The state Board of Education has taken an innovative step by making community service work a requirement for high school graduation beginning in the 1993-94 school year.
The new mandate is a long-needed recognition on the part of the state that a good education is far more than mastery of written and verbal skills and mathematical formulas -- that it also involves learning basic values like compassion, decency and involvement. Certainly there is no surer way to teach young people such abstract principles than to give them a chance to work with the poor and the sick or to experience, firsthand, a piece of their community's cultural or political life. There are, of course, immense personal benefits that accrue from community service work as well -- students gain a critical sense of self-worth and self-esteem as respected, and important, members of the community, and they get a chance to explore vocational interests.
The Board of Education wisely did not make the requirement so onerous as to interfere with students' after-school jobs or family responsibilities. Students need only put in 75 hours of community service work over four years, which amounts to just under two hours a month during each of 10 academic months. That's hardly burdensome, but it is enough time to learn some important lessons.