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Gwen's Spot

15 February 2006

Essays for the Reading: In Which Essays Are Published, Generator-Style

Sorry I haven't posted in quite a while...I do have things to say, but not much time in which to say them.
In the meantime, though, I will entertain you by posting two youth-rights-related essays I wrote for my first semester of English (wherein I also wrote the causal essay posted earlier).
The first is about "Involuntary Volunteering," the practice in some high schools (and middle and elementary schools as well, which is actually worse) requiring students to complete a certain amount community service in order to graduate. (Community service graduation requirements, or for the Orwellians out there, comserve gradreqs. Doubleplusungood.) Since this was to be an evaluation essay, all I could really say was that they stunk, but the implication is, they shouldn't be allowed either.
The second is about age-based curfew laws, a proposal that they should be abolished. I even unleashed the full power of Mike Males (who is, as you know, a sociologist) and his coauthored study on the effectiveness in age-based curfews. Also doubleplusungood.
So, the essays:

::Students should not have to perform a certain number of hours of community service in order to graduate from public high schools.
::This is because a good graduation requirement for a public high school should be constitutional and within the school’s legal scope of power, useful and fitting with the primary purpose of the school, and nondiscriminatory.
::As a part of the government, the constitutional limitations on schools are usually recognized by the Supreme Court, whose job it is to interpret the Constitution. It doesn’t take much interpreting, however, to see that community service graduation requirements are unconstitutional and, indeed, unethical. The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits American citizens from being forced to do unpaid labor without due process of law. These students have committed no crime and faced no trial, and yet they have been sentenced to a choice between unpaid labor or a future with no diploma and limited prospects, simply because they refused to be exploited in this manner. We have a word for this “choice”: slavery.
::The illegality of community service graduation requirements should be enough to stop school administrators from using them. Yet the attitudes of many public schools regarding legality or the Constitution are represented by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in her essay “Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong:” “[T]he arguments against service… [are] more strained. The president of the Maryland Teachers Association, for example, claimed that it violated the Thirteenth Amendment. What’s really bothering the educators? Probably the fact that they would be required to change their teaching methods”—apparently a “claim” of unconstitutionality holds no water for her, at least.
::However, the constitutionality of these requirements is not the only weak point. For instance, requirements should fit in with the purposes of the school. It would be silly, for example, for coaches to work with people to be swift track runners and then base all of the awards at the track meet on an I.Q. test, or for automobiles to be built for convenience and safety and then rate them according to the usefulness of the seat cushions as rose fertilizer. So, if a school’s primary purpose were to train the next generation of litter lifters, food-bank-canned-food shelvers, and soup-kitchen workers, a community service requirement would make sense. But it isn’t and it doesn’t. Arguments that schools should teach (white, middle-class Protestant) values—indeed, that thinking that expecting students and the community to ignore over a century of slavery-free America in order to force students to pick up litter by the roadside would teach those values—only make sense if you don’t look too closely. A school’s primary purpose is to prepare students, through education, to be physically, mentally, and emotionally fit for life. As a government-run, largely compulsory institution, there is no requirement—there cannot be any requirement—for schools to make students morally straight as well as physically strong and mentally awake. If students want to be reverent, clean, cheerful, and all the rest, they can join the Scouts.
::Other opponents of community service graduation requirements point out weaknesses in the values argument:
::::First of all the notion that the school authorities believe is that somehow today's youth are selfish. The idea you can force people to not be selfish by forcing them to do labor is completely moronic. Imagine pointing a gun at someone and saying "I want you to care about other people's well-being!"This forced community service is wrong because it is forcing innocent people to do work without pay, and the last time I check[ed] that was unethical. Well you might wonder, "aren't you forced to do work in classes?" Yes, but that is not providing a service to another. Cleaning up litter, on the other hand, is. Well what about a shop class where you are required to build a house? You're not required to take the class to graduate, and so it is voluntary. But sticking to the facts, being required to provide services to others, and only a few that are deemed "acceptable" by the school, and then not being paid is wrong. It destroys the true meaning of volunteerism. Selfishness is not an entirely bad thing, and everyone has it. People only overcome it when they are allowed the freedom to grow on their own as individuals, and only then can they care about others. I believe most people do, and in fact many surveys show a majority of teens having done some form of volunteer work before they graduated anyway.
Requiring someone to conform to values that you think that they should have, and to show those values in a way that you think that they should, by requiring them to do work without any pay at all that you think that they should do is wrong. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, said that “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal.” How many school administrators would consent to a law which would require them to do a certain amount of community service in order to keep their jobs?
::The academic goals of a school or academy are to educate and socialize. It is in recognition of education as a goal that most requirements are primarily based on grades, and in recognition of the goal of socialization that such abstracts as “participation” and “good citizenship” enter into the grade-making process at all. If our society still accepted slavery—if the freedoms to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness were not the keystones of our republic—perhaps unpaid labor should be a requirement of America’s youth. However, it isn’t, they are, and it shouldn’t.
::What else should a public high school require in a public high school requirement? Because education is state-run, non-discrimination is an important facet of every action a school administration takes. Yet equally clear is the pervasiveness of discrimination in community service graduation requirements. Students who are bored after school are likely to turn to voluntary community service just to pass the time—as indeed many do. Students who already have their plate full either are working jobs, doing extracurricular activities, studying, helping out at home by cooking and cleaning and watching younger siblings, or a combination of the above. The former are already doing community service on their own, so community service graduation requirements would have at best no effect on their work, and at worst may have a negative effect from feeling forced. The latter industrious students may be working to make ends meet or to save up for college, or they may be working at home because their parents or guardians may be working full-time. Either one means that economically disadvantaged families are harder hit than others by depriving the students of the time and money their family needs.
::Yet many advocates of community service graduation requirements seem to be laboring under the idea that high school students today do not live in worse poverty than previous generations, do not volunteer in higher numbers than ever before, do not have more expectations of themselves, do not have hours of homework daily, jobs, family lives. These supporters unleash their worst insult upon America’s youth—the claim that, all over the country, young people are hanging out. If this is true, young people must be doing it in ever-increasingly clever ways, with legislators (originators of city, county, and state-wide daytime curfews, nighttime curfews, and loitering laws) and businesses (originators of “All people 17 or under must be accompanied by an adult,” “No more than two minors at a time,” and “No minors loitering in the mall after 5 PM” rules) allied against youth. In any case, as long as the “hanging out” does not consist of vandalism, theft, drug abuse, and other illegal activities, is it really so bad that to prevent people from doing it? Didn’t teenagers “back in the good ol’ days” ever hang out themselves? The fact is, many teenagers’ schedules are so full that these requirements require them to sacrifice something that may be vital for their future.
::As one person against community service graduation requirements puts it:
::::Volunteer work? How is it volunteer work if your REQUIRED to do so!? I wonder how many hours of com[m]unity service they do in four years! And don[’]t they realise that high schoolers have jobs, mountains of school work, and other requirements to do? Fourty [sic] hours of work in four years won[’]t break anyone[’]s back, but then add in the other things no one thinks about! And then they are still expected to have friends because if they don[’]t then they are a risk for shooting up the school! Let[’]s require the teachers and anyone who thought this dealy up to do the fourty [sic] hours too! Let[’]s see how they like it.
::Students who are struggling with schoolwork are also overtly discouraged from graduating by community service graduation requirements. Why bother working like crazy bringing my grades up, the reasoning might go, or filling my transcript with extracurricular clubs and sports, if I also have to do forty or sixty or a hundred hours of community service on top of all my studying and joining?
::Most tragic of all is when the struggles to make ends meet at home and to graduate at school overlap, as they so often do. Being young puts one strike against you (any politician advocating forced community service for adults would be committing political suicide, although drug abuse and violent crime statistics indicate that middle-aged adults may be more in need of “values education” than teenagers), being economically disadvantaged adds another, but add the increased difficult of trying to find time to study when you have to do community service with jobs, chores, and stress at home conspiring against you—let alone to try to find time to sleep—and you may cry foul but you’re still out.
::Some supporters of community service graduation requirements claim that, because people aren’t forced to graduate from high school, requirements tied to graduation are completely voluntary. The person in question could simply drop out or go to a different school. However, this suggestion only furthers the discrimination against poorer students in particular, because their options—already limited by their socioeconomic status—would only be limited further by leaving high school. Although many people have left high school and still succeeded later in life, such stories are rare statistically and often do not include people who are forced by unfair graduation requirements to leave. Also, going to a different school is simply not an option for students whose geographic location offers only more schools with similar requirements, those who cannot afford academically the falling behind that often happens when switching schools, and those who cannot afford financially the option of attending a private school. One might as well suggest that forbidding people of a certain race or sexual orientation to graduate is not discriminatory because “they don’t have to graduate from that school.”
::There are other problems with community service graduation requirements. Any proposed solution for a problem can only solve a problem if the following are true: first, the problem must exist; second, the problem must be significant and be harmful if left unsolved; third, the solution must actually solve the problem; fourth, the problems caused by the solution must be lesser in magnitude than the problems caused by the original problem.
::What problems is involuntary volunteering supposed to solve? The reason most commonly cited by supporters of community service graduation requirements is to encourage volunteering over the long term as well as over the short term by teaching students values of “giving back to the community.” Leaving aside the problem that teaching students that they owe something to society simply for being alive was often the reasons given for extremely authoritarian systems of government, this “problem” really isn’t: the average teenager volunteers more than the average American, and rates of volunteering among teenagers are higher than they have been for fifty years.
::Still, trying to impart values of community service, even if it is not within the scope of schools’ legal abilities or obligations, is certainly a nice sentiment. It is true that there is a need for community service, and the more the merrier. The next question, then, is this: Do community service graduation requirements actually cause significantly more teenagers to volunteer over the long term?
::The answer, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (run by the Department of Education) and the Board of Labor Statistics: No.
::Offering another look at volunteerism is the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 from the U.S. Department of Education’s NCES, which focuses on the volunteer activities of teenagers and young adults. The survey follows the volunteer activity of people who were high school seniors in 1992. Within that group, 46 percent of people volunteered in high school: 38 percent did so freely, with 18 percent required to give of their time and talents. Mirroring the results of the BLS survey, the study shows that volunteering decreased dramatically 2 years and 8 years after graduation.
::On the other hand, there is a short-term boost to community service, so even if it doesn’t work over the long term, community service graduation requirements solve more problems than they create, don’t they?
::Not necessarily. When four out of five sixteen and seventeen-year-olds have a job at some point before graduation, and 61% of teenagers work during the school year, the financial help to the community is balanced—and tipped—by the financial harm to teenagers trying to fit in school, schoolwork, a job, chores, and required community service, a problem which significantly affects the volunteer rate of teens of lower socioeconomic status. Teenagers who sacrifice their schoolwork or the community service requirements have a harder time graduating, which translates to lower-paying jobs later in life; teenagers who sacrifice job obligations lose money more immediately. Either one means more trouble for the economy—the best way to increase jobs is to increase spending, and the best way to increase spending is to increase spending money. Teenagers with less spending money will spend less at local stores and restaurants, who may suffer the loss of customers by firing employees, who therefore have less money themselves, continuing the cycle. Economically speaking, required community service is harmful.
::It is also harmful to the political side of the country. The attitude fostered by schools who ignore the Thirteenth Amendment is a dangerous attitude to pass on to students who are the future of the American republic. Emphasizing the importance of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution in class but requiring involuntary servitude without due process of law of United States citizens also has the unfortunate result of causing distrust of the school. If they lie to us in history, why not in math or science?
::The problems created by community service graduation requirements—distrust by the students in America, the Constitution, and their schools and loss of time and money for the students, their families, and the community—are far greater than the positive effects of a temporary lessening in litter by the side of the road.
::As discriminatory rules which are both outside public schools’ rights and responsibilities, which fails to solve a problem that doesn’t exist anyway, community service is a poor choice for a public high school graduation requirement.

::Age-based curfew laws in the United States should be abolished.
::There is no question that the intent of curfews—to reduce crime and protect potential victims of crime—is a noble one, but there is serious evidence that curfew laws are largely ineffective, even counterproductive, in fulfilling this goal. In addition, enforcement of curfews often disproportionately targets people in poorer areas and minorities. Curfew laws also set a dangerous precedent for government involvement in the lives of private citizens and their families.
::One possible perspective on curfew laws is their effects on the rights of young people and their families. Teenagers and young children are recognized as citizens by the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (Constitution) Although freedom of mobility is not explicitly guaranteed in the Constitution, the fact that that freedom is restricted through incarceration for people convicted of crimes indicates that it is a freedom generally recognized by society, and the Ninth Amendment (“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”) has been used to guarantee other rights not written out in the Constitution, such as the right to privacy and the right to non-verbal symbolic expression. This right to free mobility is denied to young people by curfew laws, even when their maturity, life experience, size, and all other relevant factors are such that their age warrants no special treatment, as is the case for seventeen-year-olds the day before their eighteenth birthday, for example. It seems it would be difficult to justify arresting young people merely for being in public at certain times as a fulfillment of the constitutional mandate to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
::Another right traditionally recognized by common law and the courts is the right to parent children without needless governmental intrusion, especially when this parenting is both done by a fit parent and in the best interests of the teenager or child in question. Usually when there is a conflict with these parents’ rights, youth rights, and government, the conflict is between the parents and the youth; but when the parents and the young person are in agreement, the government’s only justification for intervening is when a truly criminal act is involved. It is one thing if the government steps in because the parent is allowing the young person to steal, for example, or perhaps do drugs, but the parent’s choice to allow the young person to be in public at certain times of the day is hardly a reason to abrogate parental rights.
::Another perspective on the constitutionality of age-based curfew laws is to view the Constitution and its amendments as documents whose primary purpose is not to delineate the rights granted to citizens, but to detail in what situations and in what ways the government may exercise its power, particularly to limit how the government may intervene when citizens are exercising natural, not government-given, rights (“life, liberty, and property”). Seen in this light, the danger of curfew laws is that they set a disturbing precedent for the use—and abuse—of government authority. If the government has so much power that it can arrest people for the crime of being out at certain times of day, that it can arbitrarily deprive an entire segment of the population of the ability to legally walk down the sidewalk without a conviction or trial or hearing or even a charge of criminality, what power doesn’t the government have? If the government can literally place an entire group of people under house (or school) arrest without due process of law on the assumption that if any member of that group is not in some institution or under the supervision of parent or state, even with parental permission, that parent must be “up to no good,” what can the government not do?
::The system of precedent on which the American legal system is based means that “foot-in-the-door” thinking is not entirely inappropriate. Indeed, historical evidence (curfews for black people before the Civil War, curfews for Japanese-Americans during World War II, curfews for women of any age) suggests that minority-directed curfew laws have not only been directed at age minorities, but racial and gender minorities as well, so the question of “who’s next? Blacks? Latinos? Women?” deserves a great deal of thought.
::The great amount of discretion afforded police means that even age-based curfews may become thinly disguised race-ethnicity-based curfews in the wrong hands. One study examined curfew arrest rates, broken down by race-ethnicity as well as by age, and concluded that
Four large counties displayed a racial bias in curfew enforcement. In Los Angeles County authorities arrest Latino and African-American youth for curfew violations at rates two to three times that of white youth. In Ventura County, curfew arrests of Latino and African-American youths are 8.4 and 7.4 times higher, respectively than those of white youths. In Fresno and Santa Clara counties, Latino youth are five times, and African-American youth, three times, more likely to be arrested for curfew violations. (Males, Marcallair)
::One co-author of the study, Mike A. Males, elaborates in his book Framing Youth: Ten Myths About the Next Generation about one case study examined, Monrovia, California:
::::The first question was who was getting curfewed. Monrovia, like most California cities of any size, is stratified. The uphill, northern part is affluent and nearly all white; family incomes top $50,000. The southern part is mostly Latino and black; one-third of the kids live in poverty. The high school sits in the middle. After school, masses of white kids drive north and masses of dark kids walk south. As a practical matter, youths who walk are more likely to be arrested for curfew than youths who drive, making curfews inherently biased against poorer teens.
::::Prior to the 1980s, most of Monrovia’s 2,500 teens were white; now, 55 percent are nonwhite. I found that black and Latino youths were slapped with 70 percent of the curfew citations, a rate nearly double that of whites. Even more troubling, nonwhites were 40 percent more likely than whites to be curfewed even after each racial group’s overall crime rate was factored out. After the curfew took effect, more than half of all offenses committed by nonwhite youths were curfew violations. That is, the curfew doubled the black and Latino youth ‘crime rate.’ (72)
::Are age-based curfew laws even effective? Do they actually reduce youth crime rates or protect young people from violent crime? The answer, according to a California-based curfew study for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, is a resounding no.
::The researchers studied cities and counties in California with curfews, and compared juvenile crime rates after the curfew with juvenile crime rates before the curfew, juvenile crime rates in cities and counties with less curfew enforcement, and adult crime rates after the curfew. The study examined arrest and crime rates from 1978 to 1996 for the entire state, also focusing on the twelve most populous counties and twenty-one cities with a population over 100,000. The study also compared youth violent death rates in order to examine the “protection” justification. ::::This study found that youth curfews do not reduce youth crime. This was true for any race of youth, for any region, for any type of crime. In those few instances in which a significant effect on youth crime was found, curfews were more likely to be associated with an increase in youth crime (not including curfew citations).
::::For the entire state of California there was no category of crime (misdemeanors, violent crime, property crime, etc.) which significantly declined in association with youth curfews. However, a significant increase in youth misdemeanors was associated with youth curfews. (Males, Macallair)
::When reduction of youth crime and protection of youth are both factored out of the decision to support curfews, the justifications become rather weak.
::An article in the Herald News explains about a Paterson, New Jersey, curfew vote: “Curfew proponents, including 2nd Ward Councilman Aslon Goow Sr., said they were pleased to see that voters agreed that something had to be done about the kids who congregate in public areas throughout the evening.” (“Paterson…”)
::Congregating? Or peaceably assembling? Even when curfew laws specifically state “exercise of First Amendment rights” as a valid reason for being out past curfew, while also providing that police officers have to make sure that the person being arrested for violating curfew had no acceptable excuse, police officers ignore the First Amendment as much as Goow does. I asked a police officer I know whether she would arrest someone who was exercising his or her right to peaceably assemble for violating curfew, and she said yes. She adamantly stuck to that answer even after I pointed out that the law itself states that she had no basis to arrest that person (Hough).
::Other arguments lack rationality. While New York City Councilman Dennis Gallagher may “wonder what good can happen to a child alone on the streets of New York at 2 in the morning,” and say that “no one's been able to give me a good answer on that,” (“Overnight…”) other people can think of plenty of good reasons to be out past the curfew (which affects every teenager as well as every “child”):
::::So, thanks to this curfew, you can't go to midnight mass. You can't see a late movie. You can't go to a concert at Miller's or just sit in [the] Mudhouse and play chess until closing. You can't drive to 7-11 at 2:00am to get those Twinkies that you're craving, or even take a walk around your block. All of these things are illegal. (Charlottesville speech)
::It is one thing for police to escort home a lost and disoriented eight-year-old (or, for that matter, a lost and disoriented eighteen, twenty-eight, or even eighty-year-old) and quite another to escort him or her to the police station in handcuffs to be booked for violating curfew. It is one thing to set a curfew for a convicted criminal on probation or parole, for the criminal’s sake and for society’s (the criminal has presumably already demonstrated a propensity for illegal behavior, so fears that late-night jaunts are on the wrong side of legality are not entirely groundless), but it is another entirely to keep someone with no criminal record from playing midnight basketball at the YMCA because of a nocturnal curfew or a homeschooler from engaging in community service or field trips to the park or art museum during school hours because of a daytime curfew.
::Many opponents of curfew laws argue that police time is better spent stopping non-status-offense criminals, like murderers, rapists, and arsonists. Although it is probable that police departments in general do concentrate their energy on dangerous and violent felony crimes, the monetary cost of enforcing a curfew can be high. For example, the Cincinnati Post reported in March of 2000 that “Cincinnati is spending $168,000 each year to staff recreation centers at night to temporarily detain juveniles who break the city's curfew,” which breaks down into an average of “about $800 per juvenile for violators detained last year [1999]” (Osborne). One hundred sixty eight thousand dollars from the taxpayers (both above and below eighteen) were spent because voters (all above eighteen) decided that keeping juveniles (all under eighteen) from merely being present in public was worth it.
::Even without statistics and facts and figures, the arguments for curfews simply don’t make sense. For example, the argument that age-based curfews are justified because they somehow protect the young people affected from violent criminals don’t make sense on two separate grounds: first, there is no evidence that curfews do protect minors, and second, there is no reason to limit that protection to people below eighteen or to not apply that same protection to different groups who may be in more need of such protection. The idea that passing a law to “protect” a group of people by arresting them if they don’t “protect” themselves is ridiculous, and victims of domestic violence are probably safer outside their homes than in them.
::If curfews are so effective in protecting people, why not pass curfews and other protective laws for other, equally vulnerable groups? Protection is the basis for laws mandating curfews for women, requiring male escorts for women in public, and requiring the use of veils and chadors to “protect” women from violence. Yet, in the United States at least, the most vociferous proponents of age-based curfews are strangely silent on the issue of legislating to reduce violence against women, though often forty-year-old housewives are arguably much more vulnerable to violent crime than seventeen-year-old teenage boys taking body-building.
In fact, curfews and other protective laws applied against people who are severely physically or mentally handicapped or ill, who are more likely to need protecting than the average fifteen-year-old, would likely meet instant opposition on grounds of discrimination, and the same discrimination arguments would be used if the idea that curfews are a tool to reduce crime is taken to the natural conclusion that groups with higher rates of crime, such as black people and (ironically) adults, should be subject to curfew.
::On the other hand, if equality is upheld by “protecting” all people and stopping all criminals equally, the most logical step would be to create a universal curfew that would apply to people of all demographics. Perhaps a government passing such a law could be accused of achieving the equality a lawn mower imposes on grass, but at least it would be a fair and non-discriminatory government. How many voters professing protection for teenagers would cast their ballots in favor of a proposal to “protect” themselves equally? How many would stand by their principles and forgo the nonessential freedoms of late-night parties, romantic walks under the moonlight, even midnight trips to the corner drugstore, these (presumably) average law-abiding citizens bravely sacrificing their nighttimes in order that police might apprehend more dastardly insomniac evil-doers for the preservation of law, order, and the rights Americans hold dear? Very few, I suspect.
::The constitutionality of age-based curfew laws are questionable, their success nonexistent, their enforcement often discriminatory, their logic confusing and their application expensive. Therefore, age-based curfew laws in the United States should be abolished.

Works Cited

“An overnight curfew for youngsters.” Staten Island Advance. 28 September 2004. 29 November 2005. Posted at
Charlottesville speech given by author of 29 November 2005
Constitution of the United States of America. 29 November 2005
Hough, Karen. Personal Interview. 2005.
Males, Mike A. Framing Youth: Ten Myths About The Next Generation. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999.
----- and Dan Macallair. 1999. "An Analysis of Curfew Enforcement and Juvenile Crime in California." Western Criminology Review 1 (2). [Online]. Available: Also available, including press release and executive summary, at
Osborne, Kevin. “Youth curfew costs city $168,000.” 25 March 2000. Cincinnati Post. 29 November 2005
“Paterson curfew flies with voters.” Salazar Christian. Herald News. 29 November 2005

Hope you like them!