New Children's Book Offers Encouragement for the Slow Learner
- Friday, May 25, 2007
Holding those truths before me, I journey back to the night my son was born. I remember holding him, eagerly counting: ten fingers, ten toes, two eyes, one nose. "Look, world ... my son is whole! He's whole! Thank you, God. Thank you, thank you . . . "
Three years later I knew — intuitively I knew — something was amiss in my beautiful little son's intellectual development ... something unknown and, at his young age, extremely difficult to diagnose.
Thus, our four-decade odyssey began. Years of testing and evaluation by the medical professionals (speechologist, sociologist, neurologist, psychologist, and psychiatrist) eventually revealed that my son had suffered minimal brain damage at birth; that shortly before, during, or after birth, one part of his brain did not receive adequate oxygen. He was neither retarded nor of average intelligence.
To make matters worse, he had no “identity.” It was the 1970’s, and our son didn’t “fit” into any of the prevailing programs of the day. He had no face nor place in our categorized, name-tagged society and educational system; he would forever dwell in that "grey" area called Never-Neverland.
I was stunned. My son was slow! ... and would always be slow! In a silent voice I cried out ...
Since childhood my son has been cognizant of "time." He divided it into two distinct eras; the time before we were aware he was slow and after we were aware. Slowly, that brief time of "unawareness" was placed in perspective — as a simpler time — "When we were young, Mother," my son said. Long before we knew about "grey"and "nuance."
And slowly we embraced our new found "awareness" and knowledge of slow. Discovering that in spite of closed doors, isolation, confusion, failure to find schools, friends, etc. ("Sorry, you don't fit with our program; your IQ is too low; you don't have a 'specific' disorder”) that ultimately, wandering in no-man’s land helped us glean a sense of direction and empowerment.
Our quest for knowledge of slow was not happenstance. It was God's purpose. He had abiding faith in this "determined little duo." ... That they could and would prevail in finding out what slow was about; learning that life is a gift — regardless limitation — a gift to be cherished ... with Divine purpose.
And it is, dear readers. It truly, truly is!
I can't remember consciously making a decision to write about our quest to find out what slow was about upon retirement -- I certainly never dreamed it would precipitate my returning to college! But I do remember promises made after stormy episodes with the 'Fessionals (and there were many) that, "Someday I'll do something about this!"
Writing — and returning to college — seemed the next logical steps. Blessed with the "wisdom" of age and experience, and gung-ho attitude, I delved in with gusto.
There were promises to keep!
My vision of theatre as a teaching-learning tool for advancement of the slow learner began as a drama student at the University of Texas-Tyler. It was there I discovered the teaching concept of the renowned 20th Century drama teacher, Dorothy Heathcote: using theatre elements as a primary tool in teaching core subjects to all levels of intelligence — young and adult — with focus on the slow learner.
And it was there that The Dodo Bird That Did (Bright Bird's Story) transcended page to stage ... as a ten minute play.
Many have asked who inspired me to write about the Dodo bird. Obviously, my son. He has shown me through word and dauntless spirit, in his own endearing way, that it was only fitting that I choose the Dodo bird as the protagonist in my book. Blessed with the spirit of flight, the spunky little bird — when faced with extinction — learns to fly like a real true-bird - with the help of special wings.
For is it not true? Like the Dodo bird, each of us born to this world is challenged to seek reason for his "wing stubs," to find his place in life. Have we not all — feathered and unfeathered alike — stood on the edge and wondered "why?"
Transcending stigma, era, and culture, the "spirit" of the allegorical little bird with stubby wings "unsuitable" for flying survives to this day ... inspiring all who are disadvantaged that, with the help of "special" wings they, too, may one day fly like a real true-bird. That is, if they believe!
And my inspiring "words of wisdom" for future advancement of the slow learner? I use those of one who, early on, was labeled an academic failure, the renowned teaching guru of the 20th Century, Dorothy Heathcote:
"The child is the sun about which the knowledge revolves. In teaching and learning, the challenge is in the process. In making that time slow enough for enquiry; interesting enough for loitering along the way. The present time will provide the time to wander and press, not the time of arrival. Arrival are those moments of being able to demonstrate our knowing, and the wandering is the time of learning."
Belle Branscom is author of the children's book The Dodo Bird that Did (Bright Bird's Story). Belle Branscom's vision of theatre as a teaching-learning tool for advancement of the slow learner began as a drama student at the University of Texas-Tyler. Step-by-step and word by word, the vision evolved into a practical, plausible mission: Theatre in Education...a teaching concept of the renowned 20th Century drama teacher, Dorothy Heathcote.
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