December 2007

Top Stories
• Over 1,000,000 Served
• Cutting Off Debate
• To Christian Ears
• Naomi Chazan
• Unsportsmanlike
• Statecraft
• The Enemy Within
• Letters to the Editor

In Their Own Words
• Dennis Kucinich

Networking Central

• Bikel

Teen Voice
• Volunteering
• Students Against AIDS

Raising A Mensch
• Survive Christmas

Living Judaism
• A Joyful Noise

The Kosher Table
• Quick Hanukkah Feast

Free Subscription

Past Issues
2008 J


    Email This     About     Subscription     Donate     Contact     Links     Archives  

Teen Voice

Getting your money's worth?

-- Gabrielle Loeb

A busy, work-laden high school student patiently tutors a younger child at the library, going through the multiplication table for the hundredth time. She has a rhetorical analysis essay to write for the next day as well as three other tests to study for, but somehow she manages to make the time to help this child with her arithmetic. Though she may seem like a generous mensch, devoting time to help younger children learn, the project was not of her own devising. She is getting credit at her high school for her good deeds through her school’s community service course.

This community service course allows students at many different high schools to earn credit while helping the community in many different ways including packing and delivering food to those in need, tutoring younger students, working on political campaigns, and helping out at a library or a hospital. This may seem like a win-win proposition for the school, the students, and society, yet is a school community service for school credit really benevolent in the long term for a community?

At  first, the answer to this question seems obvious: school community service is great since it encourages students to give back to their community after benefiting from it throughout their entire lives. Students in community service courses make up a large part of many volunteer groups and greatly increase their productivity. Perhaps the students do so only to impress the universities to which they are applying, but at least they are doing good deeds. Is the answer, however, truly that simple?

Giving students community service credit may lead students to believe that they will always be rewarded for their good deeds. If students who do community service are rewarded with credits at the end of the year and an improved college application, the next time they do community service, they will be looking for that same reward. Students will ask, "What is in it for me?" instead of looking at how it helps others. Taught to be egocentric, they will be going against the eloquently-stated advice of President John F. Kennedy, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Students will not learn the importance of their community and helping the needy, but instead will choose to focus entirely on themselves and the benefits they can reap by serving their community.

On the other hand, some students will learn the value of community service through their experience instead of learning to look only for the reward. After hours of helping the sick or feeding the hungry, some students will eventually see through the bubble they have lived in since their birth. Children are often isolated from the general community and are blinded to its needs, as well as to the existence of people less fortunate than themselves. As teenagers, students must emerge from their protective bubbles of isolation and realize there are needs greater than their own. By participating in community service, students may realize that the cause they are participating in has some value other than as an additional entry on their college applications. These students may even continue to help their community in different ways as a result of the experience, and the school-credit bonus will have opened the door to a wonderful opportunity to change their way of life.

Yet students may be repelled by community service if they think of it as a tedious obligation. In the World Jewish Digest article What’s Wrong With Hebrew School?, Mindy Schiller explains that students who attend Hebrew school end up having a weaker Jewish connection later in life and are more secular than those who had no Jewish education simply because forcing someone to do something can cause that person to hate it. Students attending Sunday school once a week are more likely to intermarry, according to a new study by Steven M. Cohen, a Jewish American sociologist. If something is obligatory, students reason, it cannot be enjoyable or worthwhile. Pressured to take a community service course by both friends and family, students may develop a distaste for community service in general, and participate half-heartedly while counting down the hours until their service is completed. One can see that school community service may increase volunteerism in the short term, but in the long term it may cause students to turn away from it for the same reasons as those obligated to attend Hebrew School are more likely to turn away from Judaism later on.

If the obligation to take community service is what repels teenagers, logically the idea should come from the teenager to enroll in the community service course. Students must choose to take a community service course themselves and be sure that they are not doing it either for college transcripts or because of pressure from parents and friends. The problem is that if all the unmotivated students choose not to take a community service course, the only students left in the course would be the ones who were already participating in community service regularly. The course would not increase the number of students helping the community, which is one of the main goals in having a community service course in the first place.

So how can schools encourage students to make time for community service though credit rewards and simultaneously teach students to appreciate community service for its own value? Eliminating the course would decrease the number of students involved in community service. Offering the course to students who feel pressured to take it would decrease those students’ appreciation of serving their community. So what is the solution?

The course itself must be preserved as a crucial way to introduce students to the larger world and to show them that they can have an actual, crucial impact on it. However, one thing that needs to be changed are the community service course meetings at school. Instead of emphasizing the importance of keeping precise track of hours, thereby demonstrating the teacher’s distrust of the students, the course must emphasize the impact that students have on their community. The community service teacher at school needs to make sure that the students’ experiences are rewarding and educational ones in order to insure that the students will take away an appreciation of the full beauty and the utter necessity of helping in their community. In the long term, making the course more inspiring and pleasurable for the students will create more willing, dedicated leaders.

Previous Columns

Did you enjoy this article?

If so,

  • share it with your friends so they do not miss out on this article,
  • subscribe (free), so you do not miss out on the next issue,
  • donate (not quite free but greatly appreciated) to enable us to continue providing this free service.

If not,