Make Room For The Stuttering

What Do You Think?

Posted on: October 10, 2011

Kudos to my young friend, Philip Garber, who is featured in this New York Times article today, A Stutterer Faces Resistance, From the Front of the Class.

I know Philip, who is 16 years old, from the NSA. I have known him for a couple of years, so have had the opportunity to see him “grow up” as a young person with a profound stutter.

I also know Philip’s mom, Marin, who is mentioned in the article. I got to spend more time getting to know Marin at this year’s NSA conference in Ft Worth, Texas. We ran into each other at the airport on the way to Texas (!), and hung out quite a bit, sharing some meals together.

When this discouraging incident happened with Philip last month, Marin emailed me and asked my opinion of how Philip might handle the matter. We bantered a few thoughts back and forth, but ultimately Philip decided how it would be handled. He is quite skilled at self-advocacy.

I suggested that Philip should do a presentation to the faculty on stuttering awareness, and am pleased that he IS going to do this at some point.

Please take the time to read this article and the many comments (355 the last I saw!) The reactions are mixed.

What do you think? Do you think Philip was discriminated against? Do you think that the professor was reasonable in asking that Philip not speak in class? Is the article too one-sided? What lessons can be learned from this scenario?

Here’s a video that Philip did last year to commemorate International Stuttering Awareness Day, which is October 22. Hard to remember he is only a kid!

2 Responses to "What Do You Think?"

I think that this was a hatchet job by the NY Times. The article notes that the professor asked the student to take it up after class, but doesn’t tie that request to the student’s stuttering. Instead, it could be because the student constantly attempted to dominate the class time with his questions, stuttering or not. But the article does not give any context for the overall situation, other than noting the request and the student’s speech impediment, and then proceeds to draw a link between the two. That’s not fair to the professor or the other students in the class.

The alternative take on this story is that a self-absorbed, immature, egotistical, self-promoting kid tried to impose himself on a college level lecture class taught by a generally competent, but overstretched adjunct professor. In that reading, his stuttering is secondary to underlying behavior (such as the obnoxious, and frankly hostile, act of holding up an arm through an entire lecture.)

I think that the NY Times article was completely unfair to the professor. Perhaps the inference that everyone is drawing – that the professor heartlessly discriminated against the boy due to his disability – is correct, but without more complete information about what took place in the classroom and how the boy behaved, I think that this is an unfair hatchet job that basically defames the professor.

I feel also a bit ill at ease with the NYT article. Oerall, I am not sure the story helped the stuttering community, in particular stuttering students, as much as it could have.

It seems to have turned to a certain degree into bashing of the teacher, something Philip did not want, as far as I understand.

Even if the teacher apparently deserves to learn quite a few lessons, I would have preferred these to be administered in a more careful way, for instance by a contact with the NSA. Granted, that teacher will now behave more adequately with stutterers (she is unlikely to have any in her classes any more anyway). Other teachers reading the story will too. But I fear that several of them might do that for fear of being exposed to the world’s anger on the New York Times’ front page, rather than because they will have eventually understood the ins and outs of stuttering.

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