If America will not go to the developing world, then bring the developing world to America. This apparently is the attitude behind a growing push by relief and development organizations and nonprofit groups to educate Americans about less developed nations.
``Americans are not dumb - they're just not educated,'' says Bob Berg of the Overseas Development Council.
Nonprofit groups such as CARE, Save the Children, and the National Wildlife Federation are working to provide more and better education programs on third-world development. One goal is to create a wider constituency for economic assistance to developing countries. ``Americans must understand that development is not money down a rathole,'' says one development expert.
Mr. Berg points out that on a per capita basis, funding for development education in the United States falls far behind such expenditures in Canada and Western European nations.
Increasingly the leaders of concerned organizations believe that Americans must support growth in developing countries not because they feel sorry for these nations, but because they understand that the US's own well-being is inextricably bound to them. They echo the words of a United Nations official: ``For sustainable development, emotion must give way to reason.''
US farmers, for example, have a direct stake in economic development abroad. One in three acres of US grain is cultivated for export, much of it to the developing nations. Rising incomes in poor countries lead to larger potential markets for US agricultural products, as well as other American goods and services.
Also, scientists around the world have long cautioned that destruction of the rain forests in the developing world is affecting the developed world as well. They have established that the process is altering the earth's ozone layer and destroying important natural resources - most of which are used by the developed world.
The impetus and funding for increasing public awareness of development issues has originated largely from nonprofit groups in the private sector. However, they are receiving assistance from some public agencies, particularly the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
In 1982 USAID created a domestic education division. The division's education budget has grown from $750,000, disbursed among 10 groups, to $2.5 million, spread among 50 groups. The funds are distributed in the form of matching grants, to encourage private fund raising.
According to division director Beth Hogan, sponsoring groups have found ``the most successful programs are those that encourage support for that which affects [people's] own lives.''
The groups using USAID grants include organizations concerned with agriculture, wildlife, nutrition, finance and credit, and children.
During the last three years, the Minnesota International Center has delivered programs about hunger, poverty, and other development issues to grassroots audiences totaling more than 10,000 in Minnesota. The project is operated largely through international students and community volunteers. The center hopes to encourage the spread of similar activities in other Midwest states.
The Arkansas-based Heifer Project International (HPI) assists the rural poor in the US and developing nations through small-scale livestock development. HPI is using a USAID grant to introduce development-education materials to the Arkansas schools. The state legislature has mandated that every high school must offer global-education courses by this year.
HPI's Cheryl Pagan says the USAID grant will allow her organization to serve a much broader audience than it otherwise could, including many community groups in Arkansas and other states. HPI estimates that through a network of associate members, its materials will reach more than 1 million people during the three-year project.
Successful development education depends on the ability of sponsoring groups to provide accurate and balanced programs. Some critics have charged that these groups are solely interested in filling their own coffers.
But development education is not designed to promote support for the organization sponsoring the program, says Russell Sunshine, co-founder of Communications for Development, one of a few companies that design development education materials.
``Its chief objective is to help learners understand the development issues that impinge on their lives, and to identify and consider alternative actions that are appropriate to their own needs,'' he explains.
Ms. Hogan of USAID contends that its grant-approval process weeds out any organization seeking only self gain. But according to Berg of the Overseas Development Council, concern over conflicts of interest in grant applicants was a main reason that USAID had no public-education program until 1982.
Development education workers also face opposition from people who think their efforts are ``anti-American,'' says Rose Hayden, president of the National Council on Foreign Language and International Studies. Some parents, educators, public officials, and religious leaders, she notes, believe these programs are too realistic and may scare children, and will encroach upon time needed for other subjects.
But Andy Smith of the New York-based Global Perspectives in Education says there is an ``absolute advantage'' in efforts to bring development agencies to the attention of mainstream America. While the US public-education system has left businesses and local and national government largely bereft of people who are comfortable in an international environment, development agencies swarm with them. It is, says Mr. Smith, ``an opportunity to infuse real-life issues into education.''
However, as Berg sees it, development education is a positive addition, but not an alternative to what US schools lack - sound global education, including foreign languages, cultures, geography, and politics. ``It simply can't make up for a deficient system,'' Berg says.