Service without reflection is just unpaid work
The day before Thanksgiving, the New York Times published an article on service requirements for high schoolers.
The reporter chose to highlight service requirements for students at expensive private schools, unnecessarily confounding modern ideas about service with noblesse oblige (perhaps so readers could be titillated reading about rich kids who fulfill their service hours on thinly disguised vacations to Thailand and Mexico).
But the reporter's point was this: "Cynics call these programs a form of forced altruism. Proponents say that they widen students’ horizons while getting service work done. Either way, the backlash has begun: not only do college admissions officers roll their eyes at bogus-sounding claims, but high schools are scaling back the requirements, acknowledging that a lot of the so-called service is meaningless."
Well, duh, service for the sake of getting in your hours is just unpaid work.
What makes service meaningful is reflection. Who is helping these young people identify skills and understanding they're developing by working with organizations and with people who are outside their social circle? Is anyone helping them see how their service is bigger than "me doing for you," that it is a way to contribute to the common good - THEIR common good?
With an incoming president committed to active citizenship, discussions about service - what it is and what it can be - are going to be more and more common.