Politically Correct Volunteers

Aric Herndon is a shining example of what it means to be a community volunteer. This North Carolina teenager has devoted huge amounts of time and elbow grease to building split-log benches for a community nature trail. But when Aric's high school initiated a public service requirement, he was surprised to learn that his long hours of volunteer work did not qualify. Why? Because Aric had received a Boy Scout merit badge for his work. School authorities said he had to complete another volunteer project—this time, one approved by the school. All across the country, schools are establishing public service requirements that must be fulfilled for graduation. Now, I'm all in favor of asking our kids to give something back to a country that has given them so much. But the trouble with many of these programs is that they put strict limits on what counts as acceptable volunteerism. It's not only Boy Scout and Girl Scout activities that are disqualified. Many young people spend much of their time helping out their own family members—baby-sitting nieces and nephews, or taking aging grandparents to medical appointments. But family charity doesn't count in most public school volunteerism programs. Neither does charity practiced through the church. If you take your turn in the church nursery or teach Vacation Bible School, that doesn't qualify as an acceptable form of volunteerism in the eyes of school officials. What does qualify is activism on behalf of politically correct causes—such as environmentalism, AIDS awareness, and helping the homeless. And even then, the emphasis is often on political activism over genuine altruism. For example, in Maryland schools, students are encouraged to "investigate U.S. companies whose products exploit the rain forests." Since when did altruism mean investigating businesses? Older children are invited to become "watchdogs for the Americans with Disabilities Act, and take action to remedy noncompliance with employment . . . provisions." Students are encouraged to engage in direct political advocacy, such as "writing a letter to the editor, lobbying for a cause, [or] engaging in a political campaign." Turning students into teen-age lobbyists may not be your idea of community service, but it's all part of the emphasis on activism over direct charity embodied in many school programs. Even direct charity is allowed only if it is politically correct. In Maryland, students may volunteer at Planned Parenthood, where they'll help out the local abortionists. But they may not volunteer at a Christian crisis pregnancy center, helping meet the needs of a woman who decides to carry her child to term. As Christians we want to teach our kids that helping others is not optional; it's one of the commandments of Christ. But we should be wary of school programs that send a message that helping family members is less important than saving the rain forest, or that teaching Sunday school has less value than political activism for trendy causes. If your kids attend a school that imposes mandatory community service, you'd better make sure they aren't learning the wrong lessons about charity.


Chuck Colson



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