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You might disagree, but it's really something of a sham, I think.

Most prestigious high schools now require community service in order to graduate. By prestigious I mean private, parochial or honors schools. If by some misfortune the student isn't in one of these, he/she can join any number of programs or clubs: IB, the National Honor Society, various language honor societies, religious organizations, leadership classes, etc. Basically, if you're an upper middle class student-- or full out rich kid-- you must do a certain amount of community service in order to graduate from high school.

It goes farther. Every American scholarship or college application that I have seen-- and they are not all top-tier or Ivy League institutions-- has included mandatory sections on community service done. Four out of nine asked for an essay or short answer about a specific community service project. More than that, it then asks for the student's role in the project. Did he/she organize a dance for seven-hundred elderly Alzheimer's patients? Did he/she travel to Mexico to build a house for a poor family? (More importantly, it seems, did he/she have themselves photographed with that poor family, fake smiles pasted on everybody's face?) Did he/she take charge and organize a walk to raise money to cure cancer? (Better yet, did he/she then take that money and, in fact, cure cancer?)

Community service has become a requirement, not a charity. Students organize projects that take the least amount of time, effort, and broken fingernails, and then they write down their amazing deeds and speak with dripping compassion on the nature of poverty and disease and social evils. The ulterior motives are the elephant under the rug that everyone refuses to acknowledge.

It seems that, implanted in every upper middle class soul is the desire to "do community service". After the demands of high school and college, the workplace offers a variety of community service projects. Conscientious employees spend at least one weekend a month doing something for the greater good. I see them on the weekends at Habitat for Humanity, wearing their designer hiking boots and jeans, delicately holding drills and gushing into their cell phones about what a great time they're having. They slink out at lunch and don't return for two hours; they brag about their inexperience and giggle helplessly when they can't use a hammer. I see them at charity runs, stopping at all the snack stations in their designer athletic clothing to reiterate for all their friends what great people they are because they spent $25 dollars to jog through a public park on a Saturday. I see them at parties, talking to everyone they know about "helping out the underprivileged" or "contributing to a better society". The act of "doing community service" has become the great conscience salve of our times. If we have to have our SUVs and our $500,000 suburban palaces, even our expensive wars in Afghanistan, then we've got to give back to the little people, like the illegals who clean our houses, by throwing money and time at them. We drop aid packages on a country we're at war with, for God's sake, because we can't stand to think about what it would be like to forget the needy.

Of course there are those people out there who truly mean well by what they do. They want to serve the community, the poor, the needy, and they do. They're the ones who consistently show up, who don't have to squeeze in charity work around their parties one weekend a month. They're the people who wear old, practical clothing, and know what it means to get their hands dirty. They're not afraid of the homeless man in the soup kitchen. They don't throw their excess change in the Salvation Army's red pot outside the grocery store because their conscience can't walk past it without feeling like they need to contribute something; they give it, and much, much more, because they believe in truly serving the community rather than their own needy psyches.

And no, the rich shouldn't give up all their money to the poor. This is a capitalist society that we've created, and there will be classes. And although this means that not everyone can be saved, that doesn't mean we stop trying. The problem is, a conscience has been forced upon us and we're trying to fulfill it as best we can. Every time our school has a canned food drive, and everyone only brings food for the special prize they win if their class brings in the most cans, I see it even more. We "do community service" for the most selfish of reasons, which is completely in opposition to what should be. Even if more charity work is done, the quality of the work-- and the motives behind it-- are suspect. Right now we are at a stage in our development where we understand that something exists beyond our upper middle class world. Next we need to understand why that's important, and finally, why we should do something about it.

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