Coercing Citizenship and Community Service

My university has introduced a new requirement for all of its incoming freshmen. Before the beginning of the semester, the new students are obligated to participate in a series of activities aimed at developing their feelings of responsibility as citizens. What does that mean in practice?

Freshmen will be loaded into buses and will be taken to perform community service activities. This will somehow teach them the value of responsible citizenship and communal action.

As of now, there is a total of 3 faculty members at out university who seem to be bothered by the idea of coercing community service out of students. As you might have guessed already, I’m one of them.

For one, this forced socialization bothers me on a visceral level. When people start college, they are already adults. Doesn’t it mean that they should decide for themselves when or whether they want to socialize, be charitable, do things for the benefit of the community, etc.? Isn’t it extremely patronizing to imply that they need to be forced into all of these activities?

Then you have to remember that we are a state university. Making students perform tasks that the state needs seems dangerously close to coercing free labor out of people who don’t have a choice in the matter.

Of course, there are also the autistic students who often thrive in the classroom and do extremely well academically but who, at the same time, are made intensely miserable by the forced cheerfulness of such collective public outings.

The idea that people need to be forced to spend a lot of time together as a group, involved in some sort of a collective action for the benefit of the entire society, and that it is perfectly fine for the government to force people to dedicate their weekend to provide free labor for the benefit of the state is, once again, a deeply Soviet idea.

Yes, I know that I keep repeating the words “the Soviet Union” like an obsessive parrot. But what else can I say if the bailouts, the “too big to fail,” the puritanical hysteria, the forced gynecological procedures, the war on contraception, and the coercion of community service are very familiar to me precisely because I have lived in the the Soviet Union?

We either choose to guide ourselves by the respect for the rights of an individual or we don’t. There is no middle ground and there are no other options. I strongly believe that only through cultivating the respect for the individual rights as the highest value, can we achieve a civilized society worth living in. You know why that is? Because “collective interests” do not exist. There are simply shrewd individuals who manage to sell us their own interests as somehow hugely valuable to everybody. Such people force us to sacrifice our interests for theirs because they hide behind some completely spurious collective good.

About these ads

26 comments on “Coercing Citizenship and Community Service

  1. “There are simply shrewd individuals who manage to sell us their own interests as somehow hugely valuable to everybody. Such people force us to sacrifice our interests for theirs because they hide behind some completely spurious collective good.”

    I was in agreement with you up to the above statement. I would hate to live in your world, where everyone seems to have some devious ulterior motive for every action.

    • Who said anything about “everyone”? “Such people” are definitely not the majority. But they do exist. For instance, the Soviet party apparatchiks were like this. It is hardly my fault that “in my world” they did exist.

  2. In BC, 30 hours of some sort of work experience is (or was) a requirement to graduate from high school (you can meet the requirement any time from Grade 10 to 12). Do you have a similar view of this as to what is going on at your university? One possible distinction you could make between the two is that high school students aren’t (quite) adults.

      • In Israel it isn’t paid. Is it wrong then in your opinion?
        One can volunteer f.e. at the local library, old people home, help kids with homework, etc.

      • //Then it’s a completely different situation.

        Why? May be the student can’t find a paid job (or only a *really* horrible one) and thus is forced to volunteer, or doesn’t want to work now. If forcing students to work (not in doing school lessons meaning) is wrong, then it’s wrong.

      • I think you re translating “different” as “wonderful” for some reason. At this point, I’m discussing the state coercing free labor out of students on its own behalf and forcing socialization onto people.

        Whether internships or volunteering have any value is a completely different discussion.

  3. I’m with you, Clarissa, on this one. i gave up volunteerism after being furious at the scamming that goes on around these activities. I did do a certain amount of this sort of thing as a student, but what I did was strictly in my field to gain experience and eventually to get paying work.
    But to go out and dig ditches or plant gardens or whatever? What is this? Red China? Students need to concentrate on academics, not other matters.

  4. But you don’t understand! We can’t be like the Soviet Union because this is **sparkle** America! **sparkle** And Americans are nice people. The Soviets were mean people. So when we tell you that your time and body aren’t your own, it’s for a nice, American reason, not a mean old Soviet reason.

    I can’t stand this, I really can’t. I’m starting to fantasize about moving to some tiny foreign country that doesn’t matter, like Paraguay. (And by “doesn’t matter” I mean “most Americans aren’t entirely sure where it is, so they won’t go there to look for me.)

    • “So when we tell you that your time and body aren’t your own, it’s for a nice, American reason, not a mean old Soviet reason.”

      - Good point. :-) I haven’t considered that. :-)

  5. We had to do this in nursing school, and they called it “service learning”. All I learned was that I really, really never wanted to work in a nursing home. The worst part was that because it was done on our own time, and I was single with two kids, they had to come with me.

    It was not a bad gig for the 9 year old — the old people liked him and he got to watch TV and play with the service animals. My 13-year-old though, got incredibly frustrated with trying to feed elderly people with Alzheimers’ who were not only unable to feed themselves, but who would try to get away from her.

    When left to our own devices, my kids and I volunteered at animal shelters a couple of times a month from the time the youngest was in kindergarten (and we all still do; right now I’m fostering puppies that would otherwise be euthanized as they are so young they can’t be vaccinated for parvo yet).

    Hattie, if you still want to give your time (and like animals), this is a good way to do so; even a little human contact helps keep them socialized and therefore more adoptable, and you don’t have to hang out with the humans if you don’t want to.

    • My university provides child-care for students with children for the time when they will be doing that community service.

      No alternative arrangements for autistics are provided, however.

  6. I am under the impression that many universities have such requirements but give academic credit for the work; this gives students the opportunity to petition the appropriate university committee for an alternate way of getting these credits. With this sort of safety net, I am not sure this is a violation of civil liberties, any more than was the requirement at my undergraduate college that students attend church every Sunday and attend chapel services from 10 to 10:30 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Students, after all, have the option of not attending this particular college or university.

    • According to this logic, an employer should be free to force people to pray every five minutes and describe every detail of their personal lives to get the employer’s approval. Employers should also feel free to require sexual services from employees. People, after all, have the option of not working for this particular employer.

    • We did not get academic credit for our “service learning”. It was in addition to classwork and in addition to the medical rotations we were already doing. Some people (including me at the time), due to financial concerns and propinquity, don’t really have much of a choice. It’s go to the university/college/whatever near you, or don’t go at all.

      At least with the proliferation of online programs, that is less true than it used to be, although I don’t think I would have been comfortable taking nursing classes on line, especially during the first year. It made a big difference having an instructor on the hospital floor during rotations. The nurses who were working while we students were doing our rotations rarely had time for us.

  7. I’ve only ever been asked to be a volunteer, never told I have to do anything. It seems a school would get more genuine willing participants if they just asked.

  8. There’s also the requirement to live on campus. We require that of freshmen and I’m against it in theory, although in practice, it often means students don’t try to commute from their parents’ house hours away. “I couldn’t come to class because my Mom needed the car to take the dog to the vet” (i.e. my parents are obstructing my education) isn’t an issue then.

    They have community service as part of the freshman seminar, which is required, as it supposedly gets people to bond and to understand how the university works and have contacts and thus lessens the dropout rate. So they get academic credit for this community service — although I am not a fan of volunteerism or of charity, either.

    • “They have community service as part of the freshman seminar, which is required, as it supposedly gets people to bond and to understand how the university works and have contacts and thus lessens the dropout rate”

      - Once again, unless they are autistics. I’m sorry to keep harping on it but there are many brilliant autistics in academia who would be scared away from higher education if the word “bonding” were rolled out at them.

      Such things should be optional, in my opinion.

  9. I think that what this is all a substitute for is real faculty with a low enough teaching load to be able to make connections with students. If your students are faceless in their classes and the faculty are faceless facilitators of canned curricula, then some other way of humanizing the whole experience must be found. I do not favor this state of affairs.

  10. Would it be cool if students got a 3 hour credit for community service no need to pay no grade just 3 hours one weekend a month for a semester. Also under the old definition of citizenship I was a better citizen at 12 than I am at 30, with a degree in political science at 30.

    • “Would it be cool if students got a 3 hour credit for community service no need to pay no grade just 3 hours one weekend a month for a semester. ”

      - That would be called robbing people of an education. :-)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s