Is community service synonymous with slavery? Whether that service is mandated or suggested, could it in any way be construed as enslaving citizens? This week, an acquaintance noted the “irony” that college students would be required by a black president to do community service. She then pointed out the 13th Amendment.
There were two things wrong with this statement. First, by the time she wrote it, it was already old news that Obama had backtracked on his mandatory community service requirement for students. The newer wording on the change.gov website:
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 setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free. 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.
The other thing wrong with the woman’s quote — and the contention of some bloggers — is the equivalence of community service to slavery. One of these things is not like the other.
There are thousands upon thousands of high school and college students, as well as adults, doing some form of community service right now. Service to your community is an altruistic thing; it is a way of perhaps giving back to a community that has given to you. It is a way to reach out to a community, to help others who may not be as fortunate as you, to teach young adults about sharing, caring, and helping others, to do something out of the goodness of your heart that will benefit your community. This is not slavery. This is not forced labor. This is outreach. It represents values. Slavery is an act that benefits no one but the person who owns the slave; community service benefits both the giver and receiver and helps make the world a better place and leaves a general good feeling for everyone involved. It is not comparable to slavery.