Speech to the American Council on Education at Georgetown University

Washington, D.C. | February 16, 1963

I think it is exceedingly significant that we supply 50 percent of all the qualified teachers in Sierra Leone. That is more than the British supplied when Sierra Leone was a British colony. Our people are there by invitation--not by conquest. I think that is an indication of whether the Peace Corps is or is not a success overseas.

Let me begin by expressing my deep gratitude to the American Council on Education, especially for the initial support and interest in the Peace Corps which the Council exhibited. When Dr. Arthur Adams was council president, a special ad hoc committee was created which was very helpful to us in the early days. This meeting today, called by the Council with the cooperation of Georgetown University, is an example of the continuing interest which the Council is taking in the work of the Peace Corps. We are exceedingly grateful to you for this and previous meetings of a similar nature which the Council has helped to sponsor.

We also are deeply grateful to the entire American academic community. Without question, the Peace Corps could not possibly have come into existence and sent overseas the people we have without the whole hearted support of the American academic community. In fact, I think that the academic community has been called upon to do many extreme things for the Peace Corps, such as taking on training programs with much too little notice and with much too little advance preparation on our part, almost on the basis of national urgency. The overall response from the academic community has been wonderful. I don’t think there is another nation in the world in which the academic community is so varied and so qualified to put on the kinds of training programs which the American academic community has established for the Peace Corps. Fifty-six American universities have trained people for Peace Corps service. They have trained them in practically every skill you can imagine, and the overwhelming performance has been exceptionally good.

It is true we are still finding ways to improve our training programs, but this is in the nature of things that we should be improving. The fundamental, big, dramatic fact is that, from the very beginning, training given Peace Corps Volunteers by the American academic community has been superb. I should like to express my gratitude to all of the Universities represented here today and those not represented which have participated in Peace Corps training programs. One of the basic purposes of this meeting today is not only to express our debt to the academic community, but to find ways we can work more closely in the future. (missing page 2)

As of today, I think the Peace Corps can point, with a certain amount of pride--not Peace Corps prided but national pride--to these Americans, young and old, of both sexes, who are capable of living in this manner in nearly any part of the world. And they like it.

Second, people said Peace Corps Volunteers would not be competent, that individuals sent overseas would not be qualified to do the job. Of course we ran into a lot of objections from professional associations. Some nurses asked, for example, how we possibly could send someone overseas as a nurse when this person had just received her certificate. It's ridiculous; she can't possibly do good work, they said.

Some educators asked: how can you possibly send over someone masquerading as a teacher who has not had 24 hours of child psychology, or similar courses? The fact of the matter is that wherever the Peace Corps has been sent, the overwhelming impression is that they have been competent in the work to which they have been assigned. It is true some have not been competent. But on an overall basis, certainly 90 out of 100 have been.

We have people in Ecuador teaching high school science in Spanish--people who had not known Spanish before they joined the Peace Corps. This is not to say that they are fluent in Spanish. I have no intention of standing here at Georgetown University, where linguistics has been a study for generations, and saying that people can be taught to speak fluent Spanish in three months.

That's not true. They can't. But with adequate desire and adequate effort, it is certainly true that they can teach subjects they know, such as high school science. And they can teach those subjects in Spanish.

We have people teaching geography in Mandarin Chinese in Malaya. We have nurses in Tanganyika who speak Swahili. We have people teaching in the Hausa language in Northern Nigeria; in Bengali, in Pushtu, and a dozen other languages--some of which I never heard of until I came to the Peace Corps.

I will never forget the look of pleasure and surprise on the face of a young girl named June Jensby who had been trained at the University of Hawaii in Fasar Malay, which is sort of a slang variation of Malay spoken in North Borneo. I happened to be in North Borneo the day that group arrived. About two days later we were out in a small village, 45 to 50 miles from Jesselton. It was a typical Asian village with no streets; grass on the area where there would be streets; straw huts on stilts, and swarms of children perched on the ladders going up to the houses. And this girl, as I walked down the street with her, went over and started talking to these children, using this language which she had been studying at the University of Hawaii, but which she had never used before to communicate with anyone. When these children (missing page 4)

In any event, not only did he know these people well, but they knew and liked him. It's not hard to tell whether a person is popular. The headmaster of the Volunteer's school will take me aside and say to me: "This fellow is the greatest thing that ever happened to our school." The students will point out things that he had done.

For example, when I arrived in John McLean's town, with the United States Ambassador, out in front of the school were a Thai flag and an American flag. I would like to tell you about that American flag," one of the professors said. "We tried to get one but we couldn't find one in this part of Thailand. Two students of this school bicycled all the way to Bangkok at their own expense, on their time, and at their own initiative to get that American flag so that when you arrived they would be able to exhibit it as an indication of the respect they feel for this Peace Corps teacher."

People don't do such things unless they hold affection or sympathy for the person who is there. John McLean had been to Buddhist weddings; he has attended ordinations of Buddhist priests; he is a complete part of his community. Beulah Bartlett and Blythe Monroe are both 65 years old. They are Peace Corps Volunteers from South Laguna, California, teaching in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia--the hometown of Haile Selassie.

Emperor Selassie was very much interested in the Peace Corps, and he went out to Dire Dawa to see how the Volunteers were doing. There was Beulah teaching, and in walked the Emperor and sat down in a chair alongside her students. Beulah continued her class as if nothing unusual had happened. The Emperor congratulated her and went on to see Blythe and the headmaster. The Emperor had never been in the school before; it was the greatest moment in the history of that institution.

These incidents--and I can multiply them by the 20 countries which I have been in--add up to the fact that Peace Corps Volunteers have received a wonderfully warm reception everywhere they have gone.

About four months ago, a Catholic missionary visited me at Peace Corps headquarters. He was a very experienced man who works in South America. I told him, Father, give me the low down; tell me the real truth about the Peace Corps in the country where you work.

He said, "The truth is, Mr. Shriver, the Peace Corps Volunteers are loved by the people."

I said, “Come now, Father, we don't use words like loved. That's a big word.” (missing page 6)

We are looking into the selection system of the Peace Corps, in an attempt to learn which parts of the selection system are really helpful in determining who's going to be a success overseas.

We are studying the selection processes by compiling past data on the Volunteers before they even go overseas, studying them after they have been overseas, and after they return. We are taking all the dropouts and subjecting them to the same kind of scientific study.

We don't have the answers yet but the success- of a nonscientific nature are pretty good. One is that the Peace Corps is being invited to increase its numbers by an increasing number of nations. My theory as a businessman is that if people don't like it, they won't buy it. Nobody has to take the Peace Corps. We are in 45 nations today by invitation, and there are many more asking us to come. We must be supplying something that they like.

A practical case, I think, is Ghana. We sent 50 high school teachers to Ghana in 1961. We have 128 there now, and Ghana has asked us to send as many as 200 more. President Nkruhmah obviously is not wildly enthusiastic about the United States, so he is not just taking these Peace Corps- Volunteers because he loves the American people.

I think it is exceedingly significant that we supply 50 percent of all the qualified teachers in Sierra Leone. That is more than the British supplied when Sierra Leone was a British colony. Our people are there by invitation--not by conquest. I think that is an indication of whether the Peace Corps is or is not a success overseas.

Now let's look at our own country. There are four areas I think, where the Peace Corps can make an extraordinary impact. First, it can do so in the private sector of American life. When we started the Peace Corps many people said, "The Government's going to push the missionaries and everybody else out of this field now and establish another bureaucracy." That hasn't happened because we never intended to let it happen. Instead, we have contracted with agencies like CARE, the Heifer Project, Inc., the YMCA, the YWCA, and many other private organizations to help us do our work.

For example, in Caracas the YMCA had about eight workers. We put 24 American Peace Corps Volunteers into YMCA work in Caracas, and in that one move, we tripled the YMCA working force there. The YMCA is an important part of the American life in my opinion, and an important part of the private sector. By putting that additional manpower at its command in Caracas, I think we made a great contribution to the YMCA's total effort. The same is true with I think that the program we had at the University of Ohio is an interest in gone. The University sent a man from its School of Education out to the Cameroons with our people. The president of the University and the School of Education are very anxious to get our Volunteers back as graduate students. The University is giving academic credit for the work done both at Ohio and in the Cameroons. It prevailed upon the State Board of Education of Ohio to agree that work done by the Peace Corps Volunteers in training at the University of Ohio and overseas will count toward the requirements for a teaching certificate in that state. (missing page 8)

There are dozens of examples like this. I hope that the returning Volunteers will find a ready welcome in all American universities and will continue to make a beneficial impact. Some 40 American universities have already established about 160 scholarships earmarked for returning Peace Corps Volunteers--including Georgetown, Michigan State, Notre Dame, the University of Chicago, Ohio University and many others. I think these programs promise great potential for American education.

Third, in the area of public school education, the possibilities for returning Peace Corps Volunteers are immense. There are already indications that public school educators agree with this. Already, 276 Boards of education from all over the nation, have given leave of absence to teachers who volunteer for the Peace Corps. I think this is a very significant development. In addition, school boards are also beginning to open their doors to returning Volunteers as teachers, even if they don't have education certification. These will have a great effect on the improvement of language teaching in public school systems. When I was president of the Chicago Board of Education, we decided to try to start language training in elementary schools. We passed a resolution to this effect, only to learn that of 15,000 elementary school teachers in Chicago, not one of them could teach any language. It was a good idea, but there was no possibility for executing it. These returning Peace Corps Volunteers will come back qualified to teach world history and world geography and languages in a much more interesting way than it has ever been taught in the American school system.

In the same way, I think also that the Peace Corps Volunteers will have an impact on other facets of American life. For example, Ed Murrow of USIA is busy trying to choose the best of these fellows who speak rather unusual languages, to sign them up for USIA. I think that will be good for USIA.I commend him for doing that.