For NHS, the Ends Justify the Means

By Jackie Fletcher, Features Editor

Community service is community service no matter the motivation. Whether the deed be as elementary as helping a first-grader with her math homework or spending hours at a soup kitchen, the fact of the matter is that a need in the community is being addressed when service is performed. Yet, surprisingly, there are some who believe that not all service is created equal.

The ethical question of whether service can actually be considered service if it is required surfaced earlier this year when Trinity Hall began to discuss school policies for its chapter of the National Honor Society (which, at the time of this article’s publication, has yet to be formally established as a school organization). The National Honor Society (NHS) is a national organization that recognizes bright students who meet the criteria that aligns with the organization’s mission. To enter the reputable society, a student must maintain a high GPA, demonstrate leadership, be of moral character, and…perform service.

The NHS service criterion, one of the four pillars upon which the organization prides itself, establishes that students must complete a minimum number of community service hours each year to be in the organization; however, this number is often raised and set by each individual school chapter. The nature of this requirement is where the divergence in perspective at Trinity Hall occurs. Some believe that performing service for the sake of a requirement is really not service at all since it distracts students from charity’s real purpose: solidarity with fellow humans through selfless action.

The merit of the NHS service requirements should not be dismissed so easily, however. In trying to ameliorate qualms about tainting of the “true” meaning of service, NHS states on its website that these hours must be “voluntary contributions made by a student to the school or community, done without compensation.” As a result, each year approximately one million students improve their respective communities through various service activities. Assuming a requirement of 25-75 hours of service per student per year, a total of more than 50 million hours of service is fulfilled every year throughout the country as a direct result of this requirement. This means that 50 million hours of helping a homeless person, a struggling parent, a displaced family and countless others would not have been realized had the NHS requirement not existed. Despite slightly acquisitive origins, the charitable work thousands of students complete every year is done with great pride, purpose and virtue. So I ask you, does it really matter why someone chooses to do good in a world where there is already so much evil?

Likewise, just because one’s intention for service may originate from the need for NHS service hours, it does not mean that the “real purpose” of service will not be encountered along the way; after all, it’s difficult not to find solidarity with other humans when charitably working. In some cases, NHS is the first effective impetus a student experiences toward completing service. Perhaps this initial “push” is precisely what someone needs to begin a life of service, one that extends past high school. In this way, the NHS service requirement is the stimulus thousands of high school students need in their lives.

All in all, NHS service requirements are not the enemy. These “requirements”—if one wishes to call them that—are not required of all students at Trinity Hall, so a student can choose whether fulfilling service aligns with her values before committing to NHS. This NHS criterion is a catalyst for beneficial work to be completed by thousands of high school students who may otherwise not have performed service. Concerns regarding the intention of the service, while somewhat warranted, fail to evaluate the big picture of these requirements: those in need are being helped. Patronizing the work of thousands of students for not being “pure intentioned” is simply unwise and discouraging to a practice that only yields positive results for the welfare of a community.

When it comes to charitable actions that someone in need can benefit from, it becomes irrefutably clear that the ends justify the means.

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