Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A stutterer wants to speak

Stutterer Speaks Up in Class; His Professor Says Keep Quiet

Philip Garber, a precocious and confident 16-year-old who is taking two college classes this semester, has a lot to say but also a profound stutter that makes talking difficult, and talking quickly impossible. After the first couple of class sessions, in which he participated actively, the professor, an adjunct named Elizabeth Snyder, sent him an e-mail asking that he pose questions before or after class, “so we do not infringe on other students’ time.”

As for questions she asks in class, Ms. Snyder suggested, “I believe it would be better for everyone if you kept a sheet of paper on your desk and wrote down the answers.”

Later, he said, she told him, “Your speaking is disruptive.”

Unbowed, Philip reported the situation to a college dean, who suggested he transfer to another teacher’s class, where he has been asking and answering questions again.

As a stutterer, naturally this story caught my attention. The wire services picked it up, & the local Star-Ledger ran its own story.

When I was 16 my stutter was incapacitating as far as speaking in class. Giving an oral report was to die. I wanted the option of speaking or not & only once did a teacher offer it,  Ms. Donohue, a newly-minted English teacher.*  Yet, I wasn't painfully  shy. I liked being the center of attention, having the spotlight. Philip is from a   younger generation of stutterers who use speech therapy as best they can, but take the attitude that if anyone has a problem with  a stutterer, get over it.

Both the teacher & the dean were wrong. This was a "teachable moment" for them. I don't think the teacher should be punished. She was a public school teacher for 30 years & if this is how she always treated stutterers, it's not too late to change. The situation seems to have been resolved. Let the kid speak.

In high school, I might have appreciated the suggested alternative of submitting written comments. But then, I wasn't raising my hand much in class, a handicap in the English & History classes  where I often had something to say. Later, in college, with some smaller classes where  free-flowing discussions were encouraged, more like conversation,  I participated much more, which  in turn lowered the anxiety that increased the severity of my stutter.  Philip  needs no special consideration except that people be a little patient.  It was no problem with his classmates.

I still have have bad days.  But in all my years on the radio, nobody picked up on my stutter from what they heard on the radio, although I sometimes had to duck & dodge "jonah words," words stutterers see coming along in a sentence we know will be problems. I've  given poetry readings on bad stuttering days by opening with a short poem (now lost) I wrote especially for those times, not about stuttering, but with smoothly rhythmic lines I could sort of sing, & then chatting with the audience to relax before moving on to the next poem. By the third poem I'd be over the hump & enjoying the spotlight.

*Sophomore year,  my grades were going to hell. Ms. Donohue had me transferred out of one of her classes before the six week speech communication section, & into her higher achieving  class that had already done the speech thing.  I remember we  studied Macbeth in the new class & everyone was into it.,  The old class had  disruptive morons in it.

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