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Jewish World Review August 9, 1999 /27 Av, 5759

Thomas Sowell

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Forced to volunteer -- THE TERM "LIBERAL" originally referred politically to those who wanted to liberate people -- mainly from the oppressive power of government. That is what it still means in various European countries or in Australia and New Zealand. It is the American meaning that is unusual: People who want to increase the power of government, in order to accomplish various social goals.

Typical of what liberalism has come to mean in the United States today is a proposal by California Governor Gray Davis that the state's colleges and universities make "community service" a graduation requirement. His plan immediately won the unconditional support of the state's largest newspaper, the liberal Los Angeles Times. There was no sense of irony in its editorial claiming beneficial effects for "students who are forced to volunteer."

Forced to volunteer. That is the Orwellian notion to which contemporary liberalism has sunk.

"What could be wrong," the L.A. Times asks, "with teaching students, as the governor puts it, that 'a service ethic ... (has) lasting value in California?'" A community service requirement "could reap a valuable return in a new generation of civically minded citizens."

Here we get to the heart of the so-called community service idea. Its central purpose is to create a certain set of attitudes in the students. It is compulsory submission to state- sponsored propaganda for the liberals' vision of the world. That is what students must be "forced to volunteer" for.

What is wrong with the idea of a free people, using their own time as they see fit, for those things that matter most to them, instead of being pawns in a propaganda program more in keeping with what happens in totalitarian societies? What is wrong with each individual defining for himself or herself what being civic minded means, instead of having the government define it and impose it?

In a country where more than 90 million people already volunteer for civic projects of their own choosing, why must students be drafted to become "volunteers" for environmentalism or other causes dear to the heart of the Los Angeles Times or Governor Davis? The casual arrogance of those who define for other people what is a "community service" is breathtaking.

Environmentalism can -- and does -- reach extremes where it is a disservice to the community. Programs which subsidize the homeless lifestyle can turn able-bodied men into idle nuisances on streets across America. We need not try to force liberals to believe this. But they have no right to use the educational system to force young people to submit to propaganda for their version.

The totalitarian mind-set behind the liberal vision shows through in innumerable ways. There are no institutions in America where free speech is more severely restricted than in our politically correct colleges and universities, dominated by liberals.

Students who openly disagree with the left-wing vision that they are being taught in class can find themselves facing lower grades and insults from the professor in front of their classmates and friends. Offend the hyper-sensitivities of any of the sacred cow groups on campus -- even inadvertently -- and stronger punishments, ranging up to suspension or expulsion, can follow.

On the other hand, if minorities, homosexuals or radical feminists want to shout down speakers they don't like or engage in vandalism or other mob actions to promote their agendas, that's OK.

Campus ideological conformity extends to faculty hiring and even the inviting of outside speakers to give talks on campus. There are scholars of international distinction who would never be offered a faculty appointment in most Ivy League colleges and universities today because they do not march in step ideologically. You can find a four-leaf clover faster than you can find a Republican in most sociology departments or English departments. If the liberals are teaching any civics lesson with all this, it is that power is what matters -- including the power to force people to keep their thoughts to themselves, if those thoughts do not conform to the liberal vision.

Community "volunteer" work is only the latest in a series of uses of schools and colleges to propagandize political correctness, instead of teaching individuals to think for themselves. If liberals do not understand that this is the antithesis of liberation, that makes it all the more urgent for the rest of us to recognize that fact and that danger.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate