulsion.

You have not once stated how you believe the schools are going to meet those minimums... your only words on the matter amounted to vague hand-waving while muttering things about making the programs 'available' if students wanted to pursue them. Now, THAT's dishonest.

So, are you going to continue to duck the question that is at the very heart of the matter? Are you going to tell us how the schools are going to meet their minimums?
9.18.2008 4:38pm
Suzy (mail):

deciding to pretend that Obama hasn't made specific participation levels promises, ones not possible without compulsion


Yes, that's exactly what I think, based on reading the specific details of his plan as linked to here in earlier posts on this topic. Both that he has not made specific participation levels promises, as opposed to setting a "goal", and that his recommendations do not require compulsion.

The only "mandate" that I know he has proposed is that college students who took advantage of a tuition credit would be compelled to do service as a means of paying back for that credit. I can think of several reasons why someone might disagree with that idea, none of which require distorting the position.
9.18.2008 5:24pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Ryan.
What would be the minimum?
As has been said, the double-nickel and the NCLB were not mandatory at the fed level. It's just that the entities which didn't go along didn't get the money.
So it was the states which made it mandatory. Some insurance companies had what they called "energy speed" to differentiate genuine dangerous speeding from the venial sin of going sixty on an expressway designed for seventy.
It was silly, but it was mandatory. Just that it wasn't a federal law.
Suzy might be trying to get that one past us.
9.18.2008 5:25pm
Suzy (mail):
Why not just say that the federal government doesn't have any business tying incentive funds to what schools choose to teach? Or even more generally, why not just say that we have better things to spend federal money on at the moment? Both of these are excellent arguments and they don't require confusing service learning with volunteer charity work, and they don't require and strange contortionism about what someone said or meant.
9.18.2008 5:35pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Suzy. There aren't many people confused. You are not confused. By this point, the presumption that you just don't get it is toast.
You get it. You like it. You know you can't sell it as is so you misrepresent it.
9.18.2008 7:28pm
David Schwartz (mail):
No, it will be voluntary. Like if I point a gun at your head and ask for you money, handing it over to me is voluntary. You can opt to see if I'll really shoot you or am just bluffing instead.
9.18.2008 7:44pm
kurt9 (mail):
Another fact about Obama's proposal that is not mentioned here is that his federal mandates would not apply to private schools. As you know, many middle and upper middle class parents in many metro areas send their kids to private schools. Since the private schools do not receive money from the feds, they are immune to any arm-twisting mandates from the federal government.

Also, it is likely that Obama's proposals will fuel political support for school choice/school voucher programs in many states.
9.18.2008 7:50pm
Mark Rockwell (mail):
What has this place turned into? You are all a bunch of raving lunatics!! Obama's volunteer service program is going to involve prosecutions and re-education!? My god!

Maybe he's just saying that schools need to setup a program where interested students can volunteer in their community. The school would then encourage students to volunteer. And perhaps they would give students the option of, say, leaving early one day a week to volunteer; or in the alternative, staying for another 2 hours of class time. That way kids could choose what to do. For a lot of high school kids that would be all the compulsion they would need.

To say that setting a "goal" somehow implies conscripted labor is flatly absurd. I hope this banter is just trolling--but sadly it appears to be honest.

And where does all this stuff about liberal-only volunteer groups come from? Pretty clearly that's just thoughtless fear-mongering. Does anyone seriously doubt that the program would accept service time with church groups, etc? (Though, yeah, it may actually decline to give school credit for work done building pipe bombs with radical right wing separatist groups. So that's a kind of biased.)
9.18.2008 8:20pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Yeah, Mark. SERIOUSLY believe church work wouldn't count.
Ditto BSA.
See, here's the really tough part to understand, the kids can already volunteer. Those who want to, do. Those who don't want to don't.
So a completely voluntary opportunity isn't going to make chump change's difference. You think Obama is interested in a huge government program designed to make less than chump changes' difference? I don't mean in its eventual effect, but in its original design.
9.18.2008 8:36pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Mark: "Schools that require service as part of the educational experience create improved learning environments and serve as resources for their communities." Does this mean what it says, or not?
9.18.2008 8:39pm
Mark Rockwell (mail):
David: It probably does, and it's probably true. And if it's up to the individual schools to decide whether they will make service mandatory, I fail to see a problem. But it's far from clear that Obama's plan would require schools to implement mandatory service.

Richard: What leads you to believe that church work wouldn't count? Obama's background itself ought to strongly suggest the opposite. Now, time spent in a sermon on Sunday morning likely would not count, but actual service--I really see no reason why that wouldn't be accepted. Isn't one of Obama's favorite talking points something about faith based initiatives?
9.18.2008 8:49pm
LM (mail):
Glenn W. Bowen:

ya know, judges sentence people to community service.

... and other people seek full-time paid employment in prisons.
9.18.2008 9:07pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Mark.
You will note the dems booed a BSA color guard at a convention some time back. The BSA is having a tough time with some public facilities due to their position on gays.
DADT is the excuse to keep ROTC off some campuses.
I can see credit for working for, say, the Unitarians. Not the Baptists or Catholics.
It is inconceivable that this, among other issues, will not be dispositive as the lawyers say in deciding which work counts and which doesn't. Imagine the ACLU coming to make a case to the local burgermeister about the government providing free labor to institutions which discriminate. Think he'll cave?
Yeah, I'll take Obama's word for this...not.
And then we have the next problem: Does mowing the church's lawn count? Or do you work in the church's mission programs doing work elsewhere?
9.18.2008 10:44pm
David Warner:
Suzy,

NCLB is set up in a similar way to this proposal. Some schools threatened to forgo funding to opt out of NCLB, but in the end they all caved since they're addicted to the fed funding crack. Which is why I'm not so excited about sending out some more pushers.
9.19.2008 12:06am
Mark Rockwell (mail):
One thing I'm not clear on here: Is there a general opposition to federally mandated service, or to the theory that service is beneficial to students? They are two very different oppositions, but they seem to be blurred into one in this debate.
9.19.2008 12:13am