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Obama’s Call to Service Creates Controversy

Community service is certainly not a new concept. Yet, the issue has created a lot of new controversy since President-Elect Barack Obama issued a call to service during his historic campaign.

“I won’t just ask for your vote as a candidate; I will ask for your service and your active citizenship,” said Obama in a speech in 2007. And, now that his presidency is just around the corner, people are paying closer attention to exactly how Obama will ask for our service.

Alright, let’s go over those details. Obama plans to enable more individuals to serve in the Corporation for National and Community Service, by increasing the number of positions from 75,000 to 250,000. He’ll add a Classroom Corps, Health Corps, Veteran Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and others to help improve conditions in schools, nursing homes, and the environment across the country. President-Elect Obama also will double the Peace Corps, and provide more opportunities for retired persons to serve their communities. He’ll provide more federal assistance to non-profit organizations while helping them to become more effective.

So far, so good. Nothing there sounds controversial to me. Let’s continue.

In an effort to encourage America’s young people to become more community-minded, Obama plans to develop national guidelines for service-learning initiatives in our schools. College students who conduct 100 hours of community service each year will earn a $4,000 tax credit. Finally, Obama plans to “set a goal that all middle and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year.”

Ah, there’s the controversy. Many schools have had this service mandate in place for several years, which has stirred differing opinions because of its very divergent nature. Service to others, volunteering, is by nature something a person chooses to do because it feels good. When one is being required to volunteer, it defeats the very purpose of volunteering. It never feels as good and it will never build the same giving spirit in someone when he or she is being mandated to serve.

Though it is impossible to debate the fact that required service defeats the purpose of volunteering, I think the folks who are making this argument are missing the point.

Obama’s service focus is on children, our country’s future generation. Why do we send our children to school? Because they don’t know everything – they must be taught. Why do we send our children to churches and temples? Because they don’t understand everything – we must help them understand. Why do parents take care of their children? Because they cannot take care of themselves yet – we must help them become independent.

So, why should we teach our children to serve others? Because they don’t realize that they can – we must show them how to make a difference.

After all, no one lives alone, really. We are all part of one community, one country, one world that is connected by all the people who share in it. Teaching our children to give back to their community is like teaching them to share their toys. One day, in the future, your child may need help. Where will he get the help if no one is taught to care?

I’m all for service learning. I would rather see children feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and learning to have compassion, than watching television. What on Earth can possibly be bad about learning how to help others?


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