Monday, May 07, 2007

The value of WMUB to Miami, Oxford, and southwest Ohio

I trust it is not too late to urge Miami's continued support of the local NPR station.  Now that I'm retired, with more time to appreciate the breadth and depth of the programming, I value WMUB more than ever.  But my main point in writing is to underscore how important it was to me in my thirty plus years of teaching English at Miami.  Over and over again something heard on WMUB--a news item, editorial, essay, etc.--connected with the literature or composition I was teaching "that day" or "that week," etc.  As a result, I was able to close the gap between texts from past years and students reading them in the present.

I will cite a single but memorable example.  In later years, in the literature component of the first-year composition courses, I chose literature by distinguished, usually prize-winning writers, still living and active.  One such writer was Nobel prize-winning author Toni Morrison, whose early novel "The Bluest Eye"--as you may know or remember--develops the subject of how devastating to the self-esteem of African-American children in mid-century America were the ubiquitous Dick-and-Jane (white, blue-eyed, blond children) readers adopted by American elementary schools.  When coupled with the equally widespread idealizing of Shirley Temple, the results could be tragic, as in Morrison's novel.

Morrison's credentials notwithstanding, students could--and sometimes did--argue that America had changed since the time of the story--that the novel was outdated.  But one morning in the '90s on NPR/WMUB I heard an interview with a man in Arizona, selected as representative of the average American, who was asked what was his ideal of America. His answer was something like: "Well, I guess I'd say it is the little blond, blue-eyed girl walking down the aisle in her white dress at church last Sunday."  Needless to say, my report of the interview to the class currently reading the book brought those students making the argument for "outdated" up short.

Long ago, it occurred to me one morning while reading the New York Times that very little in that fine newspaper was news to me, for the simple reason that I had heard it on NPR.  I'll leave it to others to make the case for the value of the hard news that WMUB brings to this area, though I do want to emphasize that the coverage of global news is second to none.  And for this reason NPR, not the Times, the Post, or any other major paper, is the "news of record" for this country, the only possibility for knowing what is going on across the nation and across the planet.  To be sure, students make up a small part of the audience, just as they make up a small part of newspapers' readers.  But their teachers listen and relay to their students the "history" they miss in their college years.  Too, some faculty, through their commentary, model for those students who do listen appropriate ways to respond to events--teach them how to fashion their own commentary so as to engage the audience they wish to reach.

More recently, it occurred to me that I ought to be more discriminating in my contributions to non-profit organizations, etc. Two or three emerged as far and above the most important to me.  WMUB went to the head of the list, with the result that last year and this I increased my support by eightfold, and will continue to contribute at the present level.  Others have done much the same thing, I know. But I at least can do no more to offset Miami's and NPR's reduction of support.  Hence, I urge the university to reconsider the decision to put more fundraising burden on the station than it can handle. WMUB is one of Miami's most distinctive educational components.  It brings great credit to the university and, with each passing year, under Cleve Callison's management, becomes better and better.

--Frank Jordan, Emeritus Professor of English, Oxford


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