Teacher to Stuttering Student: Just Keep Quiet to Save Time

A 16 year old student at the County College of Morris in Randolph, New Jersey was ignored by his professor, after keeping his hand in the air to ask to a question for 75 minutes, because the professor believed his stutter wasted class time, writes Richard Perez-Pena at the New York Times.

Philip Garber Jr was asked in an email that he pose questions before or after class, “so we do not infringe on other students’ time,” by his professor, an adjunct named Elizabeth Snyder.

As for questions she asks in class, Ms. Snyder suggested:

“I believe it would be better for everyone if you kept a sheet of paper on your desk and wrote down the answers.”

Later, he said, she told him:

“Your speaking is disruptive.”

Unbowed, Philip reported the situation to a college dean, who suggested he transfer to another teacher’s class, where he has been asking and answering questions again.

About 5 percent of people stutter at some point, and about 1 percent stutter as adults, according to the National Institutes of Health.

His classroom experience underlines a perennial complaint among stutterers that society does not recognize the condition as a disability, and touches on an age-old pedagogical — and social — theme: the balance between the needs of an individual and the good of a group, writes Perez-Pena.

“As we do with all students seeking accommodations, we have taken action to resolve Philip’s concerns so he can successfully continue his education,” said Kathleen Brunet Eagan, the college’s communications director.

She would not say if Ms. Snyder had been disciplined.

Jim McClure, a board member of the National Stuttering Association and its spokesman, said Philip’s experience is unusual — because most stutterers avoid speaking in class.

“Teachers ignore them, or have to coax them to speak out,” Mr. McClure said. “The fact that this guy wants to participate is a really healthy sign.”

Perez-Pena writes that two students in Ms. Snyder’s class, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating their teacher, said that Philip did take up more time than the other students, but not egregiously so, and that his contributions were solid. They said they did not know what happened between him and Ms. Snyder, but did notice the day he held his hand up for most of the class and never got called on.

“I understand that it can be hard to listen to someone who stutters, but the answer can’t just be to shut him down,” said his mother, Marin Martin, a nurse. As it is, she said, “there are social situations where he just can’t be part of the conversation.”