Sunday, May 20, 2012

Visiting Oberlin

We embarked on a four-hour drive from Cincinnati to Oberlin to visit the historic Oberlin College.  Founded in 1833, Oberlin College is recognized as the first American institution of higher education to adopt the policy to admit students of color in 1835, and the first college to award women with a bachelor’s degree in 1841.  Today the college offers both the BA degree and a double BA/BM degree. 

Quick Facts:
·      Approximately 2,800 enrolled
·      Tuition and Fees:  $57, 025
·      Student Body
o   9% in-state, 85% out-of-state, 8% from abroad
o   54% female, 46% male
o   20% underrepresented students
·      Geographic Distribution
o   Mid-Atlantic: 29%
o   Midwest: 23%
o   New England: 12%
o   Southwest: 4%
o   South: 10%
o   Far West: 15%
o   International: 7%

While there we were able to meet with Professor (Emeritus) Booker Peek, who retired last year after 44 years at Oberlin College.  Professor Peek, originally from Jacksonville, Florida received his BA from Florida A&M University in 1964, and MAT from Oberlin College in 1966.   While at Oberlin, he was a member of both the Education Department (which dissolved) and African American Studies Department. 
In our conversation with him, and two current Oberlin students, we discussed the attitudes surrounding education and racism in the town of Oberlin and across the nation.  The common thread throughout the conversation dealt with concept of lack of progress.  Professor Peek’s shared that over the years, we have maintained goodwill and righteous ideals, but have lacked in forward progression.  We’d like to think that we all have this deep internal desire to improve opportunities, especially for the poor and underrepresented, but just having it is not enough.  As many of us know, the betterment of life is not at all a new concept.  We have been battling this same issue for years, and yet find ourselves in the same place.  

Looking at this idea, the town, and college itself was quite perplexing.  Going into this discussion, I had already made the presumption that everything was ideal because of its reputation that proceeded.  Because the town has a rich history for abolitionist activities, and the college has had a past of thriving on social justice and progressive causes, I think I subconsciously or maybe even optimistically thought Oberlin as a whole would truly be an “oasis.”  After our discussion and looking at the statistics of the college, I am somewhat disheartened to see that the lack forward progression.  I had made the presumption that everything was, for lack of better words, a-okay.  And maybe they are a few steps ahead of the rest of us, but there is still a long uphill journey.  Though I am not giving Oberlin enough credit because they have in fact done amazing things and have overcome many challenges, we can still see that there is no utopia, no one right answer, and no ideal to solve issues surrounding equity.  

Since much of what we are learning in this class and on this trip has Christian roots, I thought it would be appropriate to mention the Book of James.  A section of this book in the bible discusses that faith without works is dead.  Though we all may have different beliefs, this is applicable to all of us as educators.  We can believe all we want things will get better--that our one child who is not learning the material will eventually get it, or educational opportunities will one day be fair and beneficial to all, but in all honestly, just thinking it is not enough.  If we want change, we must be willing to fight for it.  We must be willing to put our words into actions, to walk what we preach.  If we expect to see and experience something different, we must start acting and doing differently. 


  1. Oberlin in my eyes was going to be the town that would provide the framework for educational equity for the nation because of the strong religious and support of human dignity and liberties that its history holds. Learning the history of not only the college but of the town gave me great hopes that educational equity was indeed an achievable solution; in the words of Professor Peek, an “oasis” for equal learning and opportunities. However, after discussions with Professor Peek and the two students that joined us I soon learned that Oberlin is a city that has not lived up to the pedestal that it has been placed on. Of course there is no quick single solution to battling the educational inequities that face all the cities of America but to see a city that has truly digressed over time instead of making progress truly illuminates the major detriment to society that inequity in educational opportunities has created. One of the students, Mr. Kevin, expressed to the group “many of the minority students, mostly African American, don’t ever make it to college, some barely graduate high school, because there is no support or belief in educational opportunities from their teachers or the community.” This directly brings forward the blaming the victim notion in that they are not supported outside of the home because they are viewed to lack intrinsic educational motivation and ability. Counts expresses the notion of progressive education to be an entire community transformation in that “if Progressive Education is to be genuinely progressive, it must emancipate itself from the influence of this class, face squarely and courageously every social issue, come to grips with life in all of its stark reality, establish an organic relation with the community, develop a realistic and comprehensive theory of welfare, fashion a compelling and challenging vision of human destiny, and become less frightened than it is today at the bogies of imposition and indoctrination. (Counts 1932) Further support of this is present with the story Carl, from the Freedom Center, shared with our group of how his own son’s German teacher did not assign them homework because she held the perception that they, African American students, would not complete the work outside of the classroom. How can we as a people ever reach educational equity for all when our own teachers, and communities, are suppressing and hindering the students instead of motivating and uplifting them?

    * Counts, G. (1932) Dare the Schools Build a New Social Order?
    * Mr. Kevin (speaker). (2012). Oberlin College. Quotation given May 19, 2012 in discussion.

  2. Marissa
    I think your connection to our class, the visit to Oberlin and the book of James are very relevant and something I did not think about when I entered into this course. This realization was very similar to my epiphany after our class discussion on the A Nation at Risk (1983) versus A Nation Accountable (2008). It is amazing that twenty-five years before a nation accountable, the publication A Nation at Risk found flaws in our education system and they are still very similar today. A Nation Accountable states, "If we were ‘at risk’ in 1983, we are at even greater risk now. The rising demands of our global economy, together with demographic shifts, require that we educate more students to higher level than ever before. Yet, our education system is not keeping pace with these growing demands" (p 1). It is obvious that we have yet to truly find the issues that cause our education system to not flourish. In my personal reflection it seems we are focusing so much on the institution of education and not the ability to provide education. I have seen that time and time again we talk about given students the opportunity to receive education, i.e. put them in a school, however we do note always provide them the tools to access the content. First this lies on the hands of the teacher in being able to differentiate. Teachers need to help provide scaffolding for each student so they can find their own ways to strive. This can be by making the curriculum connect with not just to their age but a student's culture, background and personal, aspirations. The accessibility and accountability also lies on the student. As Dr. Peak said in our discussion in Oberlin, students also need to "buy in." Parents, teachers, and administrators all want to give student the ability to access education however it is up to the individual student to make it happen. In Cincinnati our tour guide Carl Westmoreland did a great job connecting this philosophy with slavery and the abolitionist movement. Carl expressed how the only way we were able to move forward towards freedom was if each person continued to fight. It one person stopped fighting, then all the past efforts would be lost. I believe this idea echoes your thought of how there is no action in just using words, but we need to stay accountable and driven towards finding educational equity. We say we want to give students education and we say that it takes more than a textbook to get them there. We need to continue the fight that we need to provide each unique, individual, and multicultural student the ability to learn. We need to see that these risks are not going away because we are not following through with the plan. We need to realize that if we promise equal education we also need to provide equal resources and equal accessibility. Giving a student a book gives them the opportunity to learn. Giving students the tools to discover how to use the book give them access to a knowledge they can never unlearn.

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  4. Marissa, I thought your post sheds light on the idea that we as Americans look at education as something we do not question and completely put full trust into the system. This definitely was a common theme throughout the entire trip in both Cincinnati and Philadelphia. This is also one issue that was seen with No Child Left Behind. When this law was first put into effect back in 2002, everyone embraced the idea of bettering our education system so that all that is disadvantaged can receive the aid that is very much well deserved. It was not until consequences were put into place where we saw the flaws in the law. When we first implemented the law, it was so much easier to say that we are going to close the achievement gap and hold accountable the schools, teachers, and so forth if that end goal was not met. But what is flawed about the system is that we did not put into consideration that although we are going to see those who are disadvantaged succeed and improve, those who are not disadvantaged are going to improve as well, which does not allow for that gap to shrink. This reminded me of the piece from the Volume 19 Encyclopedia Britannica, “Negro”. “…and it is not fair to judge of his mental capacity by tests taken directly from the environment of the white man, as for instance tests in mental arithmetic; skill in reckoning is necessary to the white race, and it has cultivated this faculty; but it is not necessary to the negro.” This made me think of differences in standardized testing that we give to our students. Our tests are made for a particular “population” of students, but are given to all students who live in different cultures and cannot relate to certain parts of the test. As future educators, what can we do under the No Child Left Behind act to make sure we are closing the gap? We look at standardized tests as the only way to measure whether or not a school is meeting their Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), but can that one test, that is standard for all students, really measuring the growth of our students? This is one issue that is constantly being looked at with the No Child Left Behind act.

    *Encyclopedia Britannica, “Negro”,