Good for the State Board of Education. That panel, which in the past has meekly knuckled under to pressure from school boards, local school superintendents and from the state
teachers' union, this week made Maryland the first state in the nation to require community service for high school graduation.
The prospects are quite intriguing. Beginning with the freshman class of 1993-94, students in Maryland will be required to complete 75 hours of work in their communities. They could be tutoring other students, working in nursing homes, homeless shelters or senior centers, spending time with environmental groups.
The new requirement acknowledges that there is more to what we call "education" than sitting at a desk in a classroom. The state hopes to engender a life-long commitment to citizenship among its students, and we suspect that many of them will be more turned on by community service than by standard high school instruction in civics. Students also ought to graduate with a better understanding of what it means to be responsible for others. It is an understanding that isn't tested on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, but it is one any former Peace Corps volunteer can tell you about.
The Maryland State Teachers Association threatens to take the public service mandate to court on the grounds that it constitutes "involuntary servitude." Nonsense!
What the MSTA ought to be doing is gearing up for the greater rigor in high school studies that the state board also approved Tuesday. Included in the first major revamping of graduation requirements in seven years is an increase in the number of science credits from two to three and a provision that two of the three required math credits be satisfied with either introductory or advanced algebra and geometry. These, too, constitute "involuntary servitude." Teaching these courses will require advanced skills that are lacking among some high school instructors.
In approving the community service plan, the state board acknowledges that its primary constituents are not superintendents, school board members or teachers. They are students.