Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Summer 2011 Vol. 106 No. 3 OAM Home | Oberlin Online


Old-Time, New and Old

Your article about the old-time music scene (Spring 2011) reminded me of The Knob Lick Upper 10,000, a bluegrass group from Oberlin popular when I was in school. The members were Erik Jacobsen ’62, Dwain Story ’62, and Peter Childs ’59. According to the record jacket, which I still have, Oberlin was the "collegiate bluegrass capital of the world" in those days. The group was terrific, and was a big part of the very active folk music scene on campus at the time. It’s good to hear that the tradition is coming back.

On a "small world" note: I believe my husband, Bill McIver ’65, taught Rhiannon Giddens’ father.

Dana Weigel McIver ’65
Webster, N.Y.

I was so pleased to read David Menconi’s article about the Oberlin students and alumni who have become movers and shakers in old-time and bluegrass music—but I was disappointed that Mr. Menconi did not mention that the conservatory offered an old-time ensemble course this year in which several of those students participated. I’ve been very fortunate to work with these talented young musicians, and know that we will be hearing more from them in the future.

Katherine Meizel ’95
Visiting Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology

Well, Maybe We Aren’t All Writers Now

As someone who is forced to read young people’s writing all the time, I am one of those individuals Anne Trubek ’88 dismisses as blind to the benefits of digital social media stemming from its requirement for frequent writing.

Ms. Trubek misses two critical points that in my opinion undermine her argument. The first is that writing more is not enough to make one a better writer—the first and more important part of the equation is to read more. Learning to write well is more about developing a good ear than it is about learning the rules of grammar or repeating a hundred stream-of-consciousness exercises. And young people now read far, far less than any previous generation. If one does not know what good writing—of all sorts—sounds like, how can writing the same self-interested tripe over and over lead to improvement? There has to be a target to aim for, an internalized Gestalt for the sound and rhythm of well articulated words.

The second point is that if writing is about communication—on even the most basic level—then the current standards of texting and social media come up very short again. Most of the self-interested chatter generated within social media either encodes standard inanities (lol) or is simply unclear—even indecipherable. Often one isn’t sure what writers are trying to say because, frankly, they lack the skill to say it. Hence when students are asked to communicate in writing something subtle, complex, or meaningful, for the most part they fail utterly—their extensive training in social media has let them down. Their inability to communicate thoughts, feelings, opinions, and information clearly and concisely, let alone beautifully or poetically, is so compromised that at times I despair for the future. I do not believe that young people are stupider now—far from it. But they have been let down by a moribund educational system and the mistaken belief that all change, especially technologically based change, leads to good things. Tweeting and texting do not substitute for extensive (and catholic) reading and serious, informed writing, whether one’s goal is to be the next Steinbeck or simply to write a memo that everyone in the office can understand. Finally, I note with some irony that in the same issue of the alumni magazine, President Krislov reports the recommendations of several eminent winners of the National Humanity Medal about the role of the humanities in undergraduate institutions. Almost to a person they emphasized the importance of understanding and appreciating text. I don’t think texting and tweeting is what they had in mind.

Kurt Schwenk ’77
Storrs, Conn.

Remembering Dewey Ganzel

Dewey Ganzel was my first English professor at Oberlin. He taught me how to write a college paper. I still have some of the yellow sheets on which he typed (no word processors then) his detailed comments on my papers—some nearly as long as the papers themselves. I teach aspiring high school and middle school English teachers now, and I often talk about Dewey’s comments as a model for how they can help their students develop their skills and voices as writers.

David Allen ’84
Jackson Heights, N.Y.

Professor Ganzel and I never hit it off. Many were the afternoons that we’d argue in his office, yet those are among my fondest memories of Oberlin. I took all of my classes with Professor Ganzel for extra credit plus designed a class with him my senior year, so that I could have extra "office" time with him. We’d disagree constantly and he would complain about my writing style. One of the most memorable criticisms that I received from a teacher was from Ganzel: "The Gardener has forgotten to weed his garden" (check out my last name). Yet his late comment after a term of argument that I was "on to something" has been a sustaining inspiration to me since I graduated in 1975.

And, who could forget the "tough guy" Ganzel (he introduced most of us to Hemingway) breaking down, tearing up, and walking out of the lecture hall after reading the last paragraphs of James’ Daisy Miller. Thank God Dewey Ganzel wasn’t "born too late" like James’ Winterbourne and that his "run" was a long one.

As you can see I still have problems "weeding my garden."

Keith Gardner ’75
New York, N.Y.

Rove Visit, Re-Revisited

The complaint from my classmate, the accomplished Dr. Joel Sherzer, fails in my opinion to consider the broad process of education (Spring 2011 "Letters"). Dr. Sherzer states that the Oberlin invitation to speaker Karl Rove doesn’t fit with its reputation that "derives from its students, faculty, and invited speakers in the progressive tradition."

A college can be a place to learn, an opportunity to discover different points of view. Thinking and analysis can be tested by facts and ideas from the real world. Closing the learning environment off from unapproved concepts and speakers may shortchange the student and inhibit the learning process. Dr. Sherzer further argues that Karl Rove does not need to come to Oberlin; I don’t believe that any speaker does. It is not the speakers who need Oberlin; it is Oberlin that needs the speakers.

I agree that Dr. Sherzer should not financially support what he doesn’t approve. However, who wants to support a process that insulates graduates from a diversity of viewpoints?

David Dell ’64
Elmhurst, Ill.

As the class of 1960’s president and chief fund raiser, I ask classmates to contribute to a college respected not only for the quality of its student body and faculty but also as a campus where freedom of expression is revered and ideas and points of view are debated long into the night. Joel Sherzer in his letter wishes to support a different kind of campus than the one I know and care for. That Karl Rove holds views different from my own is undisputable, but that does not mean I cannot learn from listening to him and better understanding him. I am surprised that as an alumnus Joel Sherzer does not recognize this.

John Donaldson ’60
Potomac, Md.

It is obvious from the letter J. Sherzer wrote that he never had a course in "The Tolerance for and the Appreciation of Divergent Opinions 101." It is unfortunate that we have so many of his ilk located on the far extremes of both the "right" and the "left." They are missing a lot! If everyone held the same beliefs it would be a dull and nonprogressive world. It is their own narrow-mindedness that is the cause of the dilemma they attribute to Karl Rove.

I entered Oberlin in the Class of 1945, spent three years as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Force, returned and graduated in 1949. As a freshman I heard Norman Thomas (head of the Socialist Party of the U.S.) give a speech in the Men’s Building auditorium. After the war I heard General Mark Clark, Ralph Bunche, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Senator Robert Taft. I believe this is called diversity, and in Oberlin’s case we could use a few more Karl Roves to strike a more even balance.

I close with the following offer: To help the Sherzers solve their dilemma, I will be happy to take over the payment of an "annual small donation" to Oberlin so that they may live and "rest in peace!"

Bruce W. Fox ’45
Tyler, Texas


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