John Ohliger

Personal Vita


Compiled by Roger Hiemstra and Andrew Goldstein


John Ohliger

[John Funnell Ohliger; J. Ohliger; John F. Ohliger]

[source: Edited by Roger Hiemstra from data compiled by Andrew Goldstein, ATE 600 Historical Perspectives student, Fall, 1989, and compilers for published resource guides]

Strategy Hints

Selected archival materials at Syracuse University, Arents Library, will provide some assistance. Other support would come from John Ohliger and his materials through Basic Choices, Inc., Madison, WI.

[sources: Andrew Goldstein; Roger Hiemstra]

Bio/Historical Notes

Married in 1963. He had three children. He was involved in adult education for over 50 years as a professor, administrator, author, trainer, speaker, researcher, organizer, bibliographer, critic, and volunteer in such aspects of the field as philosophy, political education, media, discussion group leadership, university extension, community colleges, liberal arts, and labor education. He was quite outspoken in his views of adult education. Dr. Ohliger considered himself a "radical" adult educator. By his definition, he considered all radical educators as those individuals who "get to the root of the issues and work toward fundamental social change for the better." I (Andrew Goldstein) spoke with him by telephone when I was trying to augment the spotty information covered in Leaders in Education. The literature ceased with his appointment to Ohio State University as an associate professor. When I asked him what followed, he stated that he "left" Ohio State in 1973 to "pursue other options" [and after some disagreement with Ohio State administrators]. This intrigued me. After reviewing his resume, I must agree with his self description as a "radical educator." He, however, conceives of "radical" in a different light. Radical, to him, means working for fundamental social change through the balance of a just social order based on human rationality and the fostering of spontaneous freedom through true community. The "social change," as fostered by the university, served, apparently, to stifle him. In an article about philosophy as a guide to individual action, Dr. Ohliger pointed a condemning, albeit, subtle finger at his (at the time) employers, Ohio State, and at institutions, in general. He said, facetiously, that we don't need guides to action anymore; "no moral or ethical guides to social action. They just get in the way. If we stood up for what we believed in, we might get fired or at the very least frowned on by our bosses or our fellow employees. . . . being an adult educator is just a job . . . . right? It's not our fault if the result of our work further enmeshes people in the web of institutional slavery. We're just doing our job. Like Adolph Eichmann." The article in which this statement was contained was written during his tenure at Ohio State, but was rejected for publication by Adult Leadership. Perhaps Dr. Ohliger was a radical, but as a proponent of social change, he appeared true to his convictions. John was married to Chris Wagner on May 6, 1989. John is survived by his wife, Chris Wagner, his stepdaughter, Michele Millon of Cambridge, MA, two stepsons, Mark Millon of Devon, England, and David Millon of Virginia, his brother, Louis "Fritz" Ohliger and his wife, Barb, of Carlsbad, CA, his mother-in-law, Roma Wagner, of Madison, WI.

[source: Leaders in Education, 5th ed., 1974, personal telephone interview, and John's obituary]

Birth Date

November 11, 1926

Source of Birth Date

[Leaders in Education, 5th ed., 1974]

Death Date

January 25, 2004

Source of Death Date

[Published obituary supplied by his wife, Chris Wagner, June, 2004]

Click here to read David Williams' wonderful eulogy for John.

Click here to go to the web site dedicated to John.


1948-51--A.B., Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.

1956-57--M.A., Adult Education, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA.

1958-60--Advanced study in Adult Education, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL.

1964-66--Ed.D., Adult Education, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA.

[source: Leaders in Education, 5th ed., 1974]

Work History

1945-48--Information Specialist/Teacher/Writer, U.S. Army, West Germany.

1948-51--Teaching Assistant, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.

1951-54--Educational Representative, Michigan CIO Council, Detroit, MI.

1954-56--Administrative Assistant to the Vice-President, Sun Battery, Santa Ana, CA.

1956-58--Principal extension representative to Adult Education, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA.

1958-59--Senior Staff member, American Foundation for Continuing Education, Chicago, IL.

1959-60--Area Director and Administrative Assistant to the President of the Great Books Foundation, Chicago, IL.

1960-61--Assistant Coordinator for Labor Programs, Industrial Relations, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA.

1961-64--Public Affairs and News Director for Pacifica Foundation's radio stations, KPFA-FM & KPFK, Los Angeles and Berkeley, CA.

1964-66--Assistant University Extension specialist (helped train some of the first Peace Corps volunteers), UCLA, Berkeley, CA.

1966-67--Director of Continuing Education at Selkirk College, Castlegar, British Columbia.

1967-73--Assistant and Associate Professor in Adult Education (also served as Faculty Advisor for Vietnam Vets Against the War, worked with activists at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, and with the renowned adult educator, Ivan Illich, in Mexico), Ohio State University, Columbus, OH.

1973-74--Visiting Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin-Extension, Division of Program and Staff Development, Madison, WI. (In 1973 he joined four others and, as organizing secretary, was one of the founders of WORT-FM Radio. He hosted a radio program, the Madison Review of Books, in which anyone, including young children, could review a book on the radio.)

1974-77--Freelance teacher, speaker, consultant. Teaching assignments included University of Saskatchewan and Florida International University. Speaking engagements included Temple University, Florida State University, and Center for Intercultural Documentation (Cuernavaca, Mexico).

1977-present--Founder and co-director of Basic Choices, Inc., a midwestern center for clarifying political and social options, Madison, WI. For several years, he published a newsletter, Second Thoughts, in which he gave voice to his strong opposition to cumpulsory education, especially the move to force more and more adults to go back to school. John believed that learning is too precious to be forced; learning must be joyous, individual, and voluntary. He also worked for several years as a library clerk at the University of Wisconsin College Library. John moved to Springfield, IL, for three years in 1989, as his wife's work took her there. While there, he helped to start the Heartland Peach Center during the Gulf War. He also taught philosophy of education at Sangamon State University and worked at the SIU School of Medicine Library. In 1992, the couple returned to Madison, WI.

[sources: Leaders in Education, 5th ed., 1974; John Ohliger, John's obituary]

Associated Subjects

Adult education.




Lifelong education.

Listening groups

Mandatory continuing education.

Mass media.

Political action.

Political education.

Radical adult education.

Voluntary continuing education.

[sources: Andrew Goldstein; Roger Hiemstra]

Associated People

Sam Brightman.

Phyllis Cunningham.

Ivan Illich.

Paulo Freire.

[sources: Andrew Goldstein; Roger Hiemstra]

Associated Organizations

Adult Education Association of the USA (section chairman, 1967) [AEA-USA].

Alpha Epsilon Rho.

Canadian Association of Adult Education.

National Association of Educational Broadcasters (committee member, 1967).

Phi Delta Kappa (committee member, 1968).

[source: Leaders in Education, 5th ed., 1974]

Associated Events/Projects

Co-editor, Second Thoughts, 1978-1984

Consultant for Fund for Adult Education, 1956-1959.

Consultant for National Instructional T.V. Center, 1969-1970.

Consulting Editor, Adult Education, 1968.

Consulting Editor, Adult Education Quarterly, 1986-1989.

Consulting Editor, Education Broadcast Review, 1970-1971.

Editor, Mass Media/Adult Education, 1967-1973.

Editor, Educational Broadcast Review, 1969-1970.

Editorial Work, Adult Leadership, Media and Adult Learning, and Media Interbang, various times.

Establishment of Basic Choices, Inc., 1977.

[sources: Leaders in Education, 5th ed., 1974; John Ohliger]

Associated Places

Ohio State University, Columbus, OH.

Selkirk College, Castlegar, British Columbia.

Springfield, IL.

Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY.

University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA.

University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA.

University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI.

Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.

[sources: Leaders in Education, 5th ed., 1974; John Ohliger]


Numerous articles, monographs, and book chapters.

Some selected materials are as follows:

Ohliger, J. (1973). Accent on social philosophy. Adult Leadership 22, p. 144.

Ohliger, J. F. (1974). The media activists. Mass Media/Adult Education, no. 39 (Spring).

Ohliger, J. F. (1974). Is lifelong adult education a guarantee of permanent inadequacy? Convergence, 7(2).

Ohliger, J. F. (1975). Sour grapes and the international society. Mass Media/Adult Education, no. 41 (Summer).

Ohliger, J. F. (1975). A jaundiced view of a learning society. Journal of Extension (July/August).

Ohliger, J. F. (1975). Prospects for a learning society. Adult Leadership, 24.

Ohliger, J. F. The Wisconsin idea: Some reflections on historical context and issues. Research in Education (November).

Ohliger, J. F. (1975). Media and adult learning: A bibliography with abstracts, annotations, and quotations. New York: Garland Publications, 1975.

Ohliger, J. F. (1979). Alternative media: Up to your ass in alligators. Media/Adult Learning, no. 50 (Summer).

Ohliger, J. F. (1979). Radical ideas in adult education. Radical Teacher (March).

Ohliger, J. F. (1980). Must we all go back to school? The Progressive (October).

Ohliger, J. F. (1980). Searching for balance, Coping with Threats, Looking for Opportunities. Setting the Pace (March).

Ohliger, J.(1980). The social uses of theorizing in adult education. Adult Education, 31, 48-53.

Ohliger, J. F. (1981). Dialogue on mandatory continuing education. Lifelong Learning: The Adult Years, 4(June).

Ohliger, J. F. (1982). Is J. Edgar Hoover a virgin?. Media/Adult Learning, 4(1).

Ohliger, J. F. (1982). Review of 1st 14 years of Media and Adult Learning. Media/Adult Learning (January).

Ohliger, J. F. (1982) Media and the American mind. Lifelong Learning: The Adult Years (May).

Ohliger, J. F. (1982). Lifelong learning as nightmare. In R. Gross (Ed.), Invitation to lifelong learning. Chicago: Follett Publishing, Inc.

Ohliger, J. F (1983). Continuing education for professionals: Voluntary or mandatory? Journal of Higher Education, 5(5).

Ohliger, J. F. (1983). Reconciling education with liberty. Prospects (UNESCO Quarterly Journal of Education) (May).

Ohliger, J. F. (1983/84). The Tao of adult education. The Learning Connection (December 1983/January 1984).

Ohliger, J. F. (1984). Power and conflict in continuing professional education. Journal of Higher Education (September/October).

Ohliger, J. F. (1985). The final solution to learning opportunities. Tranet (Summer).

Ohliger, J. F. (1987). Really creative conferences. Media/Adult Learning.

Ohliger, J. F. (1990). Alternative images of the future in adult education. In S. B. Merriam & P. M. Cunningham (Eds.), Handbook of Adult and Continuing Education San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

[sources: Leaders in Education, 5th ed., 1974; J. Ohliger]

Here is reference to a paper that John authored. Here is another one that harkens back to John's radio days.

[Postscript: John was inducted into the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame on April 18, 2002.]

Modified on March 10, 2006

-- Cross-reference to Project Vitae in Adult Education

-- Cross-reference to Adult Education History Project

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