But second--the loudest supporters are middle-class educated white people who have chosen to do volunteer work on their own, or been required to do it by their wealthy suburban high school. Comments like "it's good because it gets your selfish lazy spoiled teen's ass off the couch" are endless (projecting, I assume; the only time I ever got to sit on a couch as a teen was when I was sick or babysitting past bedtime).
Now, I'm only doing cursory research, and anyone who is an expert in these things can update/correct me in the comments please, but what I'm finding online is that in the past ten years, nationally only about 50% of black males who enroll in high school graduate. The reported dropout rate in Milwaukee public schools ranges from 45-55%; I found one source who puts it at 51% for black students and 54% for Hispanic students (the data is six years old, but I don't think rates have improved enough to invalidate my conclusions).
Put yourself in the position of a black teenager who already thinks school is a bullshit waste of time when you can make decent money dealing drugs. Or a teenage mother fitting in school around work and childcare, or an immigrant teen expected to work at the family business, or for wages to help with family expenses.
How on earth does forcing these teenagers into unpaid labor, even an hour or two a week, help these kids choose to stay in school? We can argue about the value of an MPSD diploma, but nationwide the unemployment rate for blacks without a HS diploma seems to be double the rate for those with. Studies are showing that blacks with a HS diploma are incarcerated at a lower rate than those without. Why on earth would anyone want to make it even more attractive for at-risk students to drop out?? Much less the people who claim to care about these students' futures??*
And why am I the only person thinking about it from this angle?
I'll grant that the few students who get into a "volunteer" program where they can be successful at something that isn't menial (Is anyone uplifted by being good at picking up garbage? Can students who don't read well be happy being forced to read to old people?) can get a self-esteem boost or a career goal out of it, but a) they could get that from paid work, plus a paycheck helps other areas of their lives and b) I suspect the students who will be successful at their forced labor will be the ones who are successful at school anyway. I'm extrapolating from my rural cracker experience--the stoners didn't pick up trash on the highway, the National Honor Society did.
All my adult life I've been told it's racist and morally wrong to expect blacks, especially poor blacks in big cities, to adopt white middle-class social values that might improve their lives. Teh hegemony!!11! Teh cultural insensitivity!!11! But suddenly, it's acceptable to force a white middle-class "value" that could have a detrimental effect on their lives.
Not a change we need.
* My objection to making dropping out more attractive to at-risk students by increasing non-academic requirements doesn't negate my loathing of "No Child Left Behind" and the dumbing down of curricula, which shafts capable students. Some people just aren't equipped to be scholars; they should be offered vocational training. Everyone's competent at something.