Friday, November 7, 2008

A half-hearted defense of indentured servitude for secondary school kids

GammaBoy, as per usual, your argument is lucid and passionate with many great points. I generally agree with your view on this one. After all, I hate being told what to do by anyone, whether it’s my bitch-whore ex-wife or government bureaucrats. If I want to ladle soup for some smelly, toothless vagrant, I’ll do so when I’m good and goddamn ready and not a minute sooner.

In addition, Obama contradicts his own rhetoric. From his website: “When you choose to serve—whether it is your nation, your community, or simply your neighborhood—you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not just for ourselves, but for all Americans.” He fails to say what results when you are forced to serve. I suspect you feel more of a connection to the Maoist ideal.

BUT…let’s look at it another way.

Is requiring 50 hours a year from middle- and high-schoolers inconsistent with their being subjected to other school requirements? After all, I was required to, among other things, go to public school almost every day; pass pathetically easy standardized math and language skills tests; and wear ball-hugger gym shorts. I remember not having much of an option when told to put my hand over my heart and pledge my allegiance to this great nation and its flag. Kids have to jump through a lot of hoops—many of them mandated by the state—in order to graduate from school. Those hoops are there to make sure we have a certain baseline level of education, patriotism, physical fitness, etc. It is a way of indoctrinating our youth into our society and instilling some basic, universally agreed-upon values. Is adding one more hoop for kids to jump through necessarily a bad thing? After all, reasonable people would agree that community service is a positive force in society, and learning to do it as a kid could lead to making it a habit later in life. Good parents already force their kids to do community service anyway.

This line of reasoning breaks down in the requirement for college students. College students are over 18 and beyond the point where society needs them to jump through state-mandated hoops. They are adults and, as such, should have the right to spend their time as they please.

Strangely, the proposal on Obama’s site says college students get a $4,000 tax credit for doing their 100 hours worth of service. When I was in college, I certainly did not make enough income to generate $4,000 in taxes and, therefore, take advantage of a $4,000 tax credit. If I had made enough coin, it would have been in a full-time job; combine that with a rigorous course load, and I’m not sure I would have had time to bang out 100 hours of community service and still get drunk on the weekends. The $4,000 sounds like a lot, especially to college students ($40/hour!), but they will likely see only a fraction of that amount in tax benefit. It’s a little bit of a bait-and-switch. Plus, giving this economic incentive to college students hurts college-age non-students who are paying normal taxes on their larger but still-meager incomes. Why aren’t they allowed to do 100 hours of community service when they can find the time and get the same tax credit? Doesn’t this seem slanted towards rich, full-time students? (My use of the word “slanted” in no way implies that I think all college students are Asian, though many good ones are.)

You cite ACORN and MoveOn as nefarious sorts of community service, but it’s not clear the government intends to dictate what type of service you do (if they do, then we have a problem). If some school administrator wants to force kids to do something sketchy, I’m sure parents would have the discretion to steer their kid elsewhere and into something a little more wholesome, like ladling soup for smelly, toothless vagrants. It’s just like if your gym teacher makes you play soccer, the communist game. Your parents can complain and have you do a self-directed thesis on the spread-option offense instead.

Last point: Obama had no need to put the “requirement” language into his policy. He has millions of people who hang on his every word and could have recruited at least half of them to volunteer simply by snapping his fingers. All of this seems very unnecessary.


Restless Native said...

What say we tone it all down, especially since I am in a compromised state, unless and until we hear the particulars on the proposal that has set GB's heart a-flutter.

I will confess that I resorted to a few (fun) devices, like referring to GB as GammaGirl, and his horde of followers as "she-males". Mea culpa. It was all in good fun.

I also forgot the primary rule, which is that you can't come in cack-handed with a regular response. One must respond in the custom and style to which one has become accustomed.

I kneel before you, GammaBoy, contrite for having half-assed a response.

I hearby swear to be a bit more rigorous in my missives forthwith.

Appropriately cowed,

Nativo Inquieto

GammaBoy said...


Very good post. I didn't see the $4000 tax credit, prefering to fly off the handle at the sight of the word "require". I hope this all just a tempest in a teapot, but I'll wait for Obama to clarify.

Restless, you made me laugh out loud with your comment. In return, I'll try be less solemn forthwith.