Tuesday November 18, 2008 12:20 pm
Werd: Service - Part Two
President-Elect Obama has, in his life and in his campaign, continually stressed the importance of an American public that commits to community service. Unlike the Bush version of sacrifice, which stressed spending money, Obama’s version implies real, hard work: a toil that requires sweat and elbow grease committed by members of the American public in order to improve our society. It is a philosophy demonstrated by his post-law school job as a community organizer and made concrete in his America Serves policy ( as given here on his change.gov website). The text is as follows:
The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free. Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.
Is this a good plan for America?
Read More | Change.gov
Based on my experience, I believe it is. At the all-male private high school I attended (McQuaid Jesuit in Rochester, NY), service was strongly encouraged and, eventually, required. The extracurricular program once known as Magis (Latin for “the more”) became, during my time there, a school philosophy of “Men for Others.” It also moved from an optional activity to a requirement for graduation (at least 40 hours was required to receive a diploma).
My chosen service was with a Catholic grammar school in downtown Rochester. It was a modest commitment: once a week I would go with four other students to watch the kids during recess. We would play games when the kids invited us to play, but mostly we just made sure they stayed out of the traffic that surrounded their parking-lot playground.
There were two main points to our service. The first was merely time: the hour a day McQuaid students gave allowed the overburdened teachers a moment of rest and a chance to work on lesson plans or grading papers (or whatever work they typically performed after they left the building for the day). The second point of our service was to model our behavior for the children. We came in our ties and sport coats to demonstrate to the children our preparatory look. Not only did we ape the look and behaviors of young professionals, we also let the students know that we were offering our time on their behalf. Subtly, we taught them all about the value of service in their young minds by offering its example at their school.
I tend to believe that these are the main aims of all voluntary service: we give our time and our example.
The truth of America in 2008 is that while there are plenty of ideas about how to improve our economy, there are no certain answers. Obama, in presenting his commitment to service, is offering a broader philosophy to solve our nation’s problems.
Typical government solutions aim to throw money at a problem and hope for the best. But a national program of service not only offers the strength of an individual American’s service, it also provides an example that if we work together, we might find discover a solution to our current problems.
The free time I can give might give another American the chance to solve the problems in his/her own life. The example I set in service might move that American to offer the same chance to another fellow citizen. This exponential effect of service will not, alone, move us out of our current catastrophes. However, it will ensure that our future is one based not on the primacy of individual motives (which, by the way, put our entire economy in this terrible position) but on the truth that together, we can overcome any disaster. This is the lesson of America’s history. We can hope to repeat it with our hard work.
Patrick Snajder publishes A World of Logical Consequences and is currently pursuing his dream to become a professional in the animal husbandry industry.
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