Sep. 17

Should Community Service be a Graduation Requirement?


Today's guest post is written by Samantha Gray who was born and raised in Houston, Texas. She is now a writer for and she loves receiving feedback from her readers at

At my high school, we were required to complete 10 hours of community service in order to receive an honors diploma. I fulfilled my hours by feeding the destitute in a local soup kitchen, cleaning and planting in the fresh air as part a park beautification project, and finally (and more prosaically) stuffing envelopes for a human rights group. It was an interesting and eye-opening experience. I felt both a rush of empowerment and an enhanced appreciation for the tremendous difficulties and beautiful possibilities out there in the world beyond my teenage bubble.

This was back in the late 1990s, when such additions to the school curriculum were still quite novel. These days, an increasing number of schools all over the map are mandating that their students spend a certain amount of time volunteering. While this seems like an admirable trend, in terms of inculcating civic virtue and promoting the importance of giving back, there is a very fair objection to be made: if you make volunteering mandatory, is it still volunteering?

Without getting too deep into the Kantian ethical weeds regarding the relative importance of intentions versus results, I think we can say that, especially for minors, some amount of coercion to do the right thing (in the hopes that such actions will be repeated without pressure in the future) is acceptable.

It’s what we do with our kids, after all. As every parent knows, if we were really under some burden to explain why they had to do everything we make them do, we wouldn’t get very far. But by the end of high school, things change somewhat. Minors are still minors, but we must extend some slack to them, to encourage them to come into their own as young adults.

Then again, there’s an always-controversial fault line between the jurisdiction of parents and that of school administrators. Where community service requirements have been implemented, there has often been some resistance to the idea from parents such as this mom in Catskill, N. Y.

That district was introducing changes that would require an increasing number of hours of community service starting in sixth grade, and ramping up to 40 hours for high school seniors. Her objections also included the school’s liability (or lack thereof) for what students do or what happens to them when away from the campus. This seems like a secondary and resolvable technicality to me, but I sympathize with her general objection.

After all, high school seniors have their academics to attend to, as well as college applications and the not-to-be-dismissed importance of freestyle socializing in this particular stage of life. My personal conclusion is that a 40-hour minimum is rather onerous, but that a simple requirement of 10 hours such as I had is worth any grumbling from a few students. For me, it raised the curtain on a world of good that I could do. And that, truly, is an important life lesson for every teenager.

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