When not engaged in these volunteer and "policy" roles, I was directly at work with people in need of counseling or jobs or housing (Yates & Youniss, 2006).
I was struck by how much of my experience was shaped by professional staffs who were often trapped into behaving as functionaries and, above all, how uncritical the experience was for all of us (Yates & Youniss, 2006). To be sure, there were problems to be solved; usually those of budgets and personnel. Only occasionally would we debate our mission and its priorities. More often, our concerns had to do with money and public relations. I recalled endless attention to operational matters, often tedious, never resolved, and always recurring. Seldom, however, did we address the meaning of what we were doing; it was enough, apparently, to be doing good things. I was, in short, a good volunteer.
Looking back, I realized how busy it all was; for me, for the many others who were similarly engaged. I realized, too, how easy it was to encourage others to be as busy. There was always so much that needed doing. Problems came fast and often and even if I had been inclined to stop and reflect, they couldn't wait (Yates & Youniss, 2006). So, it was all too easy to get lost in the doing and all too easy to let others shape it or, which was as likely, to let programs grow like Topsy. Indeed, as I looked backward, I realized that those who were supposed to be responsible for reflection were as caught up in practice as I was. At the same time, I realized that I did not regret the experience. Clearly it had its satisfactions. Satisfaction, I reminded myself, however, could bring its own dangers, particularly the dangers of benevolent arrogance.
I was led from thinking about my experience to multiply rather than resolve questions about the connections between community service and moral education. I understood that mere exposure like mere activity would not do. Nor was it possible by means of a division of labor to assign action to some and thinking to others. or, to put this another way, I had to keep the idea of the classroom as vivid as the idea of service. I knew how tempting it was to conclude from the ethics classroom's limitations that it could be replaced altogether by community service. Finally, I had to avoid thinking of community service as "experience" and classroom as something else.
I reflected on my years as director of an "independent"; that is, private; school. It was easy enough to understand the "privileged" status of most of my students and their families and therefore the consequent dangers of moral indifference on the one hand and self-righteousness on the other. As a teacher in the Friends Academy in Locust Valley, New York put it,
Students in independent schools often have very little sense of living in a community let alone the notion of serving this community. . . . Most of our students come from families that have the financial resources to buy needed services and therefore seldom experience the need for community cooperation to provide service . . . The world they experience seems to require money and lots of it for services to be rendered (American Hospital Association, 1988).
How would you recommend the organization/agency to others? Would you continue to volunteer there after your requirement is completed?
Community service can help Marketing students learn firsthand about human tragedy and the truth that we do not completely control our lives which is not that evident in the financial and marketing world. On a recent work camp serving the homeless, a student was shocked to find a Bryn Mawr graduate homeless. Previously, her world view said if you worked hard enough and got into a good college, like Bryn Mawr, you were set for life. . . . Now she was confronted first hand with the truth, no doubt presented in her history and literature courses, that life has a tragic dimension that can frustrate our best efforts. I was tempted to think that the privileged status of private school students somehow presented a unique opportunity for community service (Yates & Youniss, 2006). But the thought of privilege also took a different turn.
Do you think required community service placements are a good idea for Management School students? Why or why not?
I realized that anyone doing community service was inevitably going to be in some kind of privileged position so I think they are a good idea for Management School student, if for no other reason than the fact that he or she was able to be a doer. Privilege, in other words, was a structural problem. So, for example,
Rubber soles padded soundlessly along a hallway of Coler Memorial Hospital recently as Yaninth Maldonado guided an elderly man in a wheelchair to a nearby day room. With each step, Ms. Maldonado, a teenage mother with an eighth-grade education moved closer to her own goal: attaining a college diploma. Ms. Maldanado, a soft-spoken 18-year-old, joined the City Volunteer Corps of New York shortly before Christmas last year. She turned to the group, the largest urban full-time youth service organization in the United States, hoping that its offerings of public service projects, class-room work and college assistance programs would speed her on her chosen way. The source of privilege might vary, but the pattern of relationship did not. And this, in turn, alerted me to the way that diversity of position, a certain inequality, is unavoidable (American Hospital Association, 1988). That called for an acknowledgment of the politics of authority embedded in community service. Of course, I talked with friends and colleagues and students. Like me, most of them saw immediate connections between moral education and community service and agreed that "it was a good idea," even "a natural." The doing itself seemed to present few difficulties. After all, the needs were clear enough and the responses they called for; reading to a patient, helping out in a nursing home, tutoring a child, planting a tree, raising money; were not particularly complicated. So typical was this agreement that I wondered if my growing sense of the complexities of service was not just a result of my philosophic habits. After all, I was professionally expected to find difficulties where no one else did; as with epistemological problems of perception that no one but philosophers raise or with common moral ideas like honesty that no one but philosophers find problematic. At the same time, I couldn't ignore the questions raised by my own experience or by my exploration of the literature or by reports of the experience of others.
American Hospital Association. Community Benefit and Tax-Exempt Status: A Self-Assessment Guide for Hospitals. Chicago: The Association, 1988.
Hansmann, Henry. "Economic Theories of Nonprofit Organization." In the Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook, edited by Walter W. Powell. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.
Hall, Mark a., and John D. Colombo. "Modern Theories of Hospital Tax Exemption." Washington Law Review 66 (2006): 307-411.
Hoy, Elizabeth W., and Bradford H. Gray. "Trends in the Growth of the Major Investor-Owned Hospital Companies." In for Profit Enterprise in Health Care, edited by Bradford H. Gray. An Institute of Medicine…