Clayton Drees ’77

A Virginia Wesleyan College Professor of European, Islamic, and African History.

Clayton Drees ’77
Clayton Drees (right) with fellow volunteers

Professor of European, Islamic, and African History, Virginia Wesleyan College

Sierra Leone 1977–79

The beneficiary of a first-class education at SCU, I was considering devoting my life to teaching, a calling I found in Dr. Chris Lievestro’s lit classes, as a tutor for Coach Carroll Williams’ basketball squads, and as a historical tour guide in the Mission Church. When the Peace Corps offered me the chance to teach in Sierra Leone, I jumped at it.

I taught high school at a Catholic mission school in Yengema, in the eastern diamond-mining district. I taught economics, English, math, and history, served as the school’s librarian, and coached basketball and track. In addition, I obtained a Peace Corps grant to raise chickens at the school to supplement the often protein-deficient diets of townsfolk.

I’d felt pretty successful in teaching my students to gather and evaluate information, to analyze problems, and to find solutions to those problems that might assist in the country’s economic development. But Sierra Leone’s education system was stuck in the “rote-memory” model. Students were to memorize textbook passages and spit them back on exams. In the end, my dynamic, discussion-oriented, thought-provoking teaching strategy ultimately failed my students, few of whom were able to pass the rote-memory exams. It’s hard to look back on my start as a teacher and wonder whether I may have done more harm than good.

Civil war in Liberia soon spilled over into Sierra Leone—undoing accomplishments of any teacher. However, I think I did serve as a valuable “ambassador,” if you will. Of all I’ve been through, my two years in the Peace Corps have had the greatest impact on the person I turned out to be. I still list my volunteer experience on my résumé, and I think about it every day. After two years of what I saw in Africa, I knew I could deal with whatever life chose to throw at me.

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