Each One Teach One

Though he would never admit it, DR. FRNK LAUBACH is today the most efficacious American missionary on foreign soil. A graduate of Princeton, class of 1909, who took his doctorate at Columbia, he made his first visit to the East in 1949. Since then he has perfected a swift method of teaching illiterates how to read, a method which he has adapted to more than two hundred languages in ninety-one countries.At a conference at Washington University, St. Louis, he gave this graphic account of his mission and his method to Professor Houston Smith over Station KETC.

SMITH. In the early sessions of this conference on science and human responsibility, we tried to sharpen up some of the momentous problems which science is posing for man: the problems of lowering the danger of war and rising to the tremendous economic challenges that face us.

Dr. Laubach, I’ve heard you say that your view on these things is essentially a worm’s-eye view. What do you mean by that phrase?

LAUBACH. I mean that I’ve lived down among those people on the other side of the world who are illiterate — the three fifths of the world who cannot read and write — and I know what they are thinking about. I have lived there a great deal longer than I have lived over here. So I know how they look at you privileged people on this side of the world, and I share, to some extent, their viewpoint. A worm’s-eye view is the view from down below, looking up.

SMITH. How many years have you spent among these people?

LAUBACH. Forty-one years. I went out in 1915 to the Philippine Islands, and since 1930 have been traveling all over the world. I have worked in ninety-one countries in Asia and Africa and Latin America.

SMITH. Have you noticed any changes come over these peoples through the years?

LAUBACH. Oh, titanic changes have come over them! When I first started, they had their heads down, they had no hope, they were in despair. But all that is changed now. There is a tremendous new determination on the part of all these people who represent three fourths of the human race; they are determined to come up.

SMITH. What has caused this change?

LAUBACH. There have been a great many forces playing on them. For example, our new scientific discoveries have enabled us to make the thousands of isolated communities into one world. We have swift steamships, we have automobiles, we have the airplane, we have motion pictures. Missionaries have been spreading a gospel of the dignity of every human being all over the globe. Our soldiers have gone to all parts of the world, and the natives have seen our tourists and businessmen. They had heard of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. They have also heard about the Four Freedoms and our democratic idea that all men have a right to “life and liberty and happiness.” All these things, together with the Japanese slogan of “Asia for the Asiatics,” have encouraged the idea of independence from Europe. And then the Communists came along and agitated these people, promising to fulfill the desires which we had inspired.

These forces were working among the masses, and suddenly, right after the Second World War, all of them seemed to explode at once. In the last eleven years we have had a new world, of which most Americans are very dimly conscious — a world in which three fourths of the human race suddenly decided to march toward progress, toward better things, out of hunger up toward the prosperity that we have.

SMITH. Is there anything that we can do to help them in this march?

LAUBACH. Not only can we help them, but we must help them. They know that we have half of the world’s wealth, and if we do not help them they will hate us. They will seize the hand of anybody who offers to help them. So if we help them with their agriculture, they will be our friends. If we help them with their health and with their economic conditions and especially with their education, they will love us. They know that they are hungry and destitute because they are ignorant. They know we have secrets that enable us to get ahead, whereas they lack those secrets, and so they stay down. Therefore, they want our secrets.

SMITH. Are you telling us that what they want primarily is not our food surplus — of which we have considerable— but they want instead something which will enable them to help themselves?

LAUBACH. Yes. They don’t want to be paupers. They don’t want to need charity. They want to come up. They won’t settle for anything else. We ought to send them our surplus food and clothing as a stopgap, until we can do something more permanent for them. I believe in doing that, but it is not what they really want. They want to know why we have so much and they have so little. They want our secrets.

SMITH. NOW this, I assume, is where your World Literacy program comes in. Is that right?

LAUBACH. Yes. Because as you can see very well, the beginning of this education that they demand and arc clamoring for is literacy. They not only want this for their children; they also want it for themselves. So we must teach them to read as the very first step.

In all of these countries, at least 70 per cent of the people are illiterate; in some, illiteracy is as high as 90 per cent. A little fringe of 10 per cent at the top have the education. They have the money. They have the power. But there is not enough money to educate all the 90 per cent who are illiterate. They could not afford to build school buildings, or train and pay schoolteachers even for the children. But these adults who are on the march are saying, “Educate our children, but also educate us, and do it now. Or, if you don’t, we will blow up!” Our American educational methods are not cheap enough for those backward areas. Indeed our own state governments arc appealing for federal aid. Our highly expensive educational process is hopeless in countries with a high rate of illiteracy.

SMITH. SO, a new method is required?

LAUBACH. Yes. We have got to prepare textbooks which can be taught by untrained teachers who are just barely able to read. We are makingtextbooks so easy to teach that the teachers do not need to go to school even for one year. If they can read our textbook, they can teach it to somebody else. The students get together and help one another. One of them knows a little more than the others, and he tells them what he knows. They can do that, you see, without any pay, and they can do it at home; so no school building is needed.

For the past twenty-five years, I have been traveling from one country to another, working with educators and missionaries and others, making lessons that are easy to teach. Would it interest you to see what those lessons look like?

SMITH. I think it would.

LAUBACH. I can show you one of them. This is a lesson in English.

We associate the sound of a letter with a word. “Jumping,” for example. This man is jumping for a ball. He has his feet behind him. The hook on the letter “j” looks like his feet turned back. The ball over his head is the dot over “j.” “Kicking” — this man has his leg high, kicking the football, and the letter “k” has its leg high up like the football player’s.

By associating every letter with a picture, we teach the sounds of the letters. After that, we have a short story using these words. 1 he book almost teaches itself, because we go from the known to the unknown by very short steps; from the known picture to the word, and from the word to the first sound. In that way we teach the phonetics of languages. It requires only four or five days for very phonetic languages. In other languages it takes ten or twenty days, depending upon the difficulties encountered.

SMITH. Then in the course of two weeks the people might begin to get a working, reading knowledge of their language?

LAUBACH. Yes. In most languages of the world there is only one sound for a letter. In our English language we have eight sounds for “a,” and we have fifteen ways to pronounce “o.” Our vowels are maddening chaos. I don’t see how anybody learns English when he is grown up without going to a madhouse. But in those languages where there is only one sound for each vowel, the moment the people know all the sounds of the letters, they can pronounce any word in their language. Where I began this work, in Mindanao among the Moros, one of the Malay languages, called Maranaw, had only sixteen sounds, and we taught them in two days — eight sounds a day. Then the people could pronounce any word in the Maranaw language without ever making a mistake. That’s more than anybody in the world can do in English, I think, because you never know what to do with a new vowel. In fact, I’ve never really decided how to pronounce my own name!

SMITH. What about the content of what you teach?

LAUBACH. As soon as they have learned these sounds, which is in a matter of days, we try to give them something that will be helpful in their everyday life struggle.

In India, for example, we have been coöperating with what is called the Community Development Project. The Indian government, with the help of American Point Four money, is training men to go out and improve conditions in the villages. I helped the government prepare lessons for those projects. We asked Indian and American experts, “What are you trying to tell the villagers? You know what they need, but they cannot understand your technical language. You tell us, and we’ll write it down in simple language in a graded series, and thus we will get your knowledge across to them. We will be the bridge.”

The health experts said, “Tell them they don’t eat the right foods. When they eat a lopsided diet all the time, they are not strong and they are not well.” So we say in our textbook, “Anand, the Wise Man, was wise because he learned to read. He knew what foods to eat in order to be strong.”

SMITH. Anand is a man’s name, isn’t it?

LAUBACH. Yes. The name means “lucky.” It’s the most common name in India, equivalent to “John” in this country.

The first lesson that Anand read said, “You are not eating the right food.” Then it told him what to eat; it says he began to eat that food and he got stronger.

In India, and all over the illiterate world, practically every illiterate has intestinal diseases like bacillary or amoebic dysentery. So the third lesson in our textbook says, “You are this way because the flies are contaminating your food. They breed out in the filth in the field, and then they fly onto your food, and their legs have these disease germs.” It tells them, “Kill the flies with DDT; put it on the walls of your house; cover your food so that the flies can’t get to it; cover your babies’ mouths so flies cannot light on them. And bury the filth.”

These illiterate people have no latrines, so the flies breed in the fields. The story says that Anand tried all this and took the medicine the book told him to take, and he and his whole village became free from dysentery. Today, as the villagers read these secrets, they say, “If Anand could do that, I can, too.” Among many other diseases, I might mention one more that will make you smile. Everybody in the illiterate areas of the world is scratching. They have itch, and they don’t know what to do about it. So Anand read in his book about itch. It said, “If you put gamaxene on your mat [they have no beds] and on your clothes and all over your body, the next day you won’t scratch.” Gamaxene cures the itch in a day.

Now, let us turn to agriculture. That’s the greatest problem. Anand read in our textbook that the reason his land is not feeding him enough is that he does not feed his land; it is starving to death. In India there are millions of cattle, but the people burn their cow manure for fuel. The women and children make little cakes of cow manure, plaster them against a wall, let them dry, and then use them for cooking fuel. They have no wood and no oil and no gas; they have only cow manure for fuel to cook with. So this book says to Anand, “You should plant rapidgrowing firewood along your irrigation canal, and then you should throw this manure, along with all the filth from the ground and all the leaves, into a compost pit, leave it there for three months, then put it on your land. Feed your land, and your land will feed you.” Anand tried it, and you know very well what soil does when it is fertilized. The change is miraculous.

Then Anand read that you can get better seeds from the government — hybrid seeds of corn, wheat, and rice — and better fruit seedlings. So Anand goes to the government store and gets them. The crops are many times better. All the people in his village imitate him and get wonderful crops. Then Anand reads that the little wooden plow he has, which goes an inch into the ground some of the time and much of the time does not penetrate at all, should have an iron point on it. So he gets an iron point for his plow from the government, and it goes three inches into the soil and strikes virgin dirt that has never been turned over before.

Then Anand reads about “green” manure. There are many leguminous plants which put nitrogen into the soil, such as beans and alfalfa and clover. Anand does not read big words in the textbook, but he gets the ideas in very easy Hindi. Illiterate people need to apply only about five secrets of agriculture and they can raise just as much food on their land as we can on ours.

SMITH. And so the person reading this thinks, “If Anand can do it, I can.” Is that right?

LAUBACH. Yes, that’s it. When the expert comes to see the peasants who have read our secrets, he doesn’t have to sell these modern ideas or explain them in his difficult vocabulary. He merely says, “What would you like me to do for you?” And they reply, “Get that iron point for our plows; help us get those better seeds; help us to crossbreed our cattle with those better breeds that we’ve read about.” All the expert has to do is comply, and he gets exactly the results he wants. So what seemed nearly impossible becomes easy.

SMITH. What has been the response of governments to your program?

LAUBACH. Wonderful — and I will tell you the reason. The governments in the less developed parts of the world are not so afraid of Russia and China as we are. They are afraid of their own masses, because these masses are boiling with unrest and are threatening to overthrow the governments unless they do something to help the people out of their poverty. The masses clamor for literacy and basic secrets.

The governments are very anxious for a method that is cheap enough for them to be able to teach their many illiterates, and so the governments are coming after us to learn our “each one teach one" method. I have, myself, helped the ministries of education in sixty-two countries at their official invitations.

SMITH. You’ve actually done this in ninetyone countries; and in sixty-two of them you have had official status?

LAUBACH. Yes. I’ve been with missions and other private agencies in the other countries.

SMITH. DO you have any idea how many persons, perhaps, you have been helping by this?

LAUBACH. Well, this is only a “guesstimate.” Nobody can contradict it because nobody knows for certain; a campaign like this gets out of hand and becomes almost impossible to count. About every day we get letters from some place we didn’t know was using our method. At least 60 million have learned to reach perhaps 100 million.

SMITH. What could be done to facilitate a program like this?

LAUBACH. A tremendous lot could be done. You must realize that there are at least a billion adults who cannot write their own names, and a billion and a half who are unable to read books or newspapers. Our progress thus far is very small compared to the tremendous need. Our government is doing something, and literacy organizations are doing what they can. Governments in these countries would like us to establish schools like Literacy Village in India to train their village workers. Last year Literacy Village trained 800 people for the Indian government, and many more for the Gandhi Movement, UNESCO, Christian missions, and the Servants of India. Other countries want similar literacy schools to train their village workers to go out and supervise the “each one teach one” program, and to write books that will help their people.

One thing America can do is to send a very much larger number of people who are experts in literacy and simple journalism out where they are needed.

And then there’s another thing that I hope will happen. A million American soldiers are stationed abroad. Why don’t we start American troops who are in foreign lands teaching illiterates? Teach the servicemen how to use these books — they could learn in a week easily. They are now learning foreign languages. Then in their leisure hours have them put a book under their arm and go down the streets and say to somebody, “Would you like to learn to read?” These illiterate people would all go crazy with delight. It’s wonderful to teach people, because they are so grateful!

Why, I ask, are we wasting the talents of young men in training for a war that must never happen? Why are we not using them in the war for these hungry multitudes who are making up their minds whether to come up by the know-how route or in a pathway of blood?