Our French Revolution

Our French Revolution

The syllabus prescribed that my graduate students and I would spend the three-hour class discussing the French Revolution. I’d assembled my lecture notes. I’d reminded everyone what they needed to read before class. I was reasonably certain most of us would be prepared.

Stepping in front of the classroom, I sketched out the noteworthy milestones we needed to cover in our one-class survey of a very big topic. Students busily typed on their laptops or wrote in their notebooks. I sat down on the table that served as my desk and swung my legs forward and back; waiting for everyone to give me their attention. I had an idea. It came to me as I sat there. And then, I began . . .  Continue reading

The Puppet and Mrs S

The Puppet and Mrs S

I was dyslexic before educators knew what dyslexic was. So, seeking to explain why I couldn’t spell, why I stumbled all over whatever I was told to read aloud, and why I was slow to complete assignments, I was called lazy, stupid, and an assortment of other things. The low-point of my first grade year in school was being made to stand in the corner of the room as punishment for not being able to read a paragraph aloud without errors. Humiliation was part of pedagogy back then. I was an over-sensitive child who felt like I was being put into the public stocks in a 17th century New England town.

I don’t know how I eventually got referred to the school’s reading specialist. That came after I’d gotten to the point that I hated school and I’d even stopped having interest in books (which I’d loved since my parents started reading to me — long before my earliest memories).

Mrs S was a young woman in her mid-20s. Of course, she didn’t seem young to me at the time (mid-20s being on the nearer end of ‘ancient’). She was an openly kind and compassionate person. She was a keen observer and she did not rush to label behaviour. The first few weeks she watched me, sat and talked with me, and encouraged me to read. I couldn’t.  Continue reading

The Freedom of Folded Paper

The Freedom of Folded Paper

When I was in my teens and twenties I bought notebooks of all kinds. I saw these as the workshops for my ideas. Much of my thinking was (and is) connected with the act of writing. I liked notebooks because I could take them with me anywhere, they came in different sizes and styles, and I could even choose the sort of paper they contained — the colour, lines or no lines (or even what kind of lines).

Nevertheless, with all that freedom, I often found myself paralyzed when I poised my pen over the paper and got ready to write. Would the thoughts be good enough? Would I want to see them there later when I read through the contents of the notebook? The formality of the structure of the notebook itself added a sense of importance to what would go inside of it. Most days, I carried around a notebook and never wrote in it. The pages would get wet when I was caught in a sudden rainstorm. They would be coloured by splashes of coffee. But the words written came slowly.  Continue reading

In-Class Discussions and Those Who Are Not Quick to Speak

In-Class Discussions and Those Who Are Not Quick to Speak

He sat there and never added a word to the conversation. From semester to semester his professors asked him, encouraged him, and even begged him to participate. He was a graduate student. Seminars were about sharing ideas with each other.

He, in turn, was frustrated. He was taking things in, thinking, forming his own thoughts, having insights. But, by the time he was ready to say something, the conversation was already on another subject. Often, two or more subjects had come and gone. His thoughts were ‘old news.’

It didn’t help that he was also shy; almost to the point of feeling mortified by the prospect of jumping into a ‘real-time’ discussion of ideas. Some of the students were confident and did not worry about venturing ideas before even they knew what they meant. Some people, he realized, think out loud (and sometimes not even very well!).

That ‘he,’ of course was me as a student. Continue reading