Noble ends do not justify coercive means


August 05, 1991|By Roger Simon

Letters, calls and the roar of the crowd:

John C. Sprague, Vice President, Maryland Board of Education, Rockville: While you are correct that the Wednesday vote mandating 75 hours of compulsory public service for all Maryland schoolchildren was unanimous, the vote the day before on the plan itself was 7-2, and I was one of those opposed.

It is not a workable plan. I worry about the ability of the teachers to find something for all these kids to do. What's going to happen is that a lot of these kids are going to end up scrubbing bathroom floors for their public service.

This is a liberal "wouldn't-that-be-neat" kind of thing. The goals are wonderful. But I agree with you that mandatory volunteer service is an oxymoron. You can't force feed this to the kids.

And this thing has no resources, no money attached to it. Currently, we're involving only about 5 percent of the kids in voluntary community service programs. If we force feed it, OK, we may reach 50 percent.

But what about the other 50 percent? What do we do? Fail them out of high school? Naw. I don't think so.

We're going to have public hearings on this thing and by the time they are done, I think we are going to have to back off.

I think this plan will eventually not go into effect. I hope it won't.

COMMENT: If this plan does go into effect, by the 1993-94 school year, every kid in Maryland who wants to graduate from high school will be forced to perform those 75 hours of public service.

This is being done under the admirable goal of wishing them to become better citizens. But it is also being done under the heavy hand of compulsion.

Apparently somebody has forgotten that John Kennedy did not say: "Ask not what your country can do for you; I'm gonna tell you what you are going to be forced to do for your country."

Kennedy's Peace Corps and VISTA were voluntary and he had no trouble getting volunteers. Why? Because people were inspired to do public service, not drafted into it.

Following my Friday column on this issue, I also got a call from Kathy Levin, who runs the successful Magic Me program, which encourages school kids to volunteer to help in nursing homes and the like. (The program was awarded President Bush's 362nd "Daily Point of Light" in January, named after his "thousand points of light" speech.)

Levin admits working in a nursing home is not easy and that kids should not be allowed to reject it without a real try. "Community service is not for sissies," she told me.

But she also echoed what Jack Sprague said: "I'm a believer that you can't force people to volunteer. It's an oxymoron. What you have to do is expose them to community service."

Levin does not oppose the new state plan. But she thinks it can work only with the kind of "highly inspirational, highly trained leaders" that Magic Me produces. And that, she says, takes money.

But where are these "highly inspirational, highly trained" leaders going to come from to inspire every single schoolchild in Maryland? They are going to be the teachers, of course. Who already have pretty full plates, what with trying to teach kids to read, write, add and not shoot each other in the hallways.

Some teachers have great motivational abilities. Some do not. But every kid in Maryland is going to have to suffer the consequences.

This new program is based on the premise that it is OK to reach a good goal (public service) through a bad means (forced labor). And I just don't think that's the lesson we ought to be teaching our children.

* Albert E. Saval, President, Saval Foods, Baltimore: They don't fry the pastrami at Jack's; they grill it.

COMMENT: I asked my eating and spiritual adviser, Rob Kasper, for a ruling on this matter.

He informed me that according to Alexandre Dumas' Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, "frying is the action of cooking meat, fish vegetables in butter, oil or lard."

Alexandre Dumas, of course, is better known as the author of The Three Musketeers, which, as I recall, indicated he knew a whole lot about sword-fighting and not cooking, but who am I to argue with a dead Frenchman?

Kasper provided his own definition for grilling: "Cooking a naked or a near naked slab of food over a 2-Mississippi barbecue fire." As Kasper explains, "A 2-Mississippi fire means you can hold your hand over the fire and count '1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi' before your hand hurts." [And then you get to rush the quarterback.] So technically, Al, you are correct. Pastrami is very fat, however, and the act of grilling releases that fat and, in my opinion, creates a condition very close to frying.

In any case, at Jack's, which was renamed "Lenny's Deli of Lombard Street" a few days ago, I'd advise people to order the corned beef.

7+ Just tell them Monsieur Dumas sent you.


Big Don O'Brien and Wendy Corey, 92 STAR, WYST FM, Baltimore: Is it possible to get a copy of the article you wrote about us at the Governor's Mansion printed on just one page? If so, could you please send two copies in care of the station? Thanks.

COMMENT: I suppose it is possible. I suppose a nation that has sent men to the moon is capable of printing my column on a single page. But that would defeat the purpose.

The whole purpose of splitting my column onto two pages and making it difficult to read is to challenge the reader: Does he or she really want to turn the page? Is it worth the effort?

And therefore it is my job to write just as well as I can to persuade people to turn that page and find out how the column turns out. It is also healthy for them. Doctors estimate that turning the page to get to the end of my column burns between .013 and .015 calories, about the same amount of energy it takes to blow your nose.

And ask yourself, Big Don and Wendy, which would you rather do?

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