“When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society, but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free.”
– Edward Gibbon
“Involuntary student service is one of a long list of education fads that will end up on the scrap heap of ‘school reform’–hot ideas in their time but soon forgotten in the endless pursuit of newer panaceas.”
– Jane Stern, Former President, Maryland State Teachers Association
Could community involvement bring about a sense of responsibility to a community? Might this increased involvement and responsibility contribute to a higher quality of life within any given community? If the answer is, in any way large or small, yes, then the idea of a community service requirement for Maryland’s high school students holds promise of becoming an important weapon for a community’s fight against the decline of its social order.
But just what is the state’s ser vice requirement? Why was it so controversial before it was finally adopted? Are leadership’s expectations of the program realistic?
Student service, as it has come to be recognized in extensive public and private dialog, is defined as work in support of the quality of life in the community–in general, in’ the areas of health care, education, culture and the arts, environment, neighborhood development, and in the political process.
The Maryland Student Service Alliance defines what it calls “service learning” this way: “Making a difference through actions of caring by personal contact, either in the school or in the community, with preparation and reflection. Making a difference through actions of citizenship, by participating in advocacy projects to assist the disenfranchised or to correct an injustice through petitioning, making presentations, conducting community surveys and presenting results.”
Specific examples might include:
In July, 1992, the Maryland State Board of Education, in the face of heated citizen controversy, voted to make student service a graduation requirement. The motion as carried called for students to complete either 75 hours of conventional community service, or 75 hours of service in a community service program designed by their local school system, and approved by the state school superintendent. The requirement pertained to all students entering the ninth grade as of the 1993- ’94 school year. Maryland was the first state in the nation to establish such a mandate.