Because of his stutter, 16-year-old Philip Garber was told by a professor at New Jersey’s County College of Morris that he was “disruptive.” Specifically, adjunct professor Elizabeth Snyder told Garber in an email that he should ask questions before or after her history class “so we do not infringe on other students’ time.” She also told Garber that, instead of asking questions in class,
“I believe it would be better for everyone if you kept a sheet of paper on your desk and wrote down the answers.”
Garber even once held up his hand for an entire 75-minute-class but Snyder, who had told him not to speak in class, did not call on him.
Garber spoke to one of the college’s deans who recommended that he transfer to another class; he indeed did and has been able to ask questions and talk with a different professor. Kathleen Brunet Eagan, the college’s communications director, did not say whether or not Snyder had been disciplined.
As a professor, and someone who has a close relative who stutters, I find Snyder’s response to Garber’s stuttering very disappointing, not to mention troubling. I have had some students who stutter and it’s no issue to give them the time they need to speak. I am probably extra-sensitive about stuttering, not only because of my relative but also because my 14-year-old son Charlie is autistic and has a severe speech disability. Charlie always needs extra time to say or communicate whatever is on his mind; the wait is always worth it.
Indeed, it is often difficult to get many, or even any, students to speak in class (that is why there are class participation requirements on my course syllabus). Often, despite one’s every efforts, one or two students end up doing most of the talking.
Garber has been primarily home-schooled or attended small charter schools. He hopes to be a photographer and attends Our Time Theater Company, an acting and writing group for people who stutter, in Manhattan once a week. He has had years of speech therapy and has plenty to say (he even has his own YouTube channel). Certainly he has been through many struggles though he says that, prior to attending the County College of Morris, he had “never experienced any kind of discrimination.”
About 5 percent of people stutter at some point in their lives and about 1 percent of adults stutter. Stuttering is not caused by language problems or by psychological problems such as trauma or stress, but is due to motor difficulties that make producing fluent speech challenging. The Oscar-winning movie The King’s Speech has certainly helped to bring more awareness and attention to stuttering, but many clearly have a long way to go. If anything, Garber should be praised for speaking up, rather than penalized and told — of all things — to keep quiet.
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