Diana Ryan Draft

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RQ:How and why have civic engagement requirements for US public high school students changed since 1990 and to what extent has this affected their long-term outcomes as citizens?

In the United States civic engagement has been a crucial component of society, whether it be through political activism or lending a helping hand to our fellow neighbors. In recent years, youth participation in civic engagement has fluctuated, resulting in a growing number of high schools requiring them to complete a certain number of hours of service in order to graduate. This increase is most notably seen in the late 80s and early 90s when“…[v]olunteer rates among youth ages 16-19 soared from 13.4 to 24.5 percent between 1989-2007”(Youth Volunteerism, 79). There has been a range of reactions regarding the movement of mandatory participation in community service, from lawsuits to sheer enjoyment, which beckons the question, how has this requirement change since the 90s and how has it affected their long-term outcomes as citizens? Since the 90s there has been an even greater push for service because of several reasons including the obvious importance and figures in place that encouraged it, which in turn has created a population of youth with varying perspectives on volunteering.


Over the years, there has been an adverse reaction toward the graduation requirement of volunteering in the students’ communities. One such case is that of Steirer v. Bethlehem Area School District in 1993.

“The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument that a district’s 60- hour service requirement amounted to “involuntary servitude” banned under the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. The amendment bans “forced labor through physical coercion,” not service that is “primarily designed for the students’ own benefit and education” by teaching them about the value of community work”

(Youth Volunteerism, 84).

This example, is obviously one of the most extreme reactions, surprisingly heard by a grand court. The Bethlehem case only further exemplifies the challenges schools face when trying to teach their students the value of community investment. One can assume what their immediate perspectives were upon fulfilling their requirement, which is a reflection of many youth: resentment and disdain. Researchers have attributed these attitudes to several factors like disorganization of service projects and imposing on the busy lives of the students. While mandating community service has been challenging in some respects, researchers have shown that it also inspires many students to do so as well.

At my former high school, Marble Hill School for International Studies in the Bronx, we were one of the few schools which required students to volunteer in the campus (there was a total of six small schools in the building at the time). I was invited to a student summit to discuss the effects of one volunteer club in particular, then known as Building with Books. When meeting with approximately 40 students from different high schools across the Bronx, we were asked to discuss the results of the survey we had taken, to which 90 percent of students agreed that by volunteering they were motivated to further advance themselves. Some students had become more civically engaged while others thought of attending college for the first time. Such results inspired the club organizers and school administrators who heard the news.

3 thoughts on “Diana Ryan Draft”

  1. I think this is a great topic to explore for your research paper. You’re essay definitely fits the criteria in regards to researching a good question since it is looking at the change in civic engagement requirements over time and also how it has affected students over time as citizens. You clearly stated your thesis at the end of your introductory paragraph but make sure in your final paper you explain clearly what the “varying perspectives on volunteering” are for the population of youth. I loved your example of the Steirer v. Bethlehem Area School District case since it is a very powerful case that will keep the readers of your paper completely captivated. The same goes for your personal example about your experience in school with civic engagement. You also do a good job of providing some background information on civic engagement and the role it plays in our society so that readers that are unfamiliar with the topic can understand what you are writing about. The one suggestion I would give is to make sure you site your sources, which would just be any sources that provided you with information on the Steirer v. Bethlehem Area School District case.

  2. As we discussed today, take another look at EdWeek database for “community service” and “requirement” for state mandates between 1981-2012, such as
    Doing this search would help you to construct a list of states that added or dropped this requirement over time, and perhaps some reasoning why.

    see also this longitudinal study on outcomes

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