Mandatory Student Service for Maryland’s High School Graduates

September 1993 / Abell Reports / Education

Is it ‘public service’ that builds character and communities? Or is it ‘involuntary servitude?’

“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:

  • planting marsh grass and painting storm drains;
  • tutoring and mentoring;
  • taking meals to senior citizens; and,
  • creating running and biking trails through the Rails and Trails program.

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.