OF THE GOVERNOR'S CALL TO SERVICE
08/09/1999: Forced to Volunteer: (Where's the Irony?)
Submitted by: Erika Freihage
Long Beach Press-Telegram
Monday, August 9, 1999
COMMENT, p. A11
"FORCED TO VOLUNTEER: (WHERE'S THE IRONY?)"
By Thomas Sowell
The term "liberal" originally referred politically to
those who wanted to liberate people -- mainly from the oppressive
power of government. That is what it still means in various European
countries or in Australia and New Zealand. It is the American meaning
that is unusual: People who want to increase the power of government,
in order to accomplish various social goals.
Typical of what liberalism has come to mean in the United States
today is a proposal by California Governor Gray Davis that the state's
colleges and universities make "community service" a graduation
requirement. His plan immediately won the unconditional support
of the state's largest newspaper, the liberal Los Angeles Times.
There was no sense of irony in its editorial claiming beneficial
effects for "students who are forced to volunteer."
Forced to volunteer. That is the Orwellian notion to which contemporary
liberalism has sunk.
"What could be wrong," the LA Times asks, "with
teaching students, as the governor puts it, that 'a service ethic
. . . (has) lasting value in California?'" A community service
requirement "could reap a valuable return in a new generation
of civically minded citizens."
Here we get to the heart of the so-called community service idea.
Its central purpose is to create a certain set of attitudes in the
students. It is compulsory submission to state-sponsored propaganda
for liberals' vision of the world. That is what students must be
"forced to volunteer" for.
What is wrong with the idea of a free people, using their own time
as they see fit, for those things that matter most to them, instead
of being pawns in a propaganda program more in keeping with what
happens in totalitarian societies? What is wrong with each individual
defining for himself or herself what being civic minded means, instead
of having the government define it and impose it?
In a country where more than 90 million people already volunteer
for civic projects of their own choosing, why must students be drafted
to become "volunteers" for environmentalism or other causes
dear to the heart of the Los Angeles Times or Governor Davis? The
casual arrogance of those who define for other people what is a
"community service" is breathtaking.
Environmentalism can -- and does -- reach extremes where it is
a disservice to the community. Programs which subsidize the homeless
lifestyle can turn able-bodied men into idle nuisances on streets
across America. We need not try to force liberals to believe this.
But they have no right to use the educational system to force young
people to submit to propaganda for their version.
The totalitarian mind-set behind the liberal vision shows through
in innumerable ways. There are no institutions in America where
free speech is more severely restricted than in our politically
correct colleges and universities, dominated by liberals.
Students who openly disagree with the left-wing vision that they
are being taught in class can find themselves facing lower grades
and insults from the professor in front of their classmates and
friends. Offend the hyper-sensitivities of any of the sacred cow
groups on campus -- even inadvertently -- and stronger punishments,
ranging up to suspension or expulsion, can follow.
On the other hand, if minorities, homosexuals or radical feminists
want to shout down speakers they don't like or engage in vandalism
or other mob actions to promote their agendas, that's OK.
Campus ideological conformity extends to faculty hiring and even
the inviting of outside speakers to give talks on campus. There
are scholars of international distinction who would never be offered
a faculty appointment in most Ivy League colleges and universities
today because they do not march in step ideologically. You can find
a four-leaf clover faster than you can find a Republican in most
sociology departments or English departments.
If the liberals are teaching any civic lessons with all this, it
is that power is what matters -- including the power to force people
to keep their thoughts to themselves, if those thoughts do not conform
to the liberal vision.
Community "volunteer" work is only the latest in a series
of uses of schools and colleges to propagandize political correctness,
instead of teaching individuals to think for themselves. If liberals
do not understand that this is the antithesis of liberation, that
makes it all the more urgent for the rest of us to recognize that
fact and that danger.
--Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford
University, Stanford, CA, 94305.