Last week Senator Barack Obama spoke at the University of Colorado on the subject of national service. As president, he said, he would "set a goal for all American middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year, and for all college students to perform 100 hours of service a year."
Federal education funds would be tied to such programs, and schools, no doubt, would comply in order to continue receiving government money. As Jonah Goldberg writes at National Review Online, "he'll make service compulsory by merely compelling schools to make it compulsory."
I'm all for volunteering. My mother set an example for me and my siblings by volunteering her entire adult life. She led my brothers' Cub Scout troop, drove blood for the American Red Cross, tutored inner-city students (often driving them to and from the program), mentored delinquent boys who'd committed juvenile offenses, and to this day, approaching 79, volunteers once a week at her local food bank.
My friend's daughter attended a Middle School at which students were required to "volunteer" once a week. This particular girl chose the option of visiting a home for the elderly. Each week she'd return frustrated and embarrassed by her fellow "volunteers" who not only did as little as possible, but openly mocked the people they were supposed to be caring for.
It is a good thing to encourage volunteerism. But government- enforced volunteerism is not. It will reduce volunteering to the equivalent of punching a time-clock, literally taking the heart and soul out of doing good. Helping others in order to fulfill some government-imposed requirement will benefit no one but the "volunteer."