I think there is something messed up in Western culture (perhaps particularly American culture?) that makes us want to somehow make giving about the giver. Not that it shouldn't feel good to give or to help. But it seems that very often that becomes a condition, and in many cases the primary purpose.
I'd agree that too few Americans get outside the borders of their own country. And I'd agree that in general (not just for Americans) wider global exposure would lead to more tolerance, better appreciation of other cultures, etc.
But can we let getting that kind of cross-cultural/international exposure simply be a "good thing" in it's own right? And for goodness sake, stop trying to link it to "doing something good."
To me it seems basic: If you want to broaden your worldview, go study abroad; buy a one-year around-the-world ticket; practice culturally sensitive and ecologically friendly tourism...; But if you want to do aid work, follow a career path, get the right education, join an NGO.
March 12, 2010 at 08:35 AM
Great post Saundra.
Kristof's article focuses on the mismatch of supply and demand for life changing opportunities for young Americans "[The Peace Corps and Teach for America] can’t meet the demand from young people seeking to give back", but he doesn't ask whether there is really a huge unmet demand in developing countries for unskilled, untrained short-term english, drama and yoga teachers who don't speak the local language.
Volunteers are not free. There is the direct cost of travel, food and board, the opportunity cost of spending this on money on expensive international volunteers rather than long term, trained local staff, and the time costs to the host organisations of training and managing a changing roster of inexperienced, short-term volunteers.
"Teach for the World" is basically a proposal to draft in developing country school kids to help American young people overcome parochialism and advance their own personal development. I am sure it would be hugely valuable for the volunteers, but it begs the question who is 'giving back to whom'?
And while the volunteers will undoubtably learn important life lessons, they (and their peers at home) will also be influenced by the assumptions that underlie this program, and that stand in the way of them making any serious sense of global issues:
1) Whatever is best for the donor is ok for the recipient.
2) Solving development problems is simple.
3) All you need are good intentions and a common sense.
The ironicly placed Adsense Ad (for a similar UK government supported program) on the left hand side of your post spells this out really starkly "18-25? Want to Change the World? We can can give you 2 MONTHS overseas THAT WILL CHANGE LIVES"
Maya Forstater |
March 12, 2010 at 05:52 AM
Why not pay countries to allow us to send people over there to "teach". Pay them for the being a training ground, Then they could spend the money on paying their own teachers or sending their own students to college.
Just stop pretending it is something it is not.
March 11, 2010 at 09:53 PM
You're working on the assumption that these volunteers would be placed in locations with no other teachers. Nowhere in Kristof's article does he make the argument that there is an actual need for these "teachers". Since Kristof is suggesting the volunteers coach debate and basketball teams, I can only assume that these schools also have regular teachers. If the schools have enough functioning computers to need a computer teacher then I would also assume the school has the money to hire classroom teachers.
And if teachers are so desperately needed it would be far cheaper and more sustainable to hire and train local teachers. The cost of one round trip ticket to Thailand from the US is the equivalent of what the Thai government pays new teachers for five months work. Add to it the cost of a cell phone, stipend, and all the staff needed to ensure that the volunteer is safe and healthy and you can probably hire teachers for the entire school year. And these teachers would speak the local language, understand the local culture, and would potentially work in that same school for many years.
Nowhere does Kristof mention language training for the volunteers. If the volunteers don't speak the local language and the students don't speak English then there is very limited amount that these volunteers can actually teach. Learning English would only be useful in locations where foreigners that speak English regularly visit. If the volunteers are to be trained in the local language then why not just expand Peace Corps?
Having been a Peace Corps volunteer, I can tell you that a lot of people in the community have to actively support a volunteer. And that's with three months of language training, medical care, and a housing and food allowance. What Kristof is proposing would be an even greater burden on the community.
Kristof has not shown that there is a critical need for these unskilled volunteers. However, if there is such a large need for foreign teachers, then why not just expand Peace Corps.
March 11, 2010 at 03:12 PM
This is interesting and valuable commentary, thanks. One thing I would like to point out is that just because you and I do not want $2/hour factory jobs does not mean that the 40% of the world living on less than $2/day would not prefer those jobs to their best alternative. Likewise, the fact that you and I might not want uncertified 18 year olds teaching our kids does not mean that many people in the poorest countries, some of whose best current alternative is no access to any teacher would not prefer the 18 year old.
I agree very much with the wish expressed in this post that we not impose our needs/wants on others, but denying people a class of teachers that we wouldn't want, solely because we wouldn't want them, is doing precisely what the post asks us not to do. That said, I appreciate your critical take on the proposal.
Michael Clemens |
March 11, 2010 at 02:13 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.