Should High School Students Be Required to Do Community Service Before They Graduate?

High school is a significant center for the socialization of the American younger generation. The state has a long tradition of the educational institutions’ strong link with communities as territorial-administrative units which can be represented by the residential areas in a large city, separate settlements, towns, and villages. Thus, a tradition of familiarizing the representatives of different social and age categories with the volunteering and socially useful work has long been entrenched in the United States. Nevertheless, the advisability of compulsory work in social services for graduating is one of the current stumbling blocks in the educational process. There are polar points of view regarding the discussed issue which vary from the complete rejection of such practice and evaluation of this approach as a violation of human rights to the absolute support and legitimization. Despite the fact that participation in social services contributes to the social integration of students, brings them the best human qualities, and develops the skills to adapt to the environment, such mandatory labor, to a certain extent, becomes the psychological abuse and eliminates the essence of volunteer work that forces to seek compromises and ways of soft engagement of the undergraduates.

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The civil activity of the USA is widely regarded as one of the key indicators of the American society’s maturity. It manifests itself through domestic and foreign, official and non-official policies. It focuses on educating citizens in compassion for the weaker ones and willingness to assist neighbors. Particular emphasis is placed on the education of young people in patriotism and brotherly spirit to serve one another. In recent years, the undergraduates’ participation in the voluntary initiatives remains unstable. At the same time, more and more high schools require students to have worked a certain number of hours within the framework of social services.

The foundation of this movement was laid in the late 1980s and early 1990s and the rate among young people aged 16-19 years increased from 13.4 to 24.5 percent in the period of 1989-2007. It should be noted that not all students and their parents accepted the requirements optimistically, up to the submission of claims against the mandatory social work. However, in the 1990s, there was an even greater impetus to the service as a result of the federal incentives. I believe that it could be explained in the following way. At its core, the practice is extremely useful because it helps the process of socialization (adaptation) to a modern society, fosters respect for the socially useful work and love for people, making students more humane. Moreover, I think that it tempers a character and allows a student to feel like an adult. Social services give an opportunity to teach and apply life skills and instill a sense of liability to neighbors. It provides a basis for the formation of the core of civil society which involves the formation of non-state actors in the economic, socio-political, and spiritual spheres.

The need for the formation of a civil society through the provision of social activity of students is revealed in the article by Ryan. The author notes that the significant changes needed in the society depend on the correct application of knowledge and skills, the cultivation of traditional values and motivation. The education received by undergraduates is not sufficient because it provides mainly theoretical load. However, I agree with Ryan that the real benefit may be gained by means of direct participation in the process of socialization only. The key dilemma concerns the voluntary nature of social work. The very fact of labor’s obligation causes the disapproval of many students. Nevertheless, lawsuits against the system have failed.

The American Public School Law highlights an example of Daniel Immediato’s case. The undergraduate filed a lawsuit because of the reluctance to perform a compulsory social practice before graduation. He and his parents referred to the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments and the violation of the civil rights. However, the court did not support the plaintiffs. The core counter-arguments were the following: the short terms of a social service (forty hours in four years only), its variability, and the opportunity to create a flexible working schedule (including lessons-free summer). Additionally, the authors of the book underlined the need to build a civil society, just as Ryan did that. The services are also recognized as an integral element of familiarizing students with serving the community and the provision of mutual support.

The variability of social practice is explored by Khanna. Similar to the previous authors, she considers social upbringing and educating the undergraduates as the fundamentally important duties of the state institutions. However, unlike her colleagues, Khanna tries to find a compromise that will transform the obligatory work into an experience search. She notes that numerous students continue to engage in volunteering after graduation. It speaks to their awareness and the appeal of such work. Nevertheless, primarily, it is necessary to encourage students. Social learning can be a solution to the issue. Undergraduates could be inspired by helping homeless, orphans, or elders, who have no families. Khanna proposes the development of capstone courses and projects that include a community-based component and provide comprehensive training cooperation with organizations. In other words, students take psychology courses and are taught the correct method of communication for cooperation with the local schools and unions. It makes their work deeper and more intelligent. Thus, each participant feels like not a performer only but a partner of the team that works for the benefit of the society as well. Thus, the usefulness of the social practice of students is not in doubt. However, its coercive character is able to jeopardize the initiative and enthusiasm of the undergraduates.

Despite the fact that the social service obligation seems to be justified, there is a strong contrary view. From my point of view, the principle arguments to oppose compulsory social labor could be the following ones. Work in a social service before graduation can take time from the basic training. Additionally, not all people are able to engage in volunteering due to the preferences of mental activity. Social work is specific and must be counted as practice for the students of certain professions.

American researchers consider two core counterarguments against the mandatory social practices in high schools. Thus, Parker treats it as the slave labor element. He emphasizes that a forced operation does not bring happiness and satisfaction. Moreover, it is not conducive to spiritual growth. On the contrary, it causes rejection and hostility. The article contains an analogy between free and prison types of labor, which have little difference in the discussed context. I believe that there is a grain of truth because if there is no desire and inspiration, any work becomes a heavy burden. For such considerations, social labor in the education-free time is perceived as a prison sentence and does not benefit the maturation process. Thus, I return to the Khanna’s position of applying educational techniques to encourage students. Creative approach and close collaboration with educators can make students’ social activity more fruitful and prolonged.

The article of Sparks also emphasizes the inadmissibility of the forced labor, which gradually causes the hatred of the students to their social responsibilities. The author also stresses that, depending on age, students have different attitudes to social work. Middle school adolescents can regularly participate in social services and perceive volunteering as a natural part of the acquisition of practical skills. At the same time, undergraduates have the wider range of interests and responsibilities. Therefore, they consider social practice as an activity that takes much time and tend to rely on their activity of previous years. If management does not meet undergraduates’ requests, the desire to engage in volunteering disappears. The author highlights that, unfortunately, the mass work in scopes of the social services is gradually becoming an element of the modern culture and loses the overriding sense when people engage in volunteering at the behest of their heart. 

Basically, any forced labor cannot be considered as volunteering. This idea is also reflected in Greenya’s paper. The researcher examines two positions – a liberal approach, which presupposes the existence of the mandatory social practice, and a conservative point of view, which states that a really good work can be done only of one’s own free will. Author’s findings coincide with the results of the study of Khanna. He does not deny the importance of social work but emphasizes that it must be replaced by service-learning which does not involve rigid requirements and assists students in disclosing their talents. Additionally, the author stresses that the abandonment of the practice should not have consequences in the form of any penalties or fines. In other words, the end of education should not depend on the practice if it cannot accommodate the specifics of a specialty. Thus, the opponents of the social service involvement have several weighty arguments against its enforcement and I believe that they should be taken into account in a democratic state.


After a deep analysis of the discussed issue and considering the views of the researchers, the following conclusions can be drawn. Participation in the social services activity is a significant task which can and should be brought to life by the undergraduate students. The key feature of this approach is the formation of a civil, patriotism-oriented society that lives on the principle of the mutual support and spiritual development. However, it is unacceptable to consider social labor as the mandatory practice. Moreover, it is not pedagogically correct to establish links between its passage and the completion of education if the very practice is not provided within the chosen specialty. I agree that coercion negates the principles of volunteering and discourages the majority of students to fulfill their social responsibilities. The best solution in this situation is the development of courses and special projects focused on the joint work of students and educators and providing a mix of physical and creative activities. The proper and useful things could be done only in good faith.

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