Giving back and giving up

One of the euphemisms frequently heard from social justice promoters these days is giving back. Presumably this assumes that some people have unfairly taken something from others and, thus, should return some of it. Adults volunteering freely and willingly of their time to “community service” is, of course, self-satisfying to many, especially older people. But is it appropriate and useful to require school children to perform community service? I think not.

“It’s a nice idea, and one that has lasting lessons to teach and long-term values to learn,” writes Wilmington StarNews Correspondent Bill Walsh (Link below).  I found no evidence of any “long-term values” or “lasting lessons” of importance in this story—certainly not compared to foregone academic experiences; e.g. studying economics, history, English, mathematics, etc.

First it is not appropriate for government-run schools to indoctrinate students in social justice projects. Naturally, students readily opt to participate in activities that take them away from substantive academic studies such as mingling with “non-profit community partners.” Teachers recognize this. One said, “…we saw that a lot of our students wanted to have involvement in the community, but it was really difficult since so many of them do so many extracurricular’s (sic) after school; their time is pretty limited.”

Although this was identified as a “pretty selective group,” these better students, it seems to me, could benefit much more from traditional academic courses rather than conducting “a fundraiser for the Children’s Museum” or an “ecology-career week” (likely laden with more pseudoscience environmental propaganda).

On a higher level relationship of American citizens with their government the late Dr. Milton Friedman expressed how “free men in a free society” should think about it. Dr. Friedman noted the unworthy “much quoted” comment by President Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” “Neither half of the statement,” wrote Friedman, “expresses a relation between the citizen and his government” worthy of the ideals of free men.

“Ask not what your country can do for you” is paternalistic; government is the patron, the citizen the ward—a view “at odds with the free man’s belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny.” “…what you can do for your country” implies that government is master or god and we are servants or bound by vows to a religion. Our nation, writes Friedman, is a collection of individuals. We regard government as an instrument, “neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served.”

When we are admonished to “give back” for public service we, in essence, acknowledge that government is our master and we mere servants. By giving back we are essentially giving up valuable time that should be spent improving our individual lives—and indirectly those of others.


About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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