David Gillmore

David Gillmore

At the time this article was written, David Gillmore was the Director of Professional Training Services for the NAEB.

While you read this article, please keep in mind that it was written in 1977 and the subject begins ten years earlier.  Much transpired in those ten years and much more has transpired since.  It is the hope of the publishers of this site that we receive input from many more people to help us fill in the blanks.

Public Telecommunications Review, March/April 1977

David Gillmore

Education in American Samoa – The Way It Was; The Way It Is;


During the 1960s David Gillmore was part of a large contingent of American educational broadcasters who went to American Samoa to establish a school system using the latest techniques in instructional telecommunications and a specially-designed curriculum. Now, returning as a tourist and observer, he reports on what has happened since.


A gaggle of American cruise ship tourists turns the corner into KVZK-TV’s master control room. Engineers long ago had wryly noted that cruise ship passengers were “newly-wed or nearly dead.” This group clearly is of the latter category. “You mean the kids spend their whole school day watching television?” one of them asks. “No, not at all,” coordinator Bill Dale tries to explain above the din of ten hulking video recorders. “The way it works is…”

I leave him behind, attempting to explain instructional strategies to a half-listening group who just wants to get into a studio where they can see themselves on camera. The year is 1966, and American Samoa is welcoming both tourism and instructional technology.


It’s 4:45 AM as the Pan Am jet settles smoothly onto the runway at Pago Pago. In the ten years since I first came to Samoa, the flight schedule hasn’t changed–the only possible arrival time is the middle of the night.  Out of the plane now, I mix with other passengers straggling toward the terminal, all in various states of drowsiness. The big 747 looks strange on the tarmac, hovering over the low terminal buildings like a giant white bird.

I’m reassured by the warm dampness of the air about me as the customs officials routinely process my papers. Soft Polynesian accents murmur in the background, and the smell of coconut oil hangs about the parcels that have come off the plane. Yes, this is Samoa, all right. I’m back. And I wonder what has become of that school system.

It’s starting to get light as I drive from the airport into town. The villages are awake. Adults are beginning to emerge from the concrete-and-frame dwellings that are now the standard Samoan home. A small naked child wanders about in a village square, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Street lighting in the village is new, I note.  So are the dozens of grocery stores, service stations, and the small shopping center slipping by along the roadway.

At the hotel, I try to catch a little sleep, but I’m too keyed up. The sun is just appearing over the mountains that rim the magnificent bay. The night drizzle still clings to the hibiscus blossoms on the balcony outside. No, sleep will have to come later. Now is the time to look around one more time to see how things have changed. And to remember how things once were.

Pago Pago Harbor 1977

Pago Pago Harbor 1977

Where’s American Samoa, And Why Should We Care?

The Samoan Islands lie in the South Pacific midway between Hawaii and Australia—about 2500 miles from each. In 1900 the U. S. peacefully acquired the eastern portion and its excellent sheltered harbor at Pago Pago. The Navy administered the territory until 1951 when control was transferred to the U. S. Department of the Interior.

Neither the Navy nor Interior invested very much in the territory’s infrastructure. Far from the public eye, it remained a tropical backwater until 1961 when it was visited by travel writer Clarence W. Hall, who was appalled at what he found. Hall’s description, Samoa: America’s Shame in the South Pacific, was picked up by Reader’s Digest, America’s most-read magazine. The Kennedy Administration was deeply embarrassed.

Hall had discovered a territory managed by official indifference to the island’s affairs. Both the Navy and Interior appointed a series of short-term governors who cared little about improving infrastructure. After all, the territory was small–76 square miles, divided into six different islands –and the population was small and friendly. It was no big deal.

Samoa in 1960 had changed little since 1900. Most Samoans still lived in small villages in thatched-roof houses devoid of running water, electricity, or sewage facilities. Roads were few, and those that existed often required four-wheel-drive vehicles to negotiate them.

Family life was communal, with all land and goods under the control of family chieftains. Salaried family workers understood that their paycheck would be given to their chief, who would spend it for the good of their extended family. Subsistence farming and reef fishing provided food for the simple Samoan diet. On paper, it seemed like the archetypical tropical paradise.

But it was a paradise becoming overrun by galloping overpopulation. Assisted by modern medical practices instituted by the Navy, American Samoa’s population increased by 2,000 percent–from 3,000 to 60,000–between 1900 and 1960. With limited tillable land, the island was no longer able to grow enough food to feed itself. It began to import food but paid the price of having to develop a dollar-based economy to pay for the imports, thus significantly altering centuries-old customs. And it exported over half its population to the United States, mostly young and middle-aged wage-earners, who sent part of their salaries back to their chiefs.

The mainland that Samoan immigrants found wasn’t altogether hospitable. They arrived in Honolulu and California strong and well-intentioned, but with no job skills, poor education, and unable to communicate in English. The jobs that they found were menial, low-paid, last-hired-first-fired positions that offered no chance for meaningful advancement. Even educational opportunity was out of the question: though excellent schools in California and elsewhere were officially open to them, their lack of English proficiency effectively prohibited Samoans from benefiting.


Kennedy Intervenes

Embarrassed by the Reader’s Digest article, President Kennedy decided to completely reorder Samoa’s priorities. He assigned this task to a new governor, H. Rex Lee, and promised him the resources necessary to fix things.

Lee was very different from his predecessors. His credentials were those of a career government administrator, not naval officer or political crony. Where other governors had at best concentrated on a single problem or two, Lee developed a master plan for territorial development. While other governors stayed for only a year or two, Lee remained seven. Bright, decisive, flinty, he has left his mark inexorably upon Samoan culture and landscape.

Gov Lee

Governor H. Rex Lee

H. Rex Lee was Governor of American Samoa from 1961 through 1967. 

After leaving Samoa he served four years as an FCC Commissioner and
is now Founding Chairman of the Public Service Satellite Consortium.


By 1975 the territory burgeoned with Lee’s considerable accomplishments. His presence was noticeable everywhere you looked: the modern jetport, where the daily 747’s connected the tiny territory with every corner of the earth; the system of paved primary roads, very good even by mainland standards, and exceptional in a part of the world where mud surfaces were the norm; the large, modern tourist hotel; thousands of storm-proof “hurricane houses,” constructed to meet the acute housing shortage brought about by a disastrous 1966 hurricane that destroyed most of the flimsier traditional thatched homes; the electrification of every village in the territory; the modern dockside warehouse that replaced the ugly Navy-built 65-year-old metal coaling sheds; the Star-Kist and Van Camp tuna canneries, brought in to shore up the region’s economy and which remain the territory’s only major private employer; the new hospital, easily the most modern, best-equipped medical facility between Honolulu and Sydney. And perhaps most notably, a new school system.

In 1965 Clarence W. Hall, author of America’s Shame in the Pacific, revisited Samoa and wrote a new Reader’s Digest article: America’s Showplace of the South Seas. It began: From a Pacific slum to a Polynesian paradise in four years. Somewhere on earth there may be a more spectacular example of revolutionary change in an area and its people, but in years of roving the world’s far corners I have never seen it.


The New School System

Hall’s article particularly praised Lee’s new school system for the island’s 7,000 school students. All the small village one-room schools were consolidated into 26 newly-constructed elementary and three high school campuses, and a new culturally-sensitive central curriculum was instituted with core content written and delivered from a new six-channel television center.

If the plan for the new educational system sounded like a bold one, it was only because Lee believed that it had to be. A breakthrough had to be accomplished in the school system he inherited in 1961, which was appalling even by mainland ghetto standards. Village schools were one-room thatched buildings that all students from all grade levels attended. Lessons were recited in unison to a single teacher. Attendance was supposed to be compulsory, but in fact, other village events often took precedence over schoolwork.


Old school house pre-etv

Students used hand-me-down American textbooks, where Dick and Jane lived in ranch-style brick homes with neat lawns, and Father drove home each day from his high-rise office in his red convertible, dressed in suit, tie, shoes. Never was there a glimpse of the sea in these books; never a coconut, or a taro, or a cooking fire, or an outrigger canoe, or anything vaguely resembling the Samoan environment.

All lessons were to be conducted in English. That was the official regulation.  The Catch-22, of course, was that hardly anybody in the village could speak English; certainly very few of the teachers could. Lee later described the teaching corps as conscientious, hardworking, and highly respected members of their villages, but their teacher training was nonexistent and their English incomprehensible. There was no reason to doubt his observations. What few high school graduates there were scored at fifth-grade levels on stateside achievement tests. And Samoan teachers were products of this school system.

Lee determined that an upgraded school system was a major priority. For openers, a new physical plant was in order. That was relatively easy–all that took was money, and Lee knew how to get that from Congress. Putting the learning process in order, however, was another matter.

He considered his options: he could recruit an entire staff of American teachers, one for nearly every classroom. That would have an immediate effect on the quality of instruction. But it would cost a lot of money for salaries, moving expenses, and housing. And it would effectively replace most of the present Samoan teachers, many of them long-term employees whom everyone agreed were doing their best. The social disruption would be enormous, and in the end the new American teachers probably wouldn’t receive the local cooperation they would need to be successful.

Another option Lee considered was to put a lot of money into teacher training. He could send bright young Samoans into special programs at mainland colleges, then work them into classrooms through attrition. That would preserve the traditional village social structure and would have a long-term effect on instructional quality. But it would take a long time–probably a full generation –for its effects to be felt throughout the entire system.

Lee instead began to consider non-traditional approaches. Rather than tinker with the existing operation, he wondered, why not design an entirely new system from the ground up? One that would be responsive to the special needs of Samoan students living in Samoa?  One that could take advantage of instructional innovation to rapidly upgrade the quality of the educational process? A twentieth-century school system with a systematically-developed curriculum, supported by modern technology?

Lee ‘s deliberations took place in the early sixties, a time when the early research results from instructional television projects were beginning to reach the public. There was agreement that, given the proper circumstances, television was a viable instructional medium. Could it be viable in Samoa?  What would be required to make it work? How long would it take to put into operation? And what were the probable immediate and long-range benefits?


Instructional Television Project Begins

Lee asked the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) to conduct a study on the subject. NAEB’s Vernon Bronson was soon in Pago Pago, asking questions, surveying terrain, visiting villages. He concluded that a properly designed school system using television as a means for delivering core instruction could have an immediate positive impact upon instructional quality. Furthermore, this quality could be expected to increase in direct proportion to the amount of student exposure to the system.

Bronson, never a person to pull punches, was characteristically blunt with Lee. Television, he said, was not the major component of the proposed system. What was paramount was a new central curriculum, one that was relevant to Samoa, its customs and its people. Appropriate written materials did not exist and would have to be created by a specially-recruited staff. Television lessons produced in the States were not appropriate for Samoan youngsters, and thus would have to be locally produced. This would require new facilities and more new staff.

The current classroom teachers would require extensive in-service training to help them adjust to the new system and grow with it. Future teachers would be encouraged to study at mainland colleges. Samoans would be assigned work with the recruited Americans so that the system would soon become an entirely local operation. And to give each Samoan child complete parity of educational opportunity, the program must prioritize English language instruction, with the objective of making each student completely bilingual.

Lee liked the plan. It provided for an immediate upgrading of educational quality. It preserved the role of the classroom teacher. It was sensitive to the Samoan custom of all going forward at the same time. It was cheaper than hiring and transporting an entirely new American teaching staff.  And since the United States was interested in demonstrating the advantages of Western technology to the emerging nations of the Third World, this was an exciting, flashy program.

The key elements of the system were quickly outlined:  twenty-six new campuses for the newly-consolidated school districts; a six-channel television station capable of reaching every village in the territory; a four-studio production center capable of producing 200 television lessons every week, complete with newly-printed lesson guides, worksheets, tests, and classroom materials; a new print shop; housing for the Americans who would institute the program–about 150 curriculum specialists, engineers, principals, television and research teachers, producers, artists, and photographers, and their families.

And there was one more key element. Bronson’s prioritization of bilingualism would require the adoption of a comprehensive, systematic program of English language instruction that would be used in all subjects, not just language arts. Vocabulary and usage would be introduced in the English classes, then reinforced in all other subjects throughout the day. Teachers of non-English courses would be required to speak only the vocabulary and phrases that had been previously introduced. Printed material produced for each lesson would follow the same restrictions. This was difficult to accomplish, especially early in the semester. Imagine teaching math, for instance, with a beginning vocabulary of fewer than twenty words. Great creativity would be required of the teaching staff.

Lee took the idea to Congress and came away with the money. The NAEB was contracted to hire a staff. The buildings went up. The new system was underway.

tramway over pago harbor

Tramway Over Pago Pago Harbor

This tramway, originally built to deliver construction materials to the mountain-top television transmitter site, is now a major tourist attraction.

World Attention

“It’s a cooperative system of instruction making maximum use of television,” coordinator Bill Dale explains to a visiting group of UNESCO educators, “and in-service training is an integral part of the program. Each American working here has a Samoan counterpart. We expect the system to be entirely Samoan-operated within ten years.”

The worldwide interest the system generated was immense. Scarcely a week went by without an official delegation showing up for a look. They represented every aspect of officialdom: education ministers from developing nations; Asian and European broadcasters; economic planners from other Pacific island nations; generals and admirals; American school superintendents; Senators and Congressmen; the press; ubiquitous cruise ship passengers.

Charles Lindberg scheduled a thirty-minute tour but stayed all morning. The President’s Press Secretary Pierre Salinger burst unannounced into a studio, leaving behind an interrupted taping session and a crew gasping from his cigar smoke. A southern Congressman started a tour of several schools but stayed the entire time at his first stop when the eighth-grade girls began dancing for him. Air Force One deposited President and Lady Bird Johnson, who dedicated a school. And so it went.

pres johnson, lee and ladybird at school dedication

President Johnson, Governor Lee and Ladybird Johnson at school dedication

  President Johnson, Governor Lee, and Lady Bird Johnson dedicating Lady Bird Elementary School, 1967.


How Effective Was the System?

Everyone who came asked about the effectiveness of the system. The answer was elusive at the time and remains elusive today, over twelve years after the first programs were transmitted.

There are several reasons. Research and evaluation were not started until after the system began operation, which meant that base-line data were never reliably gathered. Also, evaluation continued to be conducted using standardized mainland tests, which were as culturally biased as the old Dick and Jane texts. But despite the lack of data, observers of the system over the years were in general agreement in their assessment of its strengths and weaknesses.

The inclusion of the high schools in the early years of the system never worked well, and phased involvement with the new plan would probably have been better. No one correctly estimated the degree of difficulty involved in teaching content matter in a second language.

Finally, there were the logistical problems of working in a developing area–keeping electricity flowing, delivering supplies over the storm-tossed Pacific to schools with no roads and no docks, even a major hurricane–all of these proved to be more problematic than the planners realized and were the cause of considerable downtime.

At its best, however, the new system was very good indeed. Teachers and students adapted quickly and easily to the lesson format: the classroom teacher introduced each lesson, then the television lesson presented the day’s new material. After the telecast the classroom teacher reviewed the lesson using specially-prepared worksheets and text materials.  If anyone needed convincing that instructional television could be made an interactive experience, the sight of Samoan children independently responding to instructions given by a television teacher quickly removed all doubt. And it was apparent that most of the elementary teachers learned a lot about instructional management by using the daily lesson plans.

Similarly, no one could seriously question the great improvement in curricular materials. The new culturally-sensitive lesson plans, worksheets and textbooks, developed on-site by the teaching staff, were a major improvement. And the curriculum design followed a systematic plan that coordinated concepts from several different subjects and reinforced each.

The shining success of the program was in its priority objective: the rapid achievement of English language skills. This was the key to everything else in the student’s academic program, it was argued, because if English were mastered, then books, technical manuals, and other advanced training options would be opened. Before the new system, it was virtually impossible to converse in English with any Samoan child. After the system was in operation for several years, this was no longer the case.

Again the hard data are missing, but a personal story may make the point. In the 1968-69 school year I was assigned to an evaluation project requiring me to make numerous visits to the more remote village schools–schools that could be reached only by walking over mountain trails. People who lived in these villages rarely had any contact with outsiders and spoke only Samoan in their daily activities. Upon arriving unannounced in their villages, it was incumbent upon me to address the village chiefs. While not unfriendly, they had some perfectly natural questions about what this unknown foreigner was doing in their town. Since I knew very little Samoan, this could have proved difficult.

As it turned out, it was easy. I would look for the first school-age youngster –about a fifth or sixth-grade child was perfect–and tell them the essential information. The child would translate to the chiefs, who would then smile a welcome, and everything would proceed swimmingly.

The key was to converse in English with a student who had been in the system for four years or so. They could speak the new language. I repeated this process several times a week for almost a year in all parts of the territory. It always worked. It never failed. Not once.

level 1 classroom

Level 1 Clasroom

  Level 1 TV lesson in progress, 1966


Samoa After Lee

“Who’s in charge of the education system here?” a visiting U. S. school superintendent wants to know. “The governor,” coordinator Bill Dale replies. “The governor appoints the Director of Education, approves the budget, and makes all policy decisions. The governor’s the top guy.” “How well does that work?” the superintendent asks. “Depends on who the governor is,” Bill deadpans. The superintendent laughs.

But it wasn’t funny. The chief problem in evaluating the overall effectiveness of the system lies in the changes to the master plan by the governor who followed Lee’s 1967 departure.  The original plan envisioned a twelve-year time frame, but Governor Owen Aspinal had other priorities for territorial development. He shuffled appropriated education funds into other projects, undermining continuity. He attempted to replace locally-produced English language instruction with an off-the-shelf crash course, declaring its teaching methods superior to the integrated method developed for Samoa. He angrily backed off only when the education staff pointed out the packaged course was not designed for use by young children.

There were other problems. In those pre-Watergate days, telephone bugging equipment was discovered in the governor’s office targeting the Director of Education. When a Honolulu

newspaper reported the scandal, the governor was officially reprimanded by the Secretary of the Interior. Finally, in an attempt to carve still more money out of the education budget, the governor attempted to institute a curious salary schedule that would have put newly-hired personnel at a higher grade than those already employed, some with as much as eight years’ experience in the system. The threat of mass resignation backed him down, but already-sagging staff morale was dealt a mortal blow. Realizing that the school system could not succeed under such conditions, the NAEB withdrew from its association with Samoa in mid-I969.

Gubernatorial turnover is a continuing problem for Samoa. Appointed by the Secretary of the Interior, the territory is now operating under its fifth governor in nine years. Each arrives with a fresh team of advisors and each quickly formulates new policy directions for each major department of island government, education included.

The qualifications of the person appointed to the governorship are central to the island’s problems. The four governors following Lee included the son of the chairman of the House Interior sub-committee, a major West Coast fund-raiser for the 1968 Nixon campaign, and an ex-football coach turned lame-duck Congressman.  The current governor is in the same mold: partner in a law firm headed by an influential Senator and a state Nixon re-election committee director. Appointed only since October 1, 1976, his tenure is already controversial.  Locals call him insensitive to Samoans, perhaps even racist.  An editorial in the Honolulu Advertiser called for his removal. The Carter administration will have to decide whether to replace him with a Democratic appointee or allow him to remain until Samoa inaugurates its first elected governor in 1978. Either way, Samoa is in for another year or two of wallowing without long-term leadership. The idea of a Samoan sitting in the governor’s house is not without peril since it might jeopardize the island’ s direct tie to the mainland political process and the Congressional appropriations that it produces.

Pan Am in AS

Pan Am in AS

Pan American World Airways 747 at Pago Pago International Airport in 1976


1976: The Return Visit

The rain is coming down hard as I get ready to visit my first Samoan school in over seven years.

But my plan to visit a remote village school isn’t going to work today—those buckets of tropical rain make those mountain trails impassable for this inexperienced hiker. Instead, I opt to drive to Nua, a village on the road but on the far western end of the island, and thus relatively removed from the influence of the “city folk” in downtown Pago Pago. It also happens to be the first school opened under the new school reorganization back in 1964.

It’s good to see the school again. Each of the four buildings, all designed to resemble a traditional Samoan longhouse, is divided into two classrooms. In one class a teacher is using a TV social studies series on Oceania. Teachers now have the option to use ITV or develop their own lessons. Most, it seems, use ITV sparingly. On the screen, the television teacher is talking about Japanese imperialism during World War II. A map shows the location of the Pacific islands captured by the Japanese. The television teacher asks the students to circle those islands on their worksheet maps. But the students have no worksheets in front of them. Hastily, booklets are distributed and students thumb through them, searching for the map. In most booklets, the map has been torn out in some previous year. Each student is supposed to have a new copy, but I later learn that teachers must make do with previously-used printed materials. No new ones have been printed for several years because of budget restrictions.

Most of the teachers are now using Samoan as the language of instruction, abandoning the previous structuring of lessons to force-feed English proficiency.

I’d seen English comprehension test scores from last year. Seniors averaged at mid-ninth grade levels, a full year ahead of the previous class.  Most of them would have had twelve full years in the English-intensive system–its first graduating class, so to speak. Ninth-graders, however, told a different story: they averaged one year lower than the class that preceded them. The heavy emphasis upon English had been diminished early in their schooling, a result of a gubernatorial decision.

It’s painful to remember how committed we were to the principle of English as the key to unlocking books, entrance exams, business skills. Now that principle has obviously changed.

Back at the television station, a lot of things have changed. In former times KVZK was entirely a Department of Education facility. Completely funded from DOE budgets, it was a beehive of activity, broadcasting ITV lessons on six channels throughout the school day. Each of the four studios taped a new ITV lesson every hour, all written by teachers and producers in the upstairs workroom. A nightly bilingual newscast and other community programming were also produced for the evening broadcasts.

ETV office

ETV office

Studio workroom in 1967. Over 100 teachers and producers prepared TV lessons here.

Today it’s much quieter. Only two of the studios remain usable, served by a common control room. Vast expanses of the second-floor office space, formerly bulging with teachers, producers, artists, and photographers, now yawn empty. Two yellow spiral staircases, the “golden screws” that connected the offices with the studios below, have been severed and lay rusting on the lawn outside. Employment has been severed as well—only a small engineering staff remains, and where over thirty Samoan crew members once busied themselves in producing the heavy production load, now only four remain on the job. They do everything—produce, direct, set lights, run the cameras—for the few local productions that remain.

The station is still entirely funded by the education department, but station management is now hired by and reports to the governor. The governor is advised by a Honolulu-based broadcast consultant who owns commercial radio and television properties in Hawaii and other Pacific islands. In addition to heading KVZK, the current manager also runs America Samoa’s only radio station, a former government station recently sold to that same Honolulu consultant. The radio station now operates commercially. Last year the governor also attempted to sell the television station to commercial interests but was thwarted when the legislature raised a howl.

But if the funding of the station is “educational,” its culture is commercial.  A visit with station manager Jon Anderson quickly lets you know that it’s a dollars-and-cents, cost-per-unit operation these days. “When I arrived here, the place was terrifically overstaffed. We had over a hundred employees, most of them education types. Now we’re down to a trim twenty or so. Much more efficient operation,” he told me.

Cut from the staff were all but two teachers, all but one writer, all maintenance crews that serviced the schools’ receivers and antenna systems, the entire photo department, and all but two artists, who now do other government work. Also gone are the previously-mentioned studio crew members. Nearly all the ex-employees are Samoan.

auto shop

Auto Shop

The equipment is newer than I expected. Gone is the venerable early-sixties black-and-white gear. In its place sit three state-of-the-art RCA cameras producing excellent color pictures during the infrequent studio productions. Also available are two portable camera-recorders that are used in local news programs and, occasionally, on remotes. The single video switcher is also state-of-the-art. It’s a bit complicated for a one-person control room, but the crew struggles with it gamely.

Six new videotape recorders have replaced all but two of the older models. The old ones are just for ITV playback, you are told–you know, the old black-and-white stuff.

The station now operates three channels–2, 4, and 5–instead of its original six. The station’s syndicated programming is imported on cassette.  All programming is in color except for what Anderson refers to as “the old ITV stuff.” He expects to buy three new transmitters this year to replace the original GE’s.

ITV programming still occupies three channels during the school day.  Only three new series have been recently produced, however, the rest coming off the shelf from programs produced as long ago as 1964. The tapes are old, the material dated, and much of it is no longer appropriate for the intended grade level. But they continue to be broadcast—it’s all they have.

Community television begins at three each afternoon, filling two, sometimes three channels until midnight.  It’s a curious programming mix. Channel 4 is a non-interconnected PBS station, running a few local programs and most of the PBS schedule eight weeks after its stateside broadcast. This part of the operation is heavily subsidized by a federally-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting community service grant—over $545,000 in FY 1976, according to CPB figures. Only thirteen other licensees received higher CSG’s that year, all of them either big-city major production centers or multiple-station state networks. Anderson, however, isn’t entirely happy with the arrangement.  “All that PBS stuff comes to us pretty late,” he says. “And it’s on two-inch tape, which is heavy. It costs us a fortune to ship it.”


High school auto mechanics production, 1967.

Anderson refers to Channel 2 as “an NBC affiliate.” The description seems apt. Channel 2 carries the entire NBC schedule–soap operas, game shows, Chancellor-Brinkley, Carson, Saturday Night Live–everything on a one-week delay, taped by KPIX in San Francisco, then shipped to Samoa. Channel 2 broadcasts all commercials along with the programming. The station receives no revenue from the advertising, according to Anderson, nor does the station pay for the programming.

As I left the studio, the lobby monitor was tuned to Channel 2. Days of Our Lives was the current offering. “Do you have any sexual experience?” an actress was asking. Dramatic pause. “Do you mean, am I a virgin?” Margaret Mead, where are you now, I wondered. The screen faded to black, then up on the spots: Chef Boyardee pizza, Sears decorator rugs, Pepsi. Yes, Margaret, you really should be here now.

consolidated school classroom

Consolidated School Classroom


Newly constructed elementary school classrooms replaced one-room village schools.

Classroom buildings complement the architectural style of traditional Samoan dwellings.


Concluding Thoughts

Despite the problems, life in Samoa remains placid, a reflection of the resilient nature of the Samoan people. Their islands continue to be counted among the most beautiful anywhere in the world. The climate remains kind. The coconuts continue to grow in the trees, and the reef still traps fish in shallow pools at low tide.

There are impressive gains to consider: the Samoan standard of living is the highest by far of all neighboring Pacific island nations; Samoans occupy nearly every position of responsibility in their local government; Samoans own nearly every business in the territory.

In a period that has introduced much social and technological change, Samoans have been successful in retaining much of their national character and customs. They respond to insensitive intervention with techniques of passive resistance that would be instructive even to a Gandhi.  They’re indomitable. They’re going to be just fine, I’m sure. And I hope I’m right.

ETV central control

ETV central control


A version of this article, originally published in the 1977 March/April issue of Public Telecommunications Review, was revised in August 2019 by the author. Thanks to Jay Barr for his comments and suggestions.


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