PEACE CORPS DROPOUT
edited: Friday, August 08, 2008
By Larry Rochelle
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2007
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As teachers, we are also in a quandary. Some Americans are keeping a list of professors who question America’s tactics in fighting
PEACE CORPS DROPOUT
By Larry Rochelle (written in 2002)
In June of 1963, I took off in an airplane
From Toledo, Ohio, headed for the campus
of UCLA. Earlier that year, I had been
accepted as a Peace Corps trainee for teaching
ESL in Ethiopia. As I settled into my
seat, I began reading Robert Ruark’s Uhuru.
The impetus for my Peace Corps advent u re
came from the excitement for globalism
the Kennedy administration genera t e d .
Kennedy’s charisma and his fight for Civil
Rights inspired me. We volunteers were
going to help people through education . I
liked the sound of that.
As Kennedy and we Peace Corpsmen found
out later, however, the United States was
fighting for peace at the same time it was
assassinating and undermining leaders
around the world. Kennedy, much closer to
this struggle than we were, took steps to
stop some operations around the globe. And
he fired Allen Dulles, head of the CIA.
My own enlightenment came from my
instructors: I learned Amharic from an
Ethiopian; I learned African history from a
Kenyan. It was the Kenyan instructor who
opened my eyes to the patronizing tone
found in Ruark’s Uhuru.
In Au g u s t, after visiting Marilyn Monroe’s
g rave, after many beer-drinking, bongo - beating
poetry readings, after one too many “F s ”
in my language class, I dropped out of the
Peace Corps. Returning to Toledo, I was
happy with my decision, but I found out
Mom and Dad were a bit disappointed.
Parents don’t like their sons to be perceived as
dropouts . But I kept up communication with
my Peace Corps friends in Ethiopia. They
couldn't write too openly. In the field, they
were not alone . Other government officials
kept watch over them, over the things they
said and did.
At home, I found a job and approached my
E n g l i s h / drama classes at Jefferson Junior
High with energy and enthusiasm. I felt then,
as I do now, that junior high students were
open to the excitement of learn i n g. T hey (or at
least most of them) do not have an “attitude .”
In between teach i n g, I coached drama and
bowling (quite a com b i n a t i on , but rather
typical ) . Nearing the December holidays, I
was deeply involved in developing the acting
abilities of Bruce Robideau, Sherry Mills ,
Candy Cornell, Vince Perna and others as
we pre p a red a comedy for the entire school .
But on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, my
experiences in the Peace Corps and John F.
Kennedy’s experiences with the Bay of Pigs
came together with explosive force. John
Herron, a history teacher, knocked on my
door. The time was a little before 2 p.m.
His face was ashen. Kennedy had been
assassinated. I returned to my class and
shared the horrible news with the students.
The next Monday, after the Oswald shooting,
after watching television almost continuously
all weekend, after many discussions about possible
reasons for the assassination, I brought
my tape recorder to my speech class . I asked
my students one by one for their reactions .
Vince Perna believed it was a conspiracy
involving Castro because of the United
State’s efforts to topple his government.
Candy Cornell thought Dallas might be
involved in some way because of all the
death threats and an attack on Adlai
Stevenson. Others pointed to Kennedy’s
stand on Civil Rights.
But for most of us, the week’s events were
too much to assimilate. Our leaders were
explaining that Oswald was a communist.
That he acted alone. That Jack Ruby was a
patriot, doing his duty by killing Oswald.
That it might have been Kennedy’s fault for
not having the top on his car. Theories and
counter-theories flowed through the hallways
of Jefferson Junior.
A few weeks later, our acting class put on its
show, and the actors were terrific . Laughter
was good medicine, and we went into the holidays
trying to put the assassination behind us.
But even then, the Vietnam War was escalating.
The hatred that would kill Martin Lu t h e r
King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy was being stirred
up. The CIA continued to plot assassinations
of foreign leaders. Young black kids in the
South were being bombed.
My students lost their innocence on
Nov. 22, and our country has not been the
same. When I think back to that year, I
often wonder which of my students gave
their lives in Vietnam. Other students in the
United States helped in the Civil Rights
movement; they demonstrated peacefully in
Washington and they turned to volunteering
in other capacities.
Now, the United States has a new crisis, a
“new war,” as some TV networks call it. My
college students are faced with new dilemmas ,
new fears . But a similar puzzle
remains. In 1963, they wondered who could
hate so much to kill our President. The possible
conspiracies seemed endless, with
many holding our own government responsible.
However, only one answer would be
acceptable to the Warren Commission: Just
one gunman was involved.
Today, students wonder about the hatred
that caused the deaths of thousands of innocent
victims at the World Trade Center. As
the vast al-Qaida conspiracy unravels, no
one accuses supporters of the war as being
“conspiracy freaks .” No one is con f u s e d
about the possibility of a successful, surprise
attack against our shores. No one blames
just one man for the WTC bombing s ,
although Bin Ladin makes a good target.
While Vice-President Cheney takes safety
in a bunker, many students burn with
revenge. Many want to close our doors to
immigrants. The word “p e a c e” is again
attacked in the press, and violations against
the Geneva Conventions are applauded. Is it
more likely our students welcome discussion,
or do they wish to end dialog?
As teachers, we are also in a quandary. Some
Americans are keeping a list of professors
who question America’s tactics in fighting
terrorism. Yet, questioning is the mode of
discourse most often praised in education.
There is our dilemma: If we are to learn
from this new war, which questions will we dare
to raise in our classrooms?
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