Though Portland State runs on a quarter system, I continue to talk about "semesters." Old habits die hard. A couple of times, just like the regular students, I've wished the term would continue.
"Portland History through a social justice lens: The Vanport Neighborhood," my latest Chiron class, ended yesterday. Once again a student had developed a class outside the regular curriculum. Creating "Kneading to Know" in 2011, was a great experience in my first Chiron class. Gave me a chance to create "product" and performance.
Studying Vanport City took me to an entirely different place. It was built almost overnight in 1942 to house thousands of out-of-state workers who were already pouring into an under-prepared Portland. They came to work in three new shipyards on the Columbia River. Vanport's stores, offices, schools were destroyed by a massive flood on Memorial Day, 1948.
Visiting family in Portland many years before we moved here, I saw an exhibition, "African-Americans in Portland" at the Oregon Historical Society. The Vanport flood was described. I bought Manly Maben's Vanport, [out of print] published by the Society in 1987. The story Maben told fascinated and appalled me.
Who would have thought that that ten years after learning about Vanport, I would make my home here on the opposite coast. And I'd be taking a class about it at the university that began as Vanport College, created for returning WWII veterans. [Vanguard, the PSU student paper ran an article on the flood anniversary in 2011...saved a copy in my book, again, not knowing there would soon be a class about it.]
Many interests of mine--the insults of race, neglected women's and black history, the Northwest landscape--came together during the term. Under the guidance of a graduate student, Kristin Bowling (right in photo), who had been a U.S. Park service ranger for a number of years, class members were expected to develop projects to present in the end of our short time together.
Taking the course with me was, a neighbor, EM, from my retirement community. Her interest came from having lived in there as a child. Her parents had come from New York in 1942 for jobs. She can still recall details of the public housing apartment they rented. Fortunately, they moved elsewhere before the flood came.
We did oral interviews with several neighbors who had lived or worked in Portland at the time and had memories of the flood. Some had helped with the rescue operation. A staff member told about listening to her grandmother tell stories of coming from the South for better wages in the shipyard, then how she had to leave all her possessions behind to escape the flood.
She also had difficulty re-locating elsewhere in Portland, famous for its hostility toward African Americans and other minorities. An example of these attitudes can be seen in this photo from the WWII period of a group of women marching outside a shipyard in an anti-Japanese demonstration.
Our younger classmates impressed EM and me with their intellectural curiousity. What they knew expanded my understanding of Portland and Oregon.
Their class projects were ambitious-- composing music to accompany old video footage of the flood, Herculean efforts to sort out actual historical fact from hearsay, and unearthing old songs with Vanport as the theme from jazz and folk musicians. More on this later .
I've posted about other good experiences in "regular" Portland State classes. I prefer Chiron classes where the expectation is that every student will be an active participant. Kristin used a seminar style and was a knowledgable, creative instructor. There were many chances to learn from one another. Jim, a third Senior Auditor (left in photo at top with Kristin) had actually seen the flood and brought extensive knowledge of the physical landscape of the Vanport site. Now deserted, It was briefly Oregon's second largest city and had the largest public housing project in the United States.
Since retiring I've experienced a variety of styles for what is called "lifelong learning." One of most known is the Institute for Retired Professionals, a 50 year old program at the New School in New York where all teaching is done by participants. Osher Learning Institutes at NYU was briefly offered while I lived there. Another of these operates out of the University of Oregon in downtown Portland. PSU's is the most appealing with its mix of enrolled students and Senior Auditors as we're formally described. Also, the other programs have high fees that limit diversity among participants. In Oregon universities, residents over 65 years old can audit eight credits per term indefinitely for a one-time charge of $25.00!