In Service

Imagine you are twelve years old. You are toward the end of the semester at your Connor School, and your home room teacher gives you a form. The classroom bursts into excited pandemonium: it’s your first public service term, and everybody is trying to get in the same unit with their friends. For two weeks, you’ll get some kind of adventure. But what to choose?

The form shows a bunch of activities. You get to put a number in three boxes: “1” for the thing you want most to do, “2” for the next choice, and “3” for what you’ll take if you have to. About half the class puts a “1” by working at the zoo, but you have a friend who did that, and you know what the description “clean stalls” means, and elephant poop is not your thing. Your older brother has a great time volunteering for the parks, but you aren’t the outdoor type. Let’s see, you can sort clothes or canned food for the needy, you can help put old library books on a computer, you can read to old people…there are dozens of possibilities.

You take the form home and talk with your family. Together, you narrow it down to six choices, then you get on IM with your best friends. You only have one choice in common, so you all go for that as number 1. The next two are the ones you like best after that. You decide you’d like to:

1. Help out at the library
2. Fetch wrenches at the Post Office garage
3. Work for the Parks Bureau (your brother convinced you)


Many of my friends balk at the idea of government service. Yet I find myself living in a society that puts little value on service and much on personal greed. Success is measured by how much you can get for the least effort. Working at a soup kitchen is for pinko liberal wimps.

While I don’t want to live in the world of a hundred years ago, where roles were set and duties imposed, I would like to see a better balance betwen personal rights and societal good. Regular public service, beginning at a fairly young age, is one way to instill the idea of public responsibility. The pros of a well-done public service term:

  • Exposes young people to new experiences.
  • It teaches work ethic.
  • It educates them about the needs of society, and that not everyone has everything they need.
  • It combats the development of an unearned sense of entitlement.


  • I’m having a hard time coming up with any.

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