It will be a tough slog achieving even a modest measure of my proposal in earlier blogs, i.e. diploma credit for community activity at the senior high school level. It might have been easier 20, 30 or more years ago when, for a brief time, there was popular support for social, political and judicial reform – e.g. the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982; peacekeeping when and where needed; The International Criminal Court, 1990s; co-operative and alternative education experiments everywhere; apprenticeships of various kinds.
That is to say, the lead-up to the present (2011) has been marked by an explosive growth in the economics of size buttressed by conservatism in politics. Bigger is better in both public and private enterprises. The larger the organization the greater the need for bureaucratic efficiency, employee conformity, firewalls against legal liability. In the outcome, lawyers are just as important as specialized staff in the health and welfare of successful organizations, even hospitals, retirement and nursing homes.
Ask any large entity to accept a half dozen high school students for a couple of months to help them learn about the everyday workings of the enterprise or agency, the answer will almost certainly be befuddlement and bewilderment. To whose office should the request be addressed? How will accountability and responsibility be assured? How will the organization be protected from legal liability? Will the receiving person or persons or officials have to endure a police check of the sexual offender registry? How can the privacy rights of members of the organization be protected? How can an assignment deemed by the assigned student to be a failure avoid unfair blowback on the organization?
These serious questions and others point to complications that would scare any school board away from community engagement for their students. School trustees, too, have lawyers whispering in their ears. These men and women in public positions, more than most, are comfortable with the emerging police state about which many observers keep warning us.
There is a ray of hope in this picture of timidity and uncertainty in the ranks of those in charge. I am referring to the increasingly serious talk about reducing the voting age from 18 to 16. It is an overdue change for these reasons and more: earlier maturation of young persons coupled with encouraging signs of social responsibility. Digital communication has accelerated these trends. These positive signs emphasize the need to get our 16-18 year olds into the community so that they may learn first-hand about the world of work, about economic productivity and social planning, about health care facilities and practice, about the global economy, about membership in the caring community and , outstandingly, about their own personal career planning. It remains for the political parties to take the initiative by broadening the electorate in step with the social evolution of the young and the parallel growth of the aged segment.
In that social context, the health of our democracy is the real issue and the engagement of our youth is part of the solution.