Bubbleboy and Mandatory Volunteering

Another good example for an oxymoron "permitted trespassing", pic: http://www.nonprofituniversityblog.org

Let’s first make sure we are all on one page. A dictionary always comes in handy in such moments:
Man”da*to*ry
(?), a. [L. mandatorius.] Containing a command; preceptive; directory

Vol`un*teer” (?), n. [F. volontaire. See Voluntary, a.]

1. One who enters into, or offers for, any service of his own free will.

oh, and one last:

Ox`y*mo”ron (?), n. [NL., fr. Gr. , fr. pointedly foolish; sharp + foolish.] (Rhet.) A figure in which an epithet of a contrary signification is added to a word; e. g., cruel kindness; laborious idleness.

I love myself a good figure of speech, even the occasional oxymoron, used in the privacy of my office, on my computer writing, or in conversation with my witty husband and friends who get the sense of irony associated with it.  If it is dragged into real life, meant literally, though, an oxymoron turns into moronic in no time.

And so we encounter the concept of mandatory volunteering – unknown to me until fairly recently and thus far blessedly absent from my own daily life. Some of our friends with kids in other schools, however, are feeling the full brunt of an oxymoron coming to life and ascertaining itself. It is one thing to be shamed into volunteering, one can withstand that – catholic guilt aside – but mandatory volunteering leaves no options, no wiggle room, no back door.

The idea is the following: you send your kid to a public school thinking that you drop them off, pick them up, pack lunch and a snack, and occasionally attend some little event where they sing or dance or show their art. But then you read the fine print which states that you have to “volunteer” for 10 hours every year. “10 hours” you think “how hard can that be, 10 hours is nothing.”

After a month or so you realize, however, that the 10 hours are on top of the “voluntary volunteering” that you are getting shamed into, the reading in class, and putting folders in the kids backpacks and the 37 different events you are supposed to attend during the year, for Mothers Day, and Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Teacher Appreciation Week, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Columbus Day, Martin Luther King’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah, Talent Show, Chinese New Year, Cinqo de Mayo, Yom Kippur, Last Day of School Celebration, Science Fair, Math Marathon, Festivus – okay, that last one doesn’t really happen – hyperbole on my side.

So 10 hours are all of a sudden 10 hours in addition to what you are willing to do without being forced, 10 hours, which, if you work in Silicon Valley, you simply don’t have bumming around somewhere. So you postpone going to the gym or the OBGYN and get up at 4 am a few times to cut out paper bonnets and hats for the annual Thanksgiving feast including really cute early settler costumes for everybody.

And then there are the projects you are supposed to work on with your child, the little cute craft thingies that maybe, if he was Leonardo da Vinci with an ambition he could do by himself, but – since he is just a regular little boy who can’t find his scissors ever and really doesn’t care for coloring – you better help him and make it look pretty because all the other parents help their children and make it look pretty and how sad would it be if only your artistically challenged child would show up with something he actually made all by himself?

So you find yourself thinking, cleaning glue from your table and putting color pencils away “if I didn’t work and really was into doing crafts and had no gym to go to, no friends to meet for lunch or coffee, no house to clean, no garden to weed, no underpants to wash, no meals to cook, no supermarket runs to make, no windows to clean, no mothers-in-law to listen to on the phone – then” you think  “I might actually enjoy that plus the 10 hours of mandatory volunteering which I will spend on just attending yet another party/event/show/demonstration but organizing it, including procuring the healthy food choices.” “Then” you think “I might help with the lunch service, correct the kid’s math problems, chaperon them on a field trip, or do any of the other million things that are necessary or desirable but the State of California seems unwilling to pay for.”

So, dear school board and PTA members or whoever else dreams up these things, if you need my help, tell me.  I might be able and willing to. However, if you try and sneak this by me under the guise of “mandatory volunteering” implying that I should be wanting to do all the work happily, willingly, and most importantly completely voluntarily but that I am such an hard-nosed, unyielding and unresponsive member of society that the volunteer work has to be made mandatory for me, then, dear member of the School Board, I am going fall back into my worst teenage behavior, stomp my foot, cross my arms, make a pouty face and say “No”.   If you ask me why the answer will be similarly straightforward “just because!”

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