Teaching students about service

Published 8:04 pm Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One thing that surprises many new parents is just how selfish and self-involved children can be. From the baby whose insistent cries require attention NOW, to the preschooler throwing a tantrum on the floor because he wasn’t allowed to have a new toy, to the teenager who leaves the house in anger because she wasn’t allowed to go to the dance, childhood is a constant reminder to parents that the ability to put others ahead of oneself is something that must be taught.

That realization, in part, is behind the inception of a new class at Lakeland High School called “Service Learning,” whose goal is to help students “develop an appreciation of the concept of service to the community and to develop skills necessary to evaluate the impact of service to others.”

It’s clear at every level of community — from the neighborhood, right on up to the global stage — that the world is a better place when volunteers roll up their sleeves and help make it so. Governments are occasionally good at administrating people and property, but they generally stink when it comes to actually changing lives for the better. Even the best programs come down to throwing money at a problem and hoping that people of conscience — people with hearts for service — will step in and use that money to make change happen.

Savvy politicians have always understood the special need for such people, and they have called on Americans to tap in to the great resources of love and energy that committed, caring “public servants” bring to their tasks. Unfortunately, generations of Americans have been taught to put themselves first, and the word “service” is about as comfortable to them as eating with chopsticks.

That’s why it’s so important that the school system has stepped into the void that parents have left. “It’s an idea we’ve talked about for several years,” said Lynn Cross, assistant superintendent of special projects for Suffolk Public Schools. “Dr. Liverman is interested in giving our students experience for citizenship and life beyond high school.”

Things change as we grow into adulthood — or at least they should. Well-adjusted, contributing members of society have moved beyond their selfish, childish ways by the time they’re taxpaying citizens. Lakeland’s new class will help ensure that Suffolk high school graduates are one step closer to being that type of citizen.