Student service debate: the sequel

January 26, 1993

When the state Board of Education considered new graduation requirements last year, the hearings drew 143 speakers and 693 written comments. People talked about home economics courses, about algebra and geometry, about health education. But most of all, they talked about a proposal that all students be required to complete 75 hours of public service before they can get a high school diploma. After listening to the debate and after surveying local school districts about how much it would cost to implement, the board approved the 75-hour requirement as part of new graduation standards which take effect with students who enter ninth grade next fall.

But some school officials and politicians continued to grumble about student service, and the legislature has before it bills which would overrule the education board and kill the requirement. Tomorrow, the state Senate will conduct a hearing that is likely to bring forward a host of familiar arguments against the requirement: that it will be expensive to administer, that it will create insurance liability for the schools, that it will take attention and resources from "real learning," that the idea of "required volunteerism" is wrong and constitutes illegal "involuntary servitude." These arguments are tired, and they are wrong.

Private schools in this area and public schools in other places have had such requirements for years. (One reason cited by Bill and Hillary Clinton for enrolling daughter Chelsea at Sidwell Friends was that they liked its service requirement.) They have not proved expensive to implement. The bookkeeping does not need to be onerous and, in some schools is even handled by students who themselves get service credits for doing the work.

Much useful service can be performed right in schools: tutoring, peer counseling and so on. And there is substantial benefit from getting students out of the schools and into the community.

Student service is a good idea. The Board of Education acted after careful consideration of the issue. The legislature, which has no business meddling in the board's decisions anyway, should swiftly dispose of the bills which attempt to reverse this wise decision.

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