Stuttering: The Gray Lady’s exposé

Phillip is 16 years old but he is taking two college classes this semester. He doesn’t much care for sitting in the back of the class. He is a precocious teenager and his hand is often raised to ask or answer a question. He is far from the apathetic teenager often bemoaned by teachers.

NYT stuttering article

Matt Rainey for The New York Times

And yet he is never called on. In fact he has been specifically asked not to speak up in class. He has been asked to write down his questions on a piece of paper to present before or after class. He has been told that, by participating in class, he is taking up too much of the other students’ precious time. During one class he had his hand raised to ask a question and held it aloft for much of the 75 minute class. He was wantonly ignored.

Why? Because he stutters, because words take him a little longer. So he should be silent and ignored as punishment.

Phillip took his case to the New York Times and they published a piece on his discrimination in today’s paper. They called his experience “unusual”. I’m not so sure.

As a result of stuttering, frowning shop clerks and impatient receptionists have handed me a pen and paper. Their proffering has often been paired with a pitying “would this be easier?” I have explained that I stutter, I have snapped pens in half and I have smiled sweetly. My reactions have run the gamut from the kind to the profane but I have never accepted their offer. Mostly because it is my choice, because they are lessening their own discomfort by telling me what to do, by taking away my right to speak.

Many of us have been asked to hurry up, have been hung up on, have been spoken over, have been ignored. More times than not our sentences have been finished for us. In all honesty it might be helpful. In the moment I might appreciate the respite from the battle of speaking. But the small gratitude I feel soon fades. I am left with a deeper scar. A feeling that my words are not worthy, that I am somehow monstrous and should be hidden.

4 thoughts on “Stuttering: The Gray Lady’s exposé

  1. Katherine, When I read this earlier today, I thought of sending it to to you, knowing you’d want to comment on it. Thanks for your astute and personal observation.

  2. Wow, that last paragraph was really powerful. Too often we are ignored, demeaned and reacted to. I too have followed this closely, and posted reaction on my blog. I found it to be very personal since I know Philip and his mom. In fact, right after it happened in September, his mom asked my opinion about what they might do.
    I don’t know if I would have found the courage to react the way Philip has. But I am pleased that so many people have weighed in. It keeps the dialogue going, and we both know it needs to be kept alive.
    Really nice piece here – you said so much with hardly needing to say anything.

    • Pam – Thanks for the comment and I’m looking forward to checking out your blog to read your take on the whole saga. I totally agree that Philip is incredibly brave. By the way, did you see the reaction from the teacher more recently in the NYTimes?

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