The proposals, taken from the site, are as follows:
Integrate Service into Learning
- Expand Service-Learning in Our Nation's Schools: Obama and Biden will set a goal that all middle and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year. They will develop national guidelines for service-learning and will give schools better tools both to develop programs and to document student experience. Green Job Corps: Obama and Biden will create an energy-focused youth jobs program to provide disadvantaged youth with service opportunities weatherizing buildings and getting practical experience in fast growing career fields.
- Expand YouthBuild Program: Obama and Biden will expand the YouthBuild program, which gives disadvantaged young people the chance to complete their high school education, learn valuable skills and build affordable housing in their communities. They will grow the program so that 50,000 low-income young people a year a chance to learn construction job skills and complete high school.
- Require 100 Hours of Service in College: Obama and Biden will establish a new American Opportunity Tax Credit that is worth $4,000 a year in exchange for 100 hours of public service a year.
- Promote College Serve-Study: Obama and Biden will ensure that at least 25 percent of College Work-Study funds are used to support public service opportunities instead of jobs in dining halls and libraries.
Whenever I read "disadvantaged youth" in the context of some plan to put kids to work, my warning bells go off. This wonderfully uplifting and noble idea of community service bundles a truckload of class assumptions that need to be unpacked. Here are a few questions that immediately jump out at me:
- What does "community service" have to do with formal education?
- What is going to count as such service? Are kids going to be put to work providing free labor for jobs that really should be done by a well paid adult?
- Are kids going to be working for religious organizations? Will religious groups get funding and other goodies by calling their youth operations "community service"?
- Why shouldn't kids get to count their religious activities as community service? I know a few kids who build houses for the poor through a church program, for example. Would that count?
- How are kids going to be assigned to it - what guarantees are there that it won't be poor kids get to do the dirty jobs and well off kids get to do the stuff that will look good on college applications?
- Why is it just "disadvantaged" students who are to be put to work in construction jobs, a negative growth industry at present?
- Why aren't "advantaged" students being required to learn manual trades?
- What safeguards are in place to ensure gender equity in "service" assignments?
- Where will this work be done? On school grounds? Will these programs guarantee safe working conditions and free transportation to and from work sites to the kids' homes?
- Are these kids expected to provide materials (work clothes, building/office supplies, etc.) to get the jobs done?
- Is this service to be done on top of school, homework, existing jobs, family obligations, and the activities the kids have picked for themselves? Are the kids going to be asked to "sacrifice" some other part of their lives to supply free labor to the "community"?
- What about kids whose work at home is needed to free up their parents to work jobs and make money, such as tending younger siblings and doing housework?
- Are kids who refuse to provide free labor going to have their academic standing downgraded?
- Are these rules going to be applied to private schools, or is it only public school students who need to provide free labor?
- How will any of these high school oriented service opportunities help the girls I discussed in Dreams of Our Daughters? Are you really going to tell these girls that what they are doing just isn't enough, thank you very much, and that they need to work for the community in addition to trying to keep their lives from spinning out of control?
It strikes me that these kids don't owe anyone any service, but that a hell of a lot is owed to them, such as fully funded schools, more access to college, teachers who are paid enough to attract top talent, smaller classes, full employment for their parents and an employment base that is not divided into the pink and blue collar have-nots and the white collar gimme-mores.
Looking ahead to college, it is a little less coercive, but still does nothing to relieve the burdens on lower class students trying to get ahead. A tax credit for community service? Oh, please, not more of this rewarmed Republican bullshit. Why should poor kids have to take time out from their studying to scrounge up some tax credit? How about providing no interest loans to kids from families with incomes less than the national average?
Trying to convert college-based jobs for free labor in "the community" is stupid. My work study jobs were as a research assistant to professors who encouraged me to use it as an opportunity to expand my own interests. Other students who worked in food service or the library (items singled out in the above proposal) made money while on campus, reducing transportation and scheduling issues, plus could more easily mix studies with work. I don't think these "poor people better work!" proposals understand how difficult it can be to get around if you are already short of funds and don't have a car or ready access to convenient public transportation. "Service" sounds great until you factor in how time is precious when you need to work as well as go to school.
And none of it addresses the social inequities, that well-off students will not need to do these things and can spend their time 100% dedicated to their studies, or "networking" with their buddies and professors to schmooze their way into plum job opportunities.
In the end, whatever the good intentions, these "service" plans continue to reduce poor and working class teens and young adults to "hands" - what physical labor can we extract from you because your parents aren't rich enough to shield you from economic want? And let's be clear that this is not something that is going to touch the offspring of the well-to-do. That segment of society already picks and chooses what "service" it wishes to perform, if any. Participation in these programs brands the kids as being from the losing end of the socio-economic spectrum. They are being asked to fill in the community maintenance shortfalls that exist because of the screwed up social and economic policies that have impoverished communities since Reagan.
The idea that these kids owe society something when they have yet to receive much of anything boggles my mind.