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Kennedy

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In case you still think John F. Kennedy was a good president, Dylan Matthews has a good run-down of how he was so overrated. It’s the basic case–major foreign policy blunders including nearly blowing up the world, escalating in Vietnam, reticence on civil rights, the lack of any meaningful legislation. I did find this a bit rich though:

• He created the Peace Corps, famously. While that organization played a valuable role in improving foreign attitudes toward the United States during the Cold War, it’s far too small to be a significant development agency, and the work it does is not especially conducive to that goal either. As Gal Beckerman put it in a good profile of the agency in the Boston Globe recently, “The agency has never been structured to do development effectively. In fact, if you were trying to design an organization to avoid having a lasting impact, it might look a lot like the Peace Corps: inexperienced volunteers sent to work in near-total isolation from one another, with time limits guaranteed to make their impact only short term.” And as Robert Strauss has pointed out, its placements are rarely based on where volunteers would provide the most help. The corps was probably a net good, but was much too small and inefficient to justify the extent to which it’s burnished Kennedy’s reputation.

Let’s look at that again:

“The agency has never been structured to do development effectively. In fact, if you were trying to design an organization to avoid having a lasting impact, it might look a lot like the Peace Corps: inexperienced volunteers sent to work in near-total isolation from one another, with time limits guaranteed to make their impact only short term.”

Oh you mean like Teach for America? Good thing Matthews has connected this lesson to that program to show how throwing inexperienced kids into American schools for a short-term lark isn’t effective. Oh wait. On that issue and Matthews’ predilections around these matters, Diane Ravitch has weighed in.

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