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Thursday, August 4, 2011

CHARLES VANRIPER -- ADVENTURES AS AN ENGLISH TEACHER

Charles Gage VanRiper struggled to speak for much of his life.  Because his spoken words came haltingly, he became a extraordinary writer, publishing numerous text books on speech disorders.  His fiction was published under the name of Cully Gage.  Through his work and his writing, Charles Van Riper achieved the same victory expressed by King George VI, who also struggled with stuttering, “I have a voice.”  The “voice” of Charles VanRiper changed the lives of millions of stutterers, and continues to influence thousands of Speech/Language Pathologists who dedicate their lives to helping children and adults overcome this problem.

Charles VanRiper planned to speak one last time from beyond the grave, sharing the struggles and triumphs of his life through his autobiography.  But once again, his voice has been silenced, not by a speech disorder, but by those responsible for his legacy.  The manuscript on which he lovingly labored remains unpublished and unavailable to those who would benefit from its message.  The purpose of this series of blogs is to reveal the existence of the autobiography to the public, and to demonstrate to those who have silenced VanRiper’s final words, that many still care and desire an opportunity to learn more from the life experiences of this extraordinary man.

The following brief exert from VanRiper’s unpublished autobiography describes the first year of his career as an English teacher in the town of Saline, Michigan:

FROM THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES VANRIPER:

I taught four classes in English including Shakespeare, Grammar and Composition, Modern Literature and something else.  I was also in charge of the assembly room, where the pupils studied for one period, and that was the hardest for me because at the end of the hour I had to say loudly, “Classes may pass!  Lord, I used to fear having to say that!  Once by the school clock on the wall opposite my desk, I had such a hard complete block on the word “classes” that I couldn’t get it out until four minutes had passed.  That sure raised hell with the whole operation of the school. . . . . . .

. . . . . .Unable to express myself with any fluency I developed ways of teaching silently or used various strategies to keep my verbal output to a minimum.  Most teachers talk too much and their students too little.  In my classes the students taught themselves and each other.  For example, after I’d held up a large cue card bearing the word “SILENCE!” and the class had come to order, I’d take envelopes to about four of the class members with their names, and the names of the other members of the group on the back of them.  Inside the envelope would be a sheet of paper outlining the topic that was to be discussed among them and then to be taught to the entire class.  Also I had questions to be answered and a set of five slips of paper of varying lengths which were drawn to determine which member had to do the reporting.  Then I’d give them ten minutes to work on the project with the remaining time used for class presentations.  They worked like hell because they didn’t know if they would get the shortest slip and have to come up front.  Sometimes I’d go around to the various groups and give a bit of help but not usually.

            At other times, when they came to class the students would find a list of questions on the board (I sure loved that blackboard!) and something like a roulette wheel I’d made of heavy cardboard.  Each student had a number and if, when I spun the wheel, it stopped on that number the student had to answer the question.  Previously I’d assigned the roles of clapper and groaner to two of them.  When the student answered the question correctly, the clapper applauded loudly.  If he didn’t then the groaner groaned.  Very hilarious but effective.

            I worked out many variations of these techniques and I know that no student ever got bored in my classes. . . . .  Also, like most stutterers, I could be very fluent when speaking in unison so in my English classes we read a lot together aloud.  I remember once though when choral reading one of Browning’s poems that had the refrain “And a rouse to King Charles” I couldn’t say “Charles” and had to pantomime it.

            Shakespeare was tough to teach to those kids, but I had them act out scenes from Julius Caesar and Macbeth translating the Bard’s immortal prose into their own words.  They had to study hard to do it.  And I had them collect quotations from all of his works that they might be able to surprise their parents with at home.  One boy, whose father raised horses, reported he had delighted him by quoting, “Phew! Methinks I smell of horse piss!”. . . .

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