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 developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year. 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. (Emphasis added--E.M.).Good grief. Has the Obama campaign hired on a bunch of disgruntled DREs from Catholic parishes who think the idea of making kids clean up roadside litter or chat with prisoners in order to prove to the DRE that they are worthy enough to be confirmed was working out so well that the whole country ought to get on board?
The religious education question is for another time; I'm currently in the process of composing a letter to my bishop explaining why the two-tier system (one set of requirements for diocesan parochial students which is simply "Show up, pay $$$$ tuition, get sacraments, lather, rinse, repeat" and another set for public school students who presumably are not receiving regular religious instruction in school, which is "attend weekly classes at the parish from the time you can hold a pencil until you marry or leave the church, whichever comes first; fill such added requirements as community service and anything else we feel like asking you to do, beg us for the sacraments, get told your parents missed a single mandatory meeting which puts you off the list for this year, repeat ad nauseum") is inherently unjust to Catholic homeschooling families, who have made the Catholic education of their children a personal and sacrificial priority, and whose children should not (as a friend of mine reports) have to take two years of Confirmation classes (pre-Confirmation and Confirmation) after a year and a half of which the students have not yet learned anything about the Holy Spirit, His gifts, or His fruits, but have memorized the Mass times of two parishes and are now just starting to talk about Creation and the Ten Commandments. (At this rate, by the time they reach Our Lord's discussion of the Paraclete my young friend will be in her eighties.)
But I digress. The real question at hand is this notion by Barack Obama that schoolchildren ought to be required to do community service as a condition of their public education.
I can see some people saying, in effect, "What's wrong with it? Children ought to learn about service, and since they're receiving a public education there's nothing wrong with asking them to give back to the community."
The problem with that reasoning is that it ignores the most fundamental aspect of the situation: Children do not belong to the state, but to their parents. No one has the right to require anything of children except their parents.
We're not talking about children being required to do their homework, or some other thing which their teachers acting in loco parentis may reasonably be expected to ask of them, such as ordinary obedience and the following of regular rules. We're talking about the state, through the school system, usurping something that fundamentally belongs to the parents: the right to direct their children's civic activities in such a way that supports, and does not contradict, the deeply held beliefs and values of the family.
For instance, a family of devout Muslims might not like their child being asked to serve meals in a soup kitchen where the child might have to handle pork, would they? A strictly observant Jewish family might complain if their child was assigned to clean up roadside litter on a Saturday morning, right? A Christian family wouldn't want their children assigned to stuff envelopes for Planned Parenthood, of course, and a Christian Scientist might object to his children being asked to assist in a public health clinic; a Quaker wouldn't want his child answering phones at a local Army recruitment center. There are countless other examples.
But, one might object, families might be given that choice; and besides, it's only fifty hours. What could be the harm?
The harm is in letting the government intrude even further into your family. The harm is letting the government assume, for one moment, that its rights to direct your children are greater than your own, that your children really belong to the state, and while you are responsible for them in every way until they reach maturity you must bear this responsibility without any corresponding rights to raise them as you see fit.
We must fight this while we still can. Or else fifty hours will become a hundred, and parental choice over the assigned community service will be removed, and the government will "require" more and more from "its" children without any reference to parents whatsoever.