Saltonstall Discusses Peace Corps, Warns Against 'Hurrying' Nigerians
"The Peace Corps isn't all it's cracked up to be," William G. Saltonstall '28, head of Peace Corps operations in Nigeria, told a Lowell Lecture Hall audience last night. "But all in all, it's pretty good."
He explained that the Peace Corps received such a good press it makes some of the volunteers and staff members uncomfortable. "If we were getting some sort of criticism we could try to refute it, and then we'd feel a great deal better."
Saltonstall himself had several reservations about the program. "Are we hurrying the Nigerians too much?" he asked. "We are only doing what the government asks us to do, but I'm just not sure that they can absorb so much as fast as we expect them to."
He was also concerned that the Corps might not always be "helping the people to help themselves." Theoretically, he explained, the volunteers in Nigeria, most of whom are teaching in secondary schools, are "only holding the fort until Nigeria develops enough teachers herself."
Establishing Familiarity Difficult
Individual volunteers, Saltonstall said, have a "difficult, if not impossible task" in trying to "get through to a condition of honest-to-God familiarity with the natives." Some fail, he admitted.
"It's a crazy sort of organization," he said, "but it's resolutely determined not to get into ruts." He feared, however that proposed expansion of the program might destroy this flexibility, and has urged officials to be slow about increasing the number of volunteers in Nigeria.
He also said that Peace Corps morale will be likely to suffer as the novelty wears off the program.
Saltonstall said that the major problem of the Peace Corps teachers in Nigeria is that the schools are set up on the British pattern. The students, he explained, are accustomed to learning things by rote. "I stand strongly for the American tradition of trying to understand things, rather than memorizing them word by word."
Saltonstall resigned last year as principal of Phillips Exeter Academy to accept Sargent Shriver's invitation to direct the Peace Corps program in Nigeria. "I've missed Exeter and I've missed New England," he said, "but I haven't regretted it for a minute."