Robert Textor and his Cultural Frontiers

The mentioning of Cultural Frontiers of the Peace Corps, edited by Robert B. Textor, with a foreword by Margaret Mead, on this blog brought comments from a few readers, and brought me to pulling Textor’s book off my shelf of Peace Corps books (God, there are so many Peace Corps books!) to look again at this important book on the agency published in 1966 by The M.I.T. Press.

Robert Textor, for those who weren’t around at the beginning of the Peace Corps, was a early consultant to the Peace Corps, starting in the summer of 1961 while a Ph.D. student at Harvard. He was asked to Washington to help plan the training program for the first PCVs to Thailand. He would make other important contributions to the agency during those early first years, including writing the memo that outlined the In-Up-Out policy for the Peace Corps staff, a memo  Textor sent on December 11, 1961, to Franklin Williams, then the chairman of the Talent Search Panel. It was entitled, “A Plan to Keep the Peace Corps Permanently Young, Creative, and Dynamic.”

Williams signed off on the idea, (as they like to say in D.C.) and with the support of Warren Wiggins and others, the memo went to Shriver who said, of course,  and In-Up-Out became the law-of-the-land, or at least for awhile and within HQ. Soon, however, staffers who didn’t want to leave the Peace Corps would begin to tack on two or three years to their terms, and the more senior they were, the easier that  became. Republican Jody Olson spent most of her adult life at the agency.

Looking at Textor’s book this Thanksgiving weekend, or as they say in New York publishing, “reading into it,” I came across a summary paragraph written by Textor. It is about the future of the Peace Corps.

For those of you who haven’t read this collection of 15 essays by social scientists, or can’t find the book on the web or in used bookstores, here is what Textor had to say in his concludion (Chapter 16) entitled, “Conclusions, Problems, and Prospects.” He sums up his experience (and other academics) about the agency.

Remember this was written by Robert Textor around 1964-65:

“Two or three generations hence, when historians look back upon our century, they will find much to praise and to blame. Among those features of American life in the sixties that will stand the test of time most adequately, the Peace Corps will, I think, rank high. The establishment of this great organization both symbolizes and facilitated an important change in American life, a new dedication to service on the part of America’s young people,  a new interest in crossing cultural frontiers in order to deal directly with the developing world’ problems, and a new readiness to shed old ethnocentrism in favor of enlightened sensitivity. The great potential of the Peace Corps has only begun to be realized. Our returned Volunteers, as their numbers grow, will take increasing leadership of movements designed to offer a better life to all men everywhere-‘better’ in terms of their value standards as well as ours. In such manner, they will truly be serving the cause of peace. And their dedication will reach out into the blighted and neglected areas of American society as well, as we give life and energy to our own domestic wars against poverty, disease, ignorance, inequality, and ugliness. I wish them well.”

What do you think: have we lived up to Robert Textor’s expectations?

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  • Textor had it right. Unfortunate for all of us that the White House and Congress refused to increase a demonstrably successful Peace Corps to the 100,000 target. Perhaps “peace” misses the macho mark.

  • There’s a long way to go! In spite of some progress, the idea has been starved by miserly Administrations, abused by partisan hacks and ignored by wealthier – but less effective – programs.

    In my view, its still an effort on the brink. With the right leadership and resources it could achieve a great deal. We have yet to see.

  • Every time a president calls for a vast expansion of the Peace Corps the response from the Peace Corps “Family” – RPCVs, former and present staff, and others with various attachments to the service – has been, we do not want to dillute the quality of the Corps in a numbers game. I frankly do not believe these voices would approve a leap to 100,000 volunteers, even if Congress approved an adequate budget.

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