[Publisher's Note: Howard Stein, Boles Blogs author and inspiration, died at age of 90 on October 14, 2012 in Stamford, Connecticut. This article now appears in print as an equalizing effort to preserve Dr. Stein's teaching and thinking as David Boles shares this, and other works, from his private Prairie Voice archive. Howard wrote this article in the Spring of 1984 and, 30 years later, the lessons are still ripe and rich and damning.]
For those suffering the wounds of life, the university has become a hospital. For the woman in her middle forties whose husband has left her for “a young thing” after twenty-four years of marriage and four children, the university is the first thought where she may go for help.
Helen Keller — a Deaf and Blind woman who became an author and an international SuperStar against the merits of her monumental disability — is one of the most magnificent examples of the human spirit in the history of America.
I have defended the spirit of Helen Keller on this blog, and while I am a tremendous fan of her incredible mind, I’m not terribly interested in her sex life as a lesbian or not, or as the secret, fateful, lover of her teacher, Anne Sullivan’s, husband, or her role as the concubine of a local cub reporter who wrote about her early life and made her a star.
What does concern, and interest me, is the lingering slandering of her as a young child in her effort to write, at 11-years-old, a story for publication called “The Frost King” — that was too closely associated with a previously published work entitled “The Frost Fairies” — that she was accused of plagiarism that haunted and stooped her for the rest of her life.
Every plan has a hole. Every ship has a leak. Every internet session is insecure. These are the new universal writs of living in the new ancient world. I learned that lesson in an especially troubling manner that forced me, in an instant, to reassess my role in the world as a Midwestern White Man teaching at-risk minority undergraduate students at a major New York City university.
I thought the assignment was simple and universally understood. I’d used a similar teaching plan at other universities with great success; but, in reflection, I realize most of those successes were found in mainstream classrooms with well-schooled students who were taught that learning was a priority in the home.
In my new teaching role in the inner city, many of these students working on a B.A. did not come from the same font of mandatory educational opportunities. They scraped by to earn understanding. They fought for what they grasped while others around them had learning handed to them.
There was a great divide of the mind and cultural experience that I quickly had to bridge or the entire end of the semester was at risk of failing, and the blame would solely be mine as the instructor for not being able to quickly re-adjust and move the field lines to be fair to my students so they could find success.