28 August 2008

Unpaid Labor, Obama Style

Going to the Mat has a good breakdown of some of the many ways that Obama's Community Service Plan is a rotten idea, noting first that browbeating school districts into making something compulsory instead of requiring it at the national level is not really volunteering in any sense of the word. The rest of the post centers on the realization that this will create a massive new bureaucracy for reporting, monitoring and analyzing school-based servitude. If there's one thing that public schools most certainly do not need now it's more bureaucracy. (In addition you turn service organizations into supplicants, forcing them to kowtow to the DC in order to maintain their volunteering seal of approval.) In pretty much all ways I think Matt is right on.

He also notes that he's dissatisfied with the way Maryland handles "service learning hours" (our cute newspeak for required uncompensated labor). I'm not sure how it's changed in the last 6 years since I was last a Maryland student, but I didn't like it at the time. My experience with it, as well as other objections to compulsory servitude, can be found here. (I've also posted on this topic here, here and here.) Essentially the principal either kept a very strict list of approved activities, in which case they were accused of playing favorites, or the list was wide open and both student and faculty engaged in wide-spread fraud in service reporting. Neither is something I'd like to see ramped up to a national scale.

There is one thing I'd like to add. If you're the kind of person who worries about lobbyist influence in Washington than compulsory service plans ought to really ruffle your feathers. Speeding some organization through the service approval bureaucracy is exactly the kind of favor congressmen like to sell give out.* And (otherwise) free labor is exactly the kind of thing people are willing to pay for in the form of campaign donations. The more goodies you give congressmen to hand out, the more people will come grubbing around trying to get their hands on treats.

* Because it costs them little in political capital, none of their constituents will object that strongly, and if you accuse them of impropriety they fire back that you must not like the goals of the service organization they were paid off to help. "Oh you're complaining that I fast tracked my sister's day care facility? You must hate the children."

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