Teach For America Replaces The Peace Corps For College Grads

You might have seen the Washington Post article on Teach for America, how it has become the ‘hot’ program for college graduates. 4,500 Teach for America recruits were trained this summer. Smart kids are attracted to this program for lots of reasons, one simply being the salary and the opportunity to study for advanced degrees.

This month, Teach for America won a $50 million federal grant that will help the program nearly double in the next four years. Teach for America was founded in 1990 by a Princeton graduate who hoped to expose future leaders to the problems of education.

The program resembles the Peace Corps: two years in low-income urban and rural public schools.

Applications are up by a third, but only about 12% are accepted. The new college grads make  $49,000 this year, and possibly more if they participate in a voluntary performance pay program.

That’s better than the Peace Corps’ readjustment allowance. The young people I’ve seen selected for this program are first rate. I’m sorry to see them ‘pass up’ the Peace Corps, but they tell me it is easier to get into Teach for America than the Peace Corps and the agency’s lengthy application process.

Or as one young friend at the college where I worked asked, “is there still a Peace Corps?”

How far off the radar are we anyway?


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  • John: Exactly right. This is precisely what I thought when I read the WashPost story this morning. Peace Corps has disappeared from the radar screen and, alas, the now-not-so-new Democratic president is not about to pump energy into it. Of course Obama supports Peace Corps and perhaps a bit more money will be ponied up for it — but there is no energy, no enthusiasm, no dynamism, no buzz to Peace Corps. Despite the genuine quality and good intentions of the PCVs who do join (idealism still lives in America!), Peace Corps seems to be just another U.S. government aid agency run by aid technocrats who never let allow themselves to think unconventional thoughts. Play everything safe, don’t anything that might get anyone, especially Congress, upset.

    Peace Corps needs a vast infusion of charisma. Alas it’s not going to get it even from a president who spent more time living aboard and attending foreign schools than any president since John Quincy Adams. You would of thought he’d get it.

    Barry Hillenbrand
    Ethiopia 1963-65

  • John, I believe what you wrote with your wonderful stories about the wild and crazy men and women who created and sustained the early Peace Corps was not a history but an eulogy. I believe that the recent agency assessment was designed to consolidate and downgrade Peace Corps objectives so that the agency could be folded into the Corporation for National and Community Service. And, this could only be done by a respected RPCV Director.

    I think this is realistic. The report emphasized that the skills of college graduates with “no professional experience” are not as useful in the developing world as they once may have been. It also recommended the expansion of the Peace Corps Response program (which had been designed to utilize the skills of RPCVs in short term assignments) to include professionals who had not served, first, as Peace Corps Volunteers. (I may not have the correct title for the program). Finally and perhaps most importantly, the traditional Third Goal has been redefined to mean promoting national service not bringing “home what had been learned about other peoples and cultures.”

    The strenghtening of the HCN staff, who are State Department employees, should allow better placement of Volunteers and managment of their work, particularly as the cooperation and coordination with NGOs takes priority.

    As for Teach for America, it was always designed to attract the elite from the elite college tier and the salaries offered were supposed to represent a real “sacrifice” from what such well gualified and in demand graduates could have earned in the corporate world. Such was not true for the average Peace Corps Volunteer.

  • If it’s true that the traditional Third Goal has been redefined to mean “promoting national service” and is no longer “bringing home what had been learned about other peoples and cultures” then the Peace Corps has made a serious and unnecessary mistake. Both are valid and complementary objectives. While the “Teach for America” program may compete for volunteers it expands the options for service and brings future leaders into contact with the poor and powerless.

    The raison d’ être for the establishment of the Peace Corps was to bring home “what had been learned about other peoples and cultures.” Unfortunately, this objective never received the attention it needed to make it a reality. The war in Vietnam and the Nixon administration took their toll and the Peace Corps hung on but did not flourish.

    What should have, and could have, emerged through the efforts of returned volunteers was a closer alignment of the hopes and needs of the vast majority of Third World citizens with U.S. foreign (and military) policy. To accomplish this, the Peace Corps needed to field perhaps ten times more volunteers each year, and then creatively harvest the legacy of their experience. It can still happen. The cinders still smolder.

    Ronald A. Schwarz
    Colombia One (1961-63)

  • The Peace Corps lost some of its status because it came to view itself as a highly skilled, development agency instead of a grand attempt to promote better people to people understanding. Contrary to what many believe is necessary, i.e. that a Peace Corps Volunteer be a well qualified expert, I believe the only thng needed is a person who wants to learn about other peoples and teach them about us.

  • Tell me, Leo, what do you think the people of host countries want?

    Does a women who counts her children by naming those living and then those dead, want someone to come and teach her about the US or do you think she might appreciate someone with a skill to maybe help her change that awful ratio? Just asking.

  • Joey.
    I am sure the woman who has sufered as you state would want someone to help improve the survival prospects of her children. That person could be a Peace Corps Volunteer or an AID employee or an CARE worker or a missionary or whoever. My point is that the Peace Corps was designed to improve the image of America and Americans in other countries by having Americans live and work closely with the people of other countries. In fact, there is no reason that the Peace Corps need be confined to the poorer countries of the world. We could improve understanding of us by living and working together with the people of any foreign land.

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