Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and bestselling author and educator Jonathan Kozol, two civil rights champions of different generations, brought their unique perspectives to the Vernon L. Pack ’50 Distinguished Lecture Series at Otterbein University on April 12. The discussion, Confronting the Truth about Inequalities in America’s Schools, was an honest and unflinching look at race and education. Andy Chow ’08, Ohio Statehouse reporter for Ohio Public Radio and TV, moderated the discussion and Desmond Fernandez ’21 served as emcee.
The topics of the conversation included school segregation, funding models, teacher preparation, and more. At times, the discussion was personal. Kozol shared his past experiences teaching Black children in the early 1960s when his activism got him fired. Hannah-Jones shared her choice to enroll her child in a predominantly Black public school.
Both speakers criticized the current funding model for creating inequality in public schools because schools in affluent areas benefit from more funding from property taxes. Kozol noted that, “This (funding model) is not a mistake, this was intentional.”
The speakers also discussed the role of teachers in both the problem and the solution. “You can’t teach what you don’t know yourself. One of the biggest problems is finding educators who know how to teach anti-racism and who believe it themselves,” Hannah-Jones said.
“Most teachers in our system don’t see Black children as having the same will to learn as White students,” Kozol said. In his career, Kozol made a point of getting to know his Black students and their families outside of the classroom.
Marketing major Harold Walston ’21 attended the virtual event. “From a personal perspective, it was eye opening and comforting to know that such a conversation was happening on such a public platform. Information that I knew growing up as a Black child and into a young Black adult that I always thought was privy to just Black people, was being shared in an open dialogue,” he said. “There was a sense of communal understanding among the virtual audience and moderators.”
Desmond Fernandez ’21 asks a question as Andy Chow ’08 listens.
Read more about the founder of the lecture series
Vernon Pack ’50 Reflects on Creating Distinguished Lecture Series
by Dana Madden Viglietta ’96
At 95 years old, alumnus Vernon Pack ’50 shows no signs of slowing down. Pack, a former social studies teacher, still leads day trips throughout Ohio where he imparts his unique and vast knowledge about Ohio history with curious attendees. Knowledgeable about well-known facts to tidbits that even history buffs might not know, Pack takes delight in sharing his knowledge with others.
In 2002 at the request of the University, Pack created an endowed fund that established the Vernon L. Pack ’50 Distinguished Lecture and Scholar-in-Residence Program. The endowment provides funding for a distinguished lecturer to visit campus to address important current topics that reflect on ethical, spiritual, and social issues.
In a recent interview, Pack shared, “The series has challenged me over the years to learn more about various topics presented at my alma mater. I firmly believe that the lecture series has been beneficial to many students. Bringing to the campus talented speakers for the various departments, I feel certain, has added salient information to each department’s curriculum.”
His experience teaching in Columbus Public Schools offers him a unique perspective on this year’s lecture, which focused on the intersection between race, equity, and education with lecturers Nikole Hannah-Jones and Jonathan Kozol. “As a retired public school teacher, I look back at my nearly 30 years in the classroom. I realize that hearing these two persons’ thoughts could have helped me during the final several years after desegregation was implemented within the Columbus schools. No college course in racial matters was offered by Otterbein, [at the time], so I was not prepared for the problems that occurred at two of the Columbus schools,” said Pack.
At Otterbein, Pack majored in history and was a member of Zeta Phi fraternity. He received a master’s degree in education from The Ohio State University and later served in the Navy for nearly three years. As a lifelong learner, Pack is already looking forward to next year’s lecture, which will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Vernon L. Pack ’50 Distinguished Lecture Series.