Glendora Press October 26, 1969
‘But I Have Also Been In the Peace’
(Editor’s Note: Glendora High School teacher Dwayne Hunn continues his series of articles describing his Peace Corps experiences. He now turns in his impression of life in America which he feels lead the young Into Peace Corps service.)
By DWAYNE HUNN
Often high school classes are boring, subjects seem irrelevant, and life then seems more exciting in excursions with friends. Consequently, when high school finishes the graduate often seems to have learned or remembered more from what his peers have done than from what his teachers have said.
College is sometimes less boring. One is freer to chose classes, is being treated more as an audit, is closer to a career and this degree is relevant to a successful career. Even then, however, it often seems that one remembered and learned more from experience with friends than from what professors said. By the end of college one may wonder just how 500 tests were to measure one’s growth in knowledge or test one’s moral fiber, classical goals of education.
Most collegians were served from cafeteria lines, had a structured schedule of courses to follow, participated in organized extra-curricular activities, dated, had friends, read, etc., and the time flew-by. Many professors did the thinking for the students and the students ingested as much of their thinking as they could — often just to cough it back and hopefully boost their grade point average. Often the professors’ thoughts had been crammed, as some students were now ingesting, from someone else’s thoughts under a similar, but earlier system.
Most colleges are a testing grounds to see how well you can grind out a certain amount of mental work under a system. If you are smart enough to get into college, you only need to set yourself to the grindstone to complete it. It is a testing ground because the next phase of your life may be just as much, or more, of a grind.
For some it may mean an IBM kind of job that gives plenty of training in manipulating machines, to the point where the personality of the overseer is deadened. It may be an advertising executive’s job, where one may have to learn how to manipulate consumer desires. It may be a job in a phase of engineering where one learns how planned obsolescence makes the economy go. Or one’s next phase may be the army where one knows when to shower and when to sleep and one’s day is filled with simple, uncreative, at the least, tasks.
One could he obstinate and search for a more satisfying job. There are many of these jobs still existing in America, though one may be penalized in the salary by taking one. Or one may just listen to the right FM station and hear its recent ad.
The Peace Corps won’t keep you out of the army. But when people ask, “Been in the war?” You can at least say, “Yes, but I have also been in the peace!”
The Peace Corps gives no grades, hands out no PCV of the Year awards, offers no pay incentives, delegates no ranks, often supplies no structure to work through, and establishes no commissary or barracks. The Peace Corps often forces you to rely on yourself, instills a certain esprit de corps, allows you to be responsible to no one but yourself, and may mean one must learn to be one’s own best companion.
Sargent Shriver, the Peace Corps’ first director, wrote his philosophy of the Corps in “Point of the Lance.” He hoped the Corps would point the way for economic growth, help people know people as people, and cut the path for better things to come between the have and have-nots, the haves and haves.
As director he initiated the policy of keeping staff-to-volunteer ratios high. The Corps was not to be a babysitting or a keep-em-busy-keep-em-out-of-trouble educational agency.
Volunteers were to be put on their own initiative. Staff would seldom oversee, advise, etc. Staff was to check on volunteers’ physical and mental health, and, if approached, provide what help it could for major projects. For the few staffers we had in India’s western region to cover about 500 volunteers, this was a full time job.
A critical analysis of American society may return the diagnosis that she is maligned with materialism, hypocrisy, narrowmindedness among sections and groups, and a breakdown of communication between not only groups but families as well… The young sense this weakening of fiber and express their frustration about it.
Jack Kerouac, spokesman of the beat generation whose books ushered in the Hippie era, died a few days ago. His original intention regarding the term “beat” had to do with the idea of “beatific,” a termini used for the concept of a people rejecting the materialism of the United States in the 50’s and turning instead to a frank enjoyment of life. Well. I did not dig the Beatniks or Hippies too much because I doubted the sincerity of most of them. With time, however, I came to respect some of their criticisms of some American ways.
The Beatnik or Hippie who criticized the shriveling of individuality, the growth of materialism, the accepted spread of hypocrisy but protested by dropping out was worthless. For the sincere Beatnik or Hippie who doesn’t want to be programmed through the IBM world, the advertising game, the consumer-planned obsolescence-profit syndrome America still offers him the opportunities, and the Peace Corps is one, to be his own man.
If in one’s Peace Corps application the recommendations present you as an honest, hard-working individual, if you do not reveal a different side in training, then you are sent over-seas. Once overseas if you decide to be a Buddhist monk, a playboy, or one dedicated to some kind of social action — the program will have room for you. This variety of people, goals, and experiences enriches the program and allows individualism to grow.
It does not cost the government much to have volunteers spend years getting to know other people, teaching them something new, and learning something old from them. In fact, it is probably much less expensive than the ammunition costs of keeping a GI alive in Vietnam for one month.
Large military contingents stationed abroad usually mean the native girls turn to prostituting. The native males feel emasculated by the dash of the American, and their uniforms. An inflated economy often adds heat to the boil. A bad foreign policy move adds more heat and sometimes you have demonstrations of “Yankee Go Home!”
I can remember only one demonstration launched to get rid of the Peace Corps. Within three years the Indonesians launched a counter-demonstration to call them back.