Today I was able to experience something not many people can say they have. I was taught by a blind professor.
My boyfriend let me tag along to his ancient history class this morning, taught by a blind woman. He had talked about this teacher and her class many times so I was happy to have the opportunity to sit in on a lecture. It was a small class, of only 30 or so students, but she was not aware that I didn’t belong. I watched her seeing eye dog relax on the floor by her side as she routinely pulled up PowerPoint slides on her computer, listening closely to the text-to-speech narration. She then began to speak of the history of Islam with dates, people, events, places, and context to the beat of the maps and pictures on the slides from memory, without braille notes or a list of topics. The history of Islam was as familiar to her as if it were her own. Needless to say, I was in awe.
From my experience in school, history was always a reading-intensive subject with impossible amounts of people and places and dates to memorize and put into historical context. I was never meant to be a history major and have always despised the subject wholeheartedly, but still I struggled to grasp the idea that someone with a passion for history, blind or not, could remember all that information, let alone well enough to explain it to others. Especially, how could someone who isn’t able to read about the Nile River in textbooks, or see the Byzantine Empire on a map, or pictures of the patterned tile walls of a Mosque speak to their significance?
At an early age, children are put into categories in school. They are labeled as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners (those who learn better by seeing, hearing, or doing, respectively). In a time when television and computer access for children is virtually inevitable, the population of auditory learners is slim at only 20-30% of students¹. Being a visual learner like my boyfriend, who, unlike myself, frequently falls asleep during lectures with no text supplement as evident this morning, it’s difficult to understand how auditory-dominant people can operate as efficiently. Then, it occurred to me how humans first began to relay information to one another, back in the times before Mesopotamia existed. The beginnings of history lie in spoken word. Before there was written language, there were elderly tribesmen telling stories to their grandsons, who remembered the stories and passed them on to their grandchildren. That was all there was of history and all there was of knowledge. It all made so much sense to me when I considered the fact that she teaches history, the story-telling subject. Her ability to remember and recount information in detailed stories reflects a time when story-telling was all that was available.
Today my curiosity lead me to read that “the principal values held by those with auditory dominance are strength in self and others and hard work in spite of adversity,”² which is exactly what I saw in that professor today. In case this professor never hears words of appreciation from a student, I hope that someone who is able to read this will join me in appreciating her.
From a visitor who sat in on your class today