SCHOOL AND THE CHICKEN HOUSE

by Homer Page

Dr. Homer Page is Chairman of the Boulder County Board of Commissioners and a professor at the University of Colorado. He is also one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and of the national movement. Here he reflects on the things that helped him achieve success.

Miss Nellie Stice was my English teacher during my senior year at Buchannan High School in Troy, Missouri. She often read examinations to me. On the final examination I received 296 points out of a possible total of 300. When we finished the exam, she told me my score and said, "Have you ever thought about what you would be able to accomplish if you were not blind?"

Miss Stice did not believe blind persons could be successful. She believed that I had ability, and she felt badly that I, in her view, was destined to be thwarted in my efforts to use that ability. She genuinely felt pain for me. If any other of my classmates would have done so well (and none of them did) she would have said to that student, "Congratulations, you will go far in life," but those were not her expectations of me.

In spite of the withering message that I received from Miss Stice, I was generally encouraged as a child. When I was in the first grade, the teacher set up three groups of different learning levels. I was originally placed in the slowest group. My parents are not educated people. My mother completed the tenth grade, and my father went only to the eighth grade. However, they understood that it was not good for me to remain in that group.

They talked with the teacher, and I was moved up to the first group. I am sure that nothing my parents ever did for me apart from giving me life was so important to my future. If the teachers and administrators and other people had developed the expectations that I couldn't keep up with the demands of the school, then I hesitate to think what my life would have become. I am certain it would have been different and that it would have been much worse.

There was another time when my parents came to my rescue. During the summer between my third and fourth grades in school my family was visited by representatives from the Missouri School for the Blind. My father and I were on top of the chicken house putting down a new roof. We spoke with them from our lofty perch. They wanted me to attend the school for the blind in the fall. My father said no. He said, "My son is doing fine in school. I think a boy's place is with his family, and besides, who would help me with all this work if he were to go with you?" Few things could have been more important to a young blind child than to hear his father affirm that he was successful in school, loved and wanted by his family, and a productive contributing member of the economy of his family farm.

By the time Miss Stice made her comment it was already too late for my spirit to be damaged very much. I was on my way to college, and there were some things that I wanted to do. Now, decades later, I ask myself, "Have I been successful?" In some ways perhaps I have; but if I have, I haven't done it on my own. I had a supportive family and generally helpful friends and teachers, and a group of people working for me about whom I had no knowledge until well into my adult life. That group was the men and women of the National Federation of the Blind. Even though I didn't know it, opportunities had been made available for me by the work of the generation of NFB members that preceded me.