If you have been reading this blog, then you have seen several entries about Paul Stankard, a brilliant glass paperweight artist who I profiled in the June issue of Highlights Magazine. In May he spoke at the Masters of Art in Education Commencement Address at Muskingum College. He gave me permission to share the following excerpts with you:
“Tonight I want to share with you the struggles and successes of one student, one child with special needs and how that person, who is now talking to you, became successful in spite of, or maybe because of, a learning disability.
I was educated at a time when little was known about learning problems, and my fourteen years in school were distorted by undiagnosed dyslexia. I learned to trust those teachers who encouraged me to persevere, and now as a senior looking back I recognize that I've been driven by an inner need to be educated. I've acted on that need, and over the years learned how to dilute the effects of my learning challenges….
During the research for my autobiography, I retrieved my grammar school records, and was both surprised and saddened to learn that my first IQ score was very low. My grammar school years were not that difficult, because I was nearly invisible in the large classes that averaged forty-three to forty-five students. In the 1950’s, the good sisters of Saint Mary’s Parochial School managed their classrooms with loving kindness and a wooden pointer, and if you were identified as a poor student but were well behaved, you were left alone. This contributed to my failing the third grade and being put on probation in the fifth grade, which resulted in being tutored on school nights by my mother. My poor performance in school was responsible for my having low self esteem, and as sad as it sounds, I was jealous of the smart kids.
Reading was like torture; I was constantly being corrected for repeating the same mistakes. Simple words like “was” I read as “saw “and I couldn't distinguish N from M among other challenges. In math I transposed numbers, and the most embarrassing deficiency was not being able to distinguish right from left. In the seventh grade, I made my right index finger raw by repeatedly scratching it in order to feel my right hand. My parents thought I had a nervous tick and constantly told me to quite picking at my finger.
My Mother had me read poetry aloud, which I learned to love. My Mom would first recite the poem and then I would read it. With my good memorization skills, I could sound out the words and connect them to the rhythmic flow of the poem. Often I could identify the poem’s idea, and took great satisfaction in my small successes in reading…
High School was comfortable in a strange way because no one had any academic expectations for me. The courses that I loved most were the industrial arts, and I would earn B‘s in wood and metal shop.
You all know how some times, one little event, one small experience, can make a profound difference in the course of a life. You educators will have a multitude of opportunities to provide meaningful experiences to your students. One such experience happened to me during high school.
Mrs. Reid, my English teacher for three years running would often read books out loud to the class for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time. Mrs. Reid’s reading out loud allowed me to experience the classics in a way that I couldn't have done otherwise.
Years later, in the mid seventies, the Franklin Mint, a direct market retailer, was offering The Greatest Books Ever Written on audio cassettes. I ordered the series and became enthralled listening to the quarterly installments. I credit Mrs. Reid with introducing me to a great joy that actually changed my life. She cultivated a love of literature in me that celebrates the power of the spoken and written word. The classics have challenged me to take creative risks and seek out the same depth of human emotion in my work that I feel in great books.
In 1972, I left the factory environment to be on the creative side. By good fortune I turned on the radio and heard an interview with Olympic-gold medalist Bruce Jenner. Jenner was discussing how, as a poor student and reader in middle school, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Fascinated in what I was listening to, I stopped working and focused on every word that was being said. It was a Eureka moment, because I thought Jenner was talking about me, and now, after all these years, I discovered the reason I was a poor student, and this meant I wasn't stupid! After learning that there was a neurological basis for my inability to process information like most people, I knew my passion could outwit my brain, to be successful with what God gave me…
Fast forward to the late eighties when a major intellectual breakthrough occurred for me. I became a member of the nonprofit organization “Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic“, and my world expanded with access to the organization’s library of over 90,000 unabridged books on tape. Two special books, “How to Read and Why” and “The Western Canon” both by Harold Bloom, gave me a seemly endless reading list. These two thought provoking books introduced me to great literature that celebrate the mysteries surrounding: sex, death and God, which have become primary themes woven into my artistic vision.
For a person who once couldn't read, I now can say I’ve read from Homer to Walt Whitman to James Joyce, and I enjoy discussing my favorite books from the nearly two hundred mostly classics I've read.
With each book listened to, I ceremoniously place a copy on my living room library shelf to symbolize a victory over past challenges…
It’s not uncommon to meet talented studio artists who have experienced poor academic performance caused by disinterest in school or by learning disabilities. I love how creativity allows people to reach their full potential in life, and how this fascinating ingredient, distinguishes humans from other living creatures. You're the gifted and talented teachers that will inspire young students, especially those having difficulties, to never give up, because, in the end, they have to know that perseverance will help them reach their full potential….
Let me reiterate what you already know. Do what you love by listening to your heart, and understand why it feels right. I think it’s ironic, that my learning challenges gave me the emotional strength to over-compensate my shortcomings and to grow with artistic authority. It’s interesting to know how my low self-esteem has motivated me to get it right in a way that most knowledgeable people would consider obsessive.”
To read some of Paul’s poems, go to his poetry page on his website.
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