The best and most devoted teacher I had in high school was a wheelchair bound woman named Mrs. Roden – her real name was Michelle.
I can’t remember the exact diagnosis anymore, and I don’t know if she ever really even shared it with any of us (she was far too professional to ever discuss herself in such a private sense, and too modest to get so specific). The most I can recall is that she had a growth that was restricting and directly affecting her spinal chord.
She was a beautiful woman, really, even physically. She hid her physical beauty immensely, though – she went out of her way to appear modest. She never wore any make-up. If you looked for a moment, though, you could see she had beautiful skin and features that hid under her frumpy, patterned clothes.
Her wheelchair was even modest … to be honest, I think it was inadequate. Having worked closely with people who have cerebral palsy, now, I know that wheelchairs range in their luxury/comfort as much as cars do. Her wheelchair was the equivalent of a Ford Pinto.
The research tells us that disabled women are treated like garbage; ignored, overlooked and physically abused much more often (Foster, K & Sandel, M 2010). If you’ve studied sociology a bit, you’ve heard the term “Intersectionality”. Well, my way of understanding that term is to add up every “imperfect” variable you have and stack them into an equation. Like, for instance … it would NOT be good, in terms of how society treats you, to be a … disabled, black … impoverished female. So, one “disadvantage” on top of the next. You knew all of this implicitly anyway (whether you knew you did or not).
I didn’t overlook her, though, and I took full advantage of her words. I could tell, intuitively, she was more insightful than the other teachers were. She was a very smart woman, but her mobility in terms of life ambition kept her sphere of influence very small. I believe that being disabled imparts you with a special qualitative and even quantitative advantage in terms of mindfulness and insight; that’s something I would need to prove, though.
I didn’t overlook or fail to acknowledge the insight of Mrs. Roden. She introduced us to Dante and other great literary works. It was not the content itself, but the way she taught it, and the way she was able to convey the symbolism and meaning inherent in the works, that made them important to a whole group of us for the rest of our lives.
I might talk about Mrs Roden more extensively in another article, though. She passed away just a couple of years ago, and a Facebook page in her honor quickly popped up … it didn’t surprise me that people from long ago had already filled it with comments about her.
I’ve not always been completely astute in my evaluations of potential sources of knowledge.
We make “bigoted decisions all the time; it’s conditioned in us primordially to do so.
It’s only natural and it’s only “practical to be prejudice”. When we use the word prejudice, the concept takes on its “ugly” persona. If we use the word “heuristic” it sounds quite a bit better. A heuristic is a fancy word, derived from cognitive psychology, to describe a logical “shortcut”.
I use heuristics all the time in chess. One basic heuristic is: Control the center. That’s an incredibly important idea … it has immense gravity. But if we’re overly awed by a concept, or we’re drawn into its gravity too closely (so closely we lose perspective), we make mistakes. In this instance, the mistake would be illustrated in any given position where, by following that important idea, we miss an obvious winning move.
When we get really good at something we break away from the rules in lieu of the ultimate goal. In chess, checkmate is the simple goal (the only simple thing about that game). I teach the kids, constantly, not to bring their Knight to the side of the board … not to put a piece in a place where it’s not useful. Then, the kids see me doing the opposite. The quick answer for them, is, “you’ll understand when you get better. Ignore this and never do it, for now.”
The goal beyond all goals is different than “guiding principles”, or, heuristics.
Mindfulness helps us to counteract the detrimental effects of prejudice/cognitive bias/heuristics. At its core, mindfulness is an exercise where we see things as a child – where we continuously practice undoing assumptions, and we withdrawal all assumptions.
One of the books Mrs. Roden taught us was “The Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. Not that invisible man; this one is metaphorically invisible … because he’s black. Being black doesn’t really help a lot of things.
I had numerous opportunities to talk to or ask questions of one of the great minds I’ll ever encounter, and I never took a single one. That was because the person in question had an “intersection” of things “hiding” him. He was invisible to me, just like … well I’ll just call him “the narrator”, of Ellison’s The Invisible Man (the fact that his name is subject to uncertainty, that it changes, is symbolic of his futility).
There were a combination of factors. It wasn’t only that he was half black. He also looked like he was homeless and dressed that way as well. He was a chain smoker; every time I caught sight of him in the little (nasty) back area of the psychology building, I would see him puffing away furiously to himself. I NEVER saw him talk to another soul.
It was a bizarre little spot I always found him seeking refuge in; it was a sort of concrete picnic area with these weird, artificial, concrete picnic tables that held odd umbrellas in homage to some area of architecture I’m ignorant of.
All those factors came together to make him invisible to me; I could have spoken to him dozens of times and asked him this or that and learned something.
Instead, there were other, “celebrity” lecturers who I took more notice of. I didn’t idolize them at all, but they were, let’s say, much more obvious. Dr. Funder had a big entourage of little piss-ant “disciples” who would follow him directly from his Personality Psychology lectures back to his office. His buddy, Dr. Ozer (omnipresent now in literature; statistics in the social sciences in particular) … was a short, leather jacket wearing guy. I used to call him “The Fonz”. He was sort of like a celebrity as well, treated that way. So were several others.
It turned out, though, that Dr. John H. Ashe was actually their superior… at least, he was their “boss”.
One day in the psychology lab I just happened to gaze ABOVE the pictures of the other lecturers, and I did a double take … yep, that was the “hobo” I’d been seeing out back.
We do well to pay attention to who we pay attention TO.
Dr. John H. Ashed died October 1, 2004 … aged 60.