PS: Political Science & Politics

The Teacher

Bulls, Goats, and Pedagogy: Engaging Students in Overseas Development Aid

William F. S. Milesa1

a1 Northeastern University


This article illustrates the profound learning that occurs—for students and instructor alike—when a class on third-world development attempts to undertake foreign aid. With undergraduate, graduate, and departmental money, I purchased bulls and carts for farmers, and goats for widows, in two West African villages. Such experiential learning personalized for students the study of micropolitics under conditions of poverty, the development of organizational structure, and north-south dependency.

William F. S. Miles is professor of political science at Northeastern University in Boston and adjunct research professor of international relations at the Watson Institute of Brown University. A former Peace Corps Volunteer (Niger, 1977–9) and State Department intern (Nigeria,1980), he is the recipient of four Fulbright scholarships. Miles has published nine books on Africa, India, Israel, Martinique, and Vanuatu, the most recent of which is My African Horse Problem (University of Massachusetts Press, 2008).


The author wishes to thank Professor John Portz, chair of the Northeastern University political science department, without whose unstinting support bulls, goats, and scholarships would not have become such a part of our students' learning experience. In the absence of conventional receipts for departmentally-purchased livestock, Professor Portz displayed particular fortitude vis-à-vis Accounts Payable. Professor David Rochefort has been an inspiration for experiential learning writ large. I also wish to acknowledge Professor Bruce Wallin who suggested that I write up my long-distance pedagogic experiences for the benefit of the profession. Undergraduates whose enthusiasm realized these projects include Nick Boston, Sobaika Mirza, Estella Moriarty, Sarah Tishler, and Kelsea Zetterman. Graduate students who have taken a leadership role include Alisa Houghton, Jennifer Hackbush, Kristen Hudak, Alison Uzdella, and Marketa Vavreckova.