Independent School, Winter 2000
“Community Service for adults and children
long with pushing for academicachievement and a sense of safety andself-esteem in students, schools need tofocus on citizenship – that is, teaching childrenhow to get along with others and be productivemembers of the broader community.Research suggests that there is a clear connection between community service programs in schools and the later civicinvolvement of adults. In interviews, adults whowere involved in service as youths, especiallythose active in the Civil Rights Movement of thesixties, say that they feel their involvement wascritical in shaping their identity. Most also saythey are still involved in their communities asadults. They feel that service increased their awareness of society’s ills and offered them achance to help alleviate problems. Theinvolvement also gives them a chance to formconnections with people and groups who weresimilarly committed to social reform.It’s because of the later connection andcommitment that many schools (including TheBryn Mawr School in Baltimore, where I teach)are working hard to get students involved incommunity service even at the middle schoollevel. Through community service at BrynMawr, for instance, instead of seeingBaltimore’s disadvantaged youth as a group of others (as many adults and politicians do),students are able to see for themselves howmuch they have in common with poor children.Equally important, the learning goes both ways.Two groups of people who have most likelyheard less than lovely things about each other and may well are programmed to mistrust eachother, have an opportunity to meet, interact, andget to know each other as fellow human beings.This interaction at an early age is vital. Theinner-city kids and our kids who go to the PAL(Police Athletic League) centers together twice aweek are the ones who will be leading the city inthe future. Having a chance to meet and formtheir own opinions and friendship can make areal difference in shaping a better community. Itis less likely for people to fear, and thus ignorethe needs of, those whom they know andunderstand. It is the fear of the unknown thatcreates so many problems. Through communityservice, schools seek to make the unknown known,to bring to light the common humanity in all people,so that we can promote understanding and caring.It is just as important, especially whendealing with adolescents, to get them involved at anearly age in order to foster the habit of moralresponsibility. Research suggests that youth struggleto figure out how they fit into the world beyond their own friends and family. Community service takessome of the struggle out of that journey. Byempowering students to take responsibility, and atthe same time expand their own socialunderstanding, we are promoting moral growth.For parents who are asking how they can getmore involved in their children’s education,community service offers a perfect opportunity. Bygetting involved in community service, parents canmodel their children the sort of behavior we all knowleads to a better world and to happiness within thisworld. They have a perfect opportunity to work withtheir children for the benefits others, while helpingtheir children discover who they are and they relateto the rest of the world.We need to instill in student a respect for,and responsibility with, people are from all areas of our society. We need them to understand that thisresponsibility is good for both of them to understandthat is good for both them and the world aroundthem. We have enough evidence from our own pastabout what terrible things can happen when peoplewill not, do not, cannot, see the common ground,what it is that makes as human being. There is agood bit of evidence to make up believe that notteaching this behaviors and getting youth involved incommunity service can lead to the kind of commitment to social action in their later lives thatwe are after. There is a firm philosophical basis to believe that moral responsibility and action can beencouraged and achieved as a result of this kind of introduction into the lives of young people. We areteaching and raising future mayors and socialworkers, governors and presidents – even teachers – and the habits and attitudes they start now may well be with them forever.
Donna Tuttle is the Latin teacher and coordinator of student activities at The Bryn Mawr School (Maryland).
I N D E P E N D E N T
S C H O O L
P A R E N T