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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Students: Sometimes it’s not really about you

    Philip Garber has a painful stutter. But he’s also a “precocious and confident” 10th grader, and he was enrolled in Elizabeth Snyder’s history class at the County College of Morris until Snyder emailed him to suggest he hold his questions “so we do not infringe on other students’ time.”

    After the email, in which the adjunct professor advised him to wait until after class to ask questions and to write down his responses to her on paper instead of vocally participating, Philip went to the college dean and reported the incident. The dean suggested he transfer to another instructor’s class, which Philip did.

    Administrators of the college in Randolph, N.J., said Snyder had acted improperly and that Philip had been discriminated against.

    The New York Times covered the story last week. In the first article, Snyder declined to comment. Instead, she directed questions to the college, which she had been advised to do.

    Three days later, The New York Times followed up with Snyder, who said she feared for her safety after the first story because of the “hateful, vile, vicious emails” she’d received afterward. Snyder said she was a “victim of a character assassination,” and defended her actions against readers who accused her of unfairly treating Philip because of his stutter.

    According to the Times, Snyder has been a teacher for more than three decades. She has taught middle school social studies, and has received generally positive reviews from current and former students at the County College of Morris. In May, she was named educator of the year by the college’s Educational Opportunity Fund for the work she has done with students who face academic or financial challenges.

    Philip is being homeschooled in some subjects, and taking history and English composition courses at the college. He acts and writes for Our Time Theatre Company, a group for people who stutter, and he maintains a YouTube channel under the handle TheStutteringMan. He is “remarkably uninhibited,” as described by the Times.

    He’s also 16. Hardly more than a baby, when you think about it. Considering her long and largely successful history as an educator, it didn’t take long for a 16-year-old child and some snap judgments to ruin Snyder’s reputation.

    As a 20-year-old college student, I am just a kid playing grown-up. I chafe under unnecessary authority, I resent being told what is best for me, I am frequently petty and selfish and kind of an asshole. At 16, I was probably unbearable.

    In the follow-up, Snyder told the Times that her email to Philip was written not because of his stutter, but because she felt his eagerness to ask and answer questions took up too much class time. What the Times praised as “remarkably uninhibited” was a classroom interruption.

    The Times reported that during one class period, Philip kept his hand raised for nearly the entire 75 minutes, but was not called on. Snyder said she did not call on others or tell Philip his “speaking is disruptive,” as he claimed.

    In fact, Philip had “misinterpreted” the situation entirely, she thought. He had “assumed it had something to do with his stuttering.” Snyder said she sent the email because he seemed “unfamiliar with a college lecture format and frankly a little rude” for so often interrupting her.

    The Times’ first article was one-sided, and the subsequent backlash against Snyder undeserved. Philip Garber has a stutter. He’s also just 16. There were other students in his class — students whose time matters just as much as his, students whose time he cannot monopolize — and Snyder’s responsibility was to make sure all her students were receiving the education they were paying for.

    In this case, the words of a 16-year-old carried more weight than an experienced educator because he often struggled to speak fluidly. Educators rarely make the news. When they do, it’s usually because we think they’re not doing their job correctly. We should trust teachers and professors to do their jobs, and let experience speak for itself.

    — Kristina Bui is the copy chief. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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