Neil G. Kotler (Ethiopia 1964-66)

Monday, November 21
5:30 pm

MAKING A CONTRIBUTION as a teacher in improving the lives of other human being, particularly young people — this was at the core of my Peace Corps experience in Ethiopia. I never felt better employed in my life as I had teaching Ethiopian history, at a time and place where few Ethiopians were studying their own history. The first semester I was asked to teach Greek and Roman history to 11th and 12th grade students. I was puzzled by this assignment. What in the world were my Eritrean students going to learn from the Greeks and Romans? Why weren’t my students studying Ethiopian and Eritrean history? When I proposed to teach Ethiopian history the following semester, the headmaster eyed me with amusement and asked what qualified me to teach national history. Eventually, the headmaster consented, and during the next year and a half I taught, wrote articles, and lectured on Ethiopia’s history nonstop. When I realized several months later that my students were in the throes of Eritrean nationalist fervor, I decided to write a book on the History of Eritrea, which later was reproduced on a trusty mimeograph machine in the Peace Corps office, and distributed to schools throughout the province. Teaching Ethiopian history proved to be a pioneering adventure. I suppose next to teaching, the opportunity to be a pioneer — oh, so American a longing that we are losing hold of today — introducing new ways of learning and educating was what made the Peace Corps so precious, so rare an experience. Teaching and pioneering — a gift of the Peace Corps, the likes of which I shall probably not see again.

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