I MMA C U L ATA MA G A Z I N E * S UMM E R 2 0 1 4
Eileen Moran Brown ’59 graduated first in
her high school class and won a scholarship to
Immaculata College. But her father knew he could
afford her tuition, so he left the scholarship for
someone who needed it.
Brown went on to make a college education
available to many who needed it but were
pronounced “unteachable” because of their
race or class.
“Higher education cannot just be for the
privileged and the lucky,” she says in the memoir
she is writing. Joining with other educators, she
created a student-centered approach to learning
and founded Cambridge College in Cambridge,
MA, whose mission it is to provide higher education for diverse populations,
including working adults who have had limited opportunities.
At Immaculata, Brown became close with Sister Donatus, a literature
professor. She especially remembers Sister’s enjoyment of modern British
poetry. “She just lived her love of it,” Brown said.
Wanting to convey her own love of learning, Brown taught high school
English in a mixed-race working class neighborhood. Her supervisor told
her early on, “You must be careful with these students; you must not give
them a glimpse of a world they will never see or give them a false sense
“It is my job to show these students that world, to help them to
understand it is their world too, and to support them in learning the skills
they would need to be successful in that world,” Brown replied.
He smirked. “You will learn that what you are trying to do
Brown threw herself into proving it wasn’t. But even when her students
showed their competence in the classroom, they met obstacles outside of
it. One African-American student told Brown, “I was assigned to a 12B
English class last year, and I passed, but I skipped 12A. Now I have to take
12A and then take 12B next semester, so I’m going to drop out.” He needed
to start working and help support his family.
Brown took his case to the white woman in charge of the roster. “What
if your son came home from school today and told you that there was a
mistake in his schedule and he couldn’t graduate?” Brown asked.
“How dare you compare this boy to my son!” the woman replied.
Brown continued to see discrimination against her students as well as
their potential. She discovered that one of her 10th-graders couldn’t read, so
she explained how to sound out words. Seeing how quickly he progressed,
Brown asked him, “Why did you choose to learn now?”
“Because it meant so much to you,” he responded.
Brown tried not to cry. She realized lecturing wasn’t sufficient if teachers
didn’t ensure that their students were learning the material.
After eight years of teaching, Brown became the coordinator of a new
college motivation program, advocating for better teacher training and
taking at-risk students to cultural events and college visits. In 1970, the
University of Pennsylvania withdrew its acceptance of some of Brown’s
students. Protests ensued, and the university relented. But it was clear
that the students would never be accepted fully, and eventually many
Frustrated by so many injustices, Brown seized an opportunity to
become a teaching fellow at Harvard University. There she met a few
teachers like herself who wanted to reach students dismissed as “difficult.”
Together these educators developed adaptable teaching methods tailored
to individual learning styles. At the time, this was “generally unheard of.”
John Bremer, an innovator in education, established the Institute of
Open Education (IOE) in 1971 and invited Brown and her colleague,
Joan Goldsmith, to co-direct it. Founded on the idea that “education isn’t
a closed system,” the IOE emphasized that “each of us has things to teach
and things to learn.” Some adults may not have had the opportunity to
finish college, but “have nonetheless learned a great deal from their lives,
their peers and their work experience,” Brown remarked.
The IOE built on that learning, offering a master’s degree to working
teachers. Brown and Goldsmith videotaped and evaluated the teachers
methods. Did students prefer step-by-step instruction or an overview?
Was it better to work in large or small groups?
Despite excellent outcomes, Brown had to fight to keep the program
afloat, constantly looking for funding and navigating red tape and institu-
tional politics. To provide some stability, Brown worked to make the IOE
an independent, accredited institution, which became Cambridge College
“Thanks to the Rockefeller family and other trustees who had a lot of
influence with foundations and donors, we were able to raise the money to
create a bachelor’s program and get that accredited, and then we bought a
building,” Brown said.
Even with the trustees’ invaluable support, Brown devoted most of her
energies to raising money. “I realized that fundraising had become a new
way for me to experience what our students feel in so many situations: the
closed doors, the feeling of being unheard,” she writes in her memoir.
“Much like the teenagers whom I had taught in Philadelphia, many
of our adult students had been undervalued in their earlier schooling,” she
continues. “Before learning can happen, the wounds must begin to heal.”
Her goal for Cambridge was to help students “transcend other people’s
definitions of them based on race, class, or gender, and to help them
define themselves by their strengths.”
And they have. For several years, Brown said, Cambridge was top in
the nation for the number of master’s degrees awarded to African-Ameri-
cans, and fourth nationally for master’s degrees earned by Hispanics. Now
retired, Brown is pleased to see the college continuing in its mission.
The working title of her memoir is the same as the title of a class she
used to teach at the IOE: “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”
Eileen Moran Brown ’59