I knew one in five of my students likely had a disability; that one in four had probably been assaulted sexually; that approximately 40% had alcoholic parents or relatives. One can’t teach without knowing such things—at least not be teaching properly. Could being disabled “before them” and working with Corky foster communicative possibilities beyond merely inserting my life, my story—the professor as “other?” I wasn’t sure at first. You walk into a classroom with a dog, it’s like a joke.
Since service animals can’t be ignored I said: “for Corky the past is prologue.” “She’s more well adjusted than most of us.”
“A guide dog’s childhood is impressive,” I said. “Love, encouragement, modest rules, then more love, more encouragement…”
“Who among us gets to have that?” I asked. No one raised a hand.
So here’s what I did. I invited students to coffee klatches with Corky. It was kumbaya. And so what?
We created a small circle around a dog.
I took the harness off.
Corky circled putting her head on people’s knees.
“In order for ideas to have value,” I said, “one must feel secure enough to be inquisitive.”
My coffee drinkers agreed this wasn’t easy.
We were newly minted adepts of John Dewey’s pragmatism, hugging a dog, insisting our everyday experiences mattered.
I will not tell my students stories.
But sometimes at night walking to the bus I thought of them bearing up under their burdens and of how they still desired lives of trust.
This is no small thing when you feel it. No small thing….