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Who Was Walter Ong, and Why Is His Thought Important Today?

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Duluth, MN (OpEdNews) March 12, 2010 Rob Kall is familiar with Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003). But Rob is an old guy. I am even older born in 1944! It strikes me that I should write something introductory about Ong for the benefit of OpEdNews readers who are younger than Rob and who may not be familiar with Ong's thought about communication media.

Let's start with his full name: Walter Jackson Ong, Jr. The family name is English. For many centuries, it was spelled Onge. It is probably related to the English name Yonge as in the name of a famous street in Toronto. Ong's earliest ancestors came to this country on the same ship with Roger Williams. They came here from East Anglia, where Cambridge University is located. The name Jackson commemorates the family relation President Andrew Jackson.

Walter Jackson Ong, Sr., was a Protestant. But his wife was a Roman Catholic. As a result, Walter Jr. and his younger brother were raised as Roman Catholics. Walter Jr. grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, where he attended Catholic schools and then the Jesuit high school and the Jesuit college in Kansas City. As an undergraduate, he majored in Latin. But he also had enough credits in both biology and philosophy for a major in each of them.

After he graduated from Rockhurst College in 1933 (six months before he turned 21), Ong worked for a couple of years. But then he entered the Jesuit novitiate in Florissant, Missouri, in the fall of 1935. The Jesuit novitiate is a two-year novitiate. The novitiate in Florissant was a farm at the time. But today Florissant is a distant suburb of the City of St. Louis.

Next, he was sent for further studies in the humanities to Saint Louis University (SLU) in St. Louis, Missouri. Next, he advanced to the study of philosophy at SLU. At that time the SLU Department of Philosophy was large, as it continued to be over the next several decades, when Ong himself returned to SLU with his Ph.D. in English from Harvard University to teach English at SLU from 1954 to 1984.

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www.d.umn.edu/~tfarrell
Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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