Mandatory community service is not always as helpful as intended

Regarding Cynthia Parsons's Jan. 25 Opinion piece, "Teach students how to use skills to serve their community": As one who runs a small nonprofit, and therefore is presumably an intended beneficiary of students' service, could I suggest that I don't really need any more skill-free volunteers, even if they are supervised by a teacher?

I've had university students who can't follow basic directions, such as, "When the phone rings, say the name of the agency, and then, 'May I help you?'"

All of our local high schools and most of the middle schools require students to complete a set number of service hours. Unfortunately, none of them require students to know how to answer a business phone, how (apparently) to use capital letters when writing people's names, or how to put file folders in alphabetical order. I have never met a student who knew how to use a fax machine. Very few can use a basic photocopier without handholding. These aren't difficult tasks.

I have genuinely appreciated and even loved a few student volunteers over the past 10 years, but overall I feel like these service requirements are essentially the schools' way of saying: "We can't be bothered to give these kids any job skills, so maybe you'll do it for us. After all, your time and resources must not be very valuable, since you're just a little nonprofit organization."
Sherrie McMahon
Santa Cruz, Calif.

I agree with Cynthia Parsons that students should have the opportunity to become involved in community service, but I do not believe that this service should be mandatory. During college I was required to "volunteer" several hours a week as a part of my course requirements. It clearly is not volunteer work when someone else decides that such work is important for your growth.

Rather, I think students should be shown all the incredible need in their communities and all the opportunities that volunteer work provides. Then they should be encouraged to participate and share with others about their experience. We need to provide students the chance to realize on their own that volunteer work is valuable and noble and that it benefits others as well as themselves. A sense of community and a desire to serve others need to come from within, not from school requirements.
Susan Morse
Athens, Ohio

US should consider Iran's perspective

In response to the Jan. 24 article, "Why US doesn't trust Iran on nukes": It makes no sense for Iran not to invest some of the profits from oil sales in an energy source to sustain them after the oil runs out. I wonder why the US isn't doing the same.

Granted, Iran probably is also investing in weapons technology. But again, it would make no sense for Iran not to want to arm itself. Iran is bracketed by Iraq and Afghanistan, which were recently invaded by what Iran sees as an aggressive foreign power and sworn enemy. And Iran borders a third Islamic nation - Pakistan - that already has nuclear weapons.

Despite the fact that Iran's president has recently engaged in some deplorable "cowboy rhetoric" for domestic political consumption, the path to peace still includes trying to understand how one's opponents see the world around them. From Iran's point of view, its nuclear policy is sane and rational. An American foreign policy that seeks to prove to Iran that the US is not a threat and that America would recognize and defend Iran's sovereignty might prove more fruitful than constant saber-rattling.
Steve Warren
Waldoboro, Maine

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