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Our Playbook on OSU History

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OSU professor connected education to democracy and freedom

“Nobody learns what is set before him”

–Alan F. Griffin

[Editor’s note: Recently, John Farley, who received his Ph.D. at Ohio State in 1978, donated letters written to him in response to a questionnaire he distributed that year to former associates and students of OSU Education Professor Alan F. Griffin, who taught at OSU from 1936 to 1964. Griffin was the subject of Farley’s dissertation, The Life and Thought of Alan Griffin: Exemplar of Education. The correspondence donated by Farley offers observations of a professor dedicated to the belief that education and democracy go hand in hand, and of an educator passionate about teaching his students the critical-thinking skills that would serve them beyond the classroom. Below, OSU volunteer Becca Bushman has written an account of Griffin’s work and life, based in part on Farley’s correspondence.

By Becca Bushman

Alan Francis Griffin was born in 1907 in Barnesville, Ohio. His mother died of Huntington’s disease when he was only eight, at which point he and his brother John relocated to Mansfield, Ohio.

Before becoming an educator, Griffin worked in dairy and at a steel foundry. Griffin was also a radio announcer from 1927 to 1930, and from 1930 to 1932, he worked as a newspaper reporter for the Mansfield News Journal.

Alan F. Griffin, with students at WOSU, 1943

Griffin began teaching in 1929, though not originally at the college level; he worked at John Simpson Junior High School in Mansfield until 1936, when he completed his B.S. in Education at The Ohio State University and began working at Ohio State. He went on to earn a Ph.D. at OSU in 1942. He became a full professor in 1949 and remained at Ohio State until he died in 1964.

Like many of his contemporaries, Griffin subscribed to ideas on education set forth by John Dewey, an influential American educator and reformer who was a key figure in the Progressive Education movement of the early 20th century. Like Dewey, Griffin understood the relationship between education and democracy to be pivotal. His 1942 dissertation “contained central ideas about the role of reflective thought and its relationship to the survival of democracy,” and he also emphasized “the critical need for active engagement of citizens.”*

Griffin demonstrated this belief even when he was teaching junior high school where he sought to further stimulate the minds of secondary school students through his work with the Junior Town Meeting League. The League, which was sponsored by the American Education Press, organized forums and debates in which high school students could discuss salient current issues and events. Its goal was to decrease apathy and ignorance and to increase civic engagement in America’s youth.

Griffin continued his work with the League even after moving into higher education; he served as a trustee to the organization and contributed to its publications.

In any class he taught, Griffin worked to promote and provoke reflective thought in his students. Indeed, “for Griffin, no meaningful reflection could take place without the serious and persistent examination of student beliefs and values.” For him, education was about teaching his students how to think critically—he worked to make his students simultaneously more skeptical and more open-minded. Griffin was the sort of instructor to come to class with questions, not answers, according to Eugene Gilliom, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Educational Theory and Practice.*

Griffin’s approach was unstructured and casual; his lectures largely consisted of organic, collaborative discussion. Students were so enthralled by the atmosphere he created that his courses were widely audited. As James Louis Barth, who earned a Ph.D in Education in 1963, said, “It was not unusual for him to have a seminar full of people who were interested in being with him…his seminars were well attended but nobody was paying for the credit—this of course upset the University!”

Griffin also worked with students at WOSU, on a radio program called “No Corner on Democracy.” Griffin and students wrote scripts for the program, although Griffin wrote many more, according to former student Paul Gump. Griffin was able to “belt out a script late at night,” whereas it might take a student a few weeks to complete the same amount of work, Gump said in his correspondence with Farley.

Airing in the early 1940s, the program’s intent was to show how “other people in other times and places have also struggled to advance democracy,” Gump said. Griffin felt the emergence of McCarthyism threatened democratic processes, and he spoke out against it. Former student Lawrence Metcalf wrote to Farley that Griffin was “totally opposed to any form of witch hunting.”

Griffin, 1960

For Griffin, democratic principles did not apply to just certain segments of society, either. He and other College of Education faculty worked to integrate the OSU chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, the national education honorary society, to include both African Americans and women. The OSU chapter opposed the provision in the national constitution restricting membership to white males. After the national body amended its constitution, the OSU chapter immediately voted for the same change in early 1940. At the time, Griffin, who authored the amendment, told The Lantern that “the chapter action was taken in terms of the realization that many educators…were being lost to the organization simply because of the color of their skin.”

Griffin’s perspective demonstrates a determination to connect formal higher education to the so-called “real world.” He placed his classroom in the context of larger cultural and political phenomena, and encouraged his students to do so as well. He encouraged students to interrogate information, both on their own and with others, especially in the public arena by participating in democratic government. Griffin understood education to be less about rote memorization and to be more about learning how to think critically and reflectively, to continually question and examine assumptions. Perhaps this is what is meant by the quote cited at the beginning of the post, sent to John Farley by Katharine E. Jones. In Alan F. Griffin’s eyes, for learning to occur, people had to take initiative to become and remain actively and reflectively engaged in the classroom and in society.

*From “Alan F. Griffin: role model for the reflective study of modern problems,” by William R. Fernekes, 2007.

Bleeds Scarlet and Gray: Bartels turned passion for athletics into winning career as coach and educator

Written by Olivia A. Wood

After the recent passing in June of Dr. Robert “Bob” Louis Bartels, his family was kind enough to bring some of his material to the Archives that related to his career at OSU. When we looked at the material, we discovered that while Bartels was known to many as a head coach for Men’s Swimming and Diving, his impact on campus and the community was much greater than that. Bartels, born on November 14, 1928, was also a swimmer and professor at OSU, and he held many leadership roles in professional and community organizations.

Bob Bartels, 1950

Bartels stands at the edge of the pool, 1950

Bartels came to Ohio State University in the fall of 1947, ultimately receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in Education, with a major in Physical Education, in 1951.  He continued his graduate education at Ohio State, receiving his Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in 1952 and 1961, respectively.  Both degrees Bartels earned were in Education, with a focus in physical education.

During his undergraduate career, Bartels swam for The Ohio State University men’s swim team from 1949 until 1951.  Under the leadership of the legendary Coach Mike Peppe, Bartels and his teammates won three Big Ten and two national championship titles.  Along the way, he earned a Varsity “O” in swimming, and in 1949, Bartels was named as a first-team All-American “as one of the best breaststrokers in the country,” according to a Department of Athletics obituary.


Bartels received a paddle from the 1963 men’s
swim team with all of their signatures on the back.

Having swum for Ohio State, Bartels went on to coaching at Kenyon College, Ohio University and The Ohio State University.  Bartels served as the freshman swimming coach at Ohio State while working towards his Master’s degree. Then, from 1952 until 1954, Bartels worked as the head swimming coach at Kenyon College, where he led his team to win the Ohio Conference Championship. (During that time, he also served as the Assistant Director of Athletics there.) Bartels maintained the same position, along with the appointment as tennis coach, during his time at Ohio University. Bartels returned in 1959 to Ohio State where he served as an assistant swimming coach under Peppe.  In 1962, under their guidance, the team won the national championship title.  Bartels took over as the head swimming coach after Peppe retired in 1963, and he coached the team until 1967.

Meanwhile, Bartels was building his academic career. While coaching at Ohio University, he was an Instructor and Assistant Professor of Physical Education.  After returning to OSU in 1959, Bartels served first as an Instructor, then as an Assistant, then Associate, then full Professor of Physical Education.  He also served as chairman of graduate studies for that department.

In 1980, he helped establish the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, a joint venture of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, and the Student Health Center. In the program, heart attack victims learned to incorporate an exercise program into their recovery. It was a new concept at the time; previously, people who had suffered heart attacks were told to rest. But Bartels and his colleague, Prof. Edward L. Fox, concluded the heart, like any muscle, benefits from regular activity, so they created the program to teach survivors how to exercise successfully without creating more stress.


Bartels and colleague, Edward L. Fox, demonstrate their cardiac rehabilitation equipment.


Fox demonstrates how the cardiac rehabilitation equipment works.

During his professional career, Bartels published more than thirty academic publications and thirteen academic papers on that and other subjects related to physical education.

Bartels didn’t limit his professional contributions to teaching and coaching, though. From 1963 until 1986, Bartels served as the chairman of Safety Services for the Columbus Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. He also was elected as a member of the Commodore Longfellow Life Saving Society, a water safety program run by the American Red Cross.  In 1968 Bartels was elected to the Board of Directors of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America; he was elected as president in 1971. For his efforts, he received the “Distinguished Coach Award” in 1972 and the Honor Service Award for Service to Aquatic Sports in 1980, both from the Coaches Association. In 1979, Bartels was named as a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.


Bartels works with an OSU employee in the
Faculty Staff Fitness Program.

Bartels didn’t end his contributions after retirement.  He officially retired from Ohio State on January 1, 1989, upon which the College of Education appointed him as Professor Emeritus, and he continued to teach courses in Physical Education for many years.  Bartels also joined the Ohio State Retirees Association, and he was elected to the position of President in 1991.  The former athlete can be found in two different Hall of Fames on Ohio State’s campus: The Athletic Hall of Fame and the College of Education Hall of Fame, in which he was inducted in 1998 and 2002, respectively.  Bartels also served on the Board of Directors of the Varsity “O” Association.

Finally, faculty and staff who participate in the Your Plan for Health program to stay healthy and active, aren’t the first on campus to be guided toward healthy fitness choices. In 1975, Bartels created the Faculty Staff Fitness Program.  The program offered OSU faculty and staff participants access to a gym, a personalized health and exercise management program, sports trainers, and dietary counseling.  Bartels served as the director of the Faculty Staff Fitness Program from its beginning until 1989.


Professor Bartels, 2002

Varsity ‘O’ member had more to brag about than athletic ability

Editor’s Note: Recently, Peggy Knight graciously donated the Varsity “O” sweater her father, Arthur Gordon Knight, earned as a member of the OSU Track and Field Team in 1938. It turns out that while Knight had the legs of a racehorse, as it were, he also had the heart of a poet: In 1949 the then-married student, who had interrupted his studies to serve in World War II, won a short-story contest for “The Shovel.” His own story seemed intriguing, so we asked Peggy to tell us more about her father. Below is his story, which we have edited for length.

1938 men's track team. Knight is in the second row, fourth from the right

1938 men’s track team. Knight is in the second row, fourth from the right

The son of immigrants, Knight was born in 1917 and grew up in Lakewood, Ohio. One of Peggy’s first stories about her father was when he was about eight years old. His older sister had diabetes, and there were no insulin shots at the time to help regulate her blood sugar. He kept an eye on her, though, so he could prevent an “episode.” As Peggy says, “One time… as they walked together he saw she was shaking and sweating profusely. Knowing she had little time before collapsing, he reached in his pockets hoping to find a bit of candy that he normally carried for her. He did not have any but he also knew the best thing for her was a glass of orange juice.  He had no money and there were no stores about, so he ducked into a neighborhood bar. The bartender tried to run him out thinking he was a mischievous neighborhood scamp, but he quickly explained the situation and the bartender was happy to provide the juice. Even then, my dad showed great compassion and sense of responsibility.”

Knight was extremely curious about the world, so he decided after he graduated from high school to do some exploring. He spent six months traveling around Mexico, including doing some digging in the ruins of Oaxaca. When he returned home, he decided to attend OSU, thinking at the time he would become a Geology major. After arriving on campus in the fall of 1936, however, he switched majors to English Literature, in the hopes it would better prepare him for a career that would allow him to explore and write about the world.

Knight was also interested in sports, and he decided to participate in either OSU’s football or track program. After spending time in a few football practices, he realized he was not going to excel and would probably spend most of his later life nursing old injuries from the game. He focused then on track and field, helping the OSU team establish new team records in the mile-relay event in 1938. He was good enough to earn a Varsity “O” sweater that year, and he started dreaming of going to the 1940 Olympics.

Knight's Varsity "O" sweater and a photo of the 1938 team

Knight’s Varsity “O” sweater and a photo of the 1938 team

However, his dream was never fulfilled because of World War II, which also interrupted his studies. Early in 1941, he and Peggy’s mother, Betty, eloped, and in June, he enlisted in the Army. According to Peggy, her father did not talk much about the war, but he did share several anecdotes with her, one of which was about being an ordinance officer with “a knack for bombs. He became the local go-to-guy for bombs that fell but did not go off.  He was called out to defuse bombs as needed and, as a child, I saw many gold-toned flaming bomb pins in his dresser drawer that he was given after each bomb was unarmed.  He told me he was very happy he was a smoker because his matchbook was his biggest weapon against difficult bombs.  He used the flap to prevent contact between the pin and the explosives.”

When his four years of service were up, the war wasn’t over yet, so he decided to re-enlist, this time in the Air Force. It was during these three years of service – he reached the rank of Second Lieutenant – that he hatched the idea for his future award-winning short story.

A year after returning home and to Ohio State in 1948, Knight enrolled in a short story class, English 507, where he wrote “The Shovel.” It was submitted to the Columbus Chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters, and won first prize. The story, about a British woman in the days just before D-Day, was described by one judge as “a very profound story,” according to a Lantern article. In the article, Knight said he planned to be a creative writer after he graduated that June.

Knight, sharing a book with his daughter, Peggy

Knight, sharing a book with his daughter, Peggy

But Knight had a family to support (Peggy was adopted in 1953) and he began working in his father’s insurance agency. He and his family eventually moved to Galveston, Texas, though, where he became vice president of the American National Insurance Company. Because of a heart condition, Knight decided to retire early, and that’s when he was really able to satisfy his curiosity about the world and his passion for writing.

In 1970, he opened a rare and antique book dealership, and at about the same time, he became a columnist for the Galveston Daily News. “Now, his life was everything he hoped for in a career,” Peggy says, “he bought and sold rare books, 13th-century manuscripts and other types of writing, and spent hours reading them before selling them.  He was filling additional hours with writing his editorial columns.  And on occasion, he locked himself in his home office where I could hear his ‘new and modern’ electric typewriter clacking away with determination.”

His career as a Galveston columnist came to an abrupt end when he submitted a column about the “Johnson Memorial.” It was about a pull-chain toilet affectionately known by that name at the Rowfant Club in Cleveland (a literary society of which Knight was a long-standing member). According to Peggy, “no matter how good the article was or what the history of the water closet was, the publishers of the paper felt that the cultured ladies of Galveston society would not be pleased with talk of toilets, even in the modern age of the ’70s.  My father refused to be censored and pulled out of the ‘editorial comment’ business.”

After a flood destroyed much of their home – including many of Knight’s books and other life treasures – he and Betty moved to Ocala, Florida, where he died in 1987 at the age of 70 from melanoma. Peggy concludes:

“In his effects, I found nine unpublished and unfinished novels on which he’d been working.

He was a great man to many, an enemy to none.  He was a hero to me.”

We would like to thank Peggy for her wonderful donations, and we say donations because she not only provided us with a beautiful Varsity “O” sweater, but also a wonderful recounting of her father’s life. Our records focus mostly on him being an OSU athlete, so we appreciate her taking the time to show that his own story was much more than that.

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