The Value of Community Service: Get Up and Participate in Democracy

Reward yourself and those around you with the benefits of service learning.


| November 2012


It always feels good to get out and give your time and talents to causes you care about—and, now, volunteers are needed more than ever. In Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012), UC-Berkeley professor Arthur Blaustein explains that the value of volunteerism extends beyond just the warm fuzzies—it’s an essential aspect of a functional society. The book gives practical information on how to get started, plus the strong arguments for volunteering in the first place. In this excerpt from the “Value of Service” chapter, read more about the importance of learning through service. 

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Nearly fifty years ago, when President John F. Kennedy launched the Peace Corps, he articulated a memorable and oft-quoted challenge: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” This quote signaled a new, and hopeful, direction in American political and cultural life. The country was in transition, moving away from a difficult and trying period: the pain of the Great Depression; World War II; the Korean War; the threat of mutual nuclear destruction during the height of the Cold War; and the repression and cynicism of the McCarthy period.

And Americans, young and old, responded to the call by joining the Peace Corps, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), the Teacher Corps, and, soon after, the War on Poverty. It was a time of idealism, hope, and promise.



More recently, Americans responded with the same spirit and enthusiasm to other crises, such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Indeed, volunteerism has a long and honored tradition in the history of our nation. The traditions of community service and citizen participation have been at the heart of American civic culture since the nation was founded. Whether through town hall meetings, the local school board, a political party, a hospital auxiliary, or one of our innumerable other national and local organizations,














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