Two weeks into the three-week summer program, I get a call from one of my creative writing students. She’s running late and she needs directions.
“I just got off the train at Colfax, which way do I go?”
I instruct her to walk southeast.
She doesn’t know west from east.
I tell her that the mountains are to the west and that east is the opposite direction, the way she needs to walk.
I provide the address and the cross streets and tell her to call back if she can’t find the building she’s been escorted to for the past two weeks.
“I never pay that much attention to things,” she says to explain herself.
Twenty minutes later, she calls back. She’s nowhere near CLE. I decide to stay on the line with her while she walks to the building.
She’s quite helpless.
“What red brick building?” “What street am I on?”
I spot her from the fourth floor of the building she’s trying to locate. She’s walking the wrong way. I get her to turn around. She approaches an intersection and asks, “Is this it?” She’s pointing at a construction site, a bulldozer is flattening soil.
She finally arrives; she’s an hour late. We’re discussing Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants.”
Most undergraduate students don’t understand the context of the dialogue within Hemingway’s fictional short story. I didn’t get it when I first read the story as a cocky, well-read eighteen-year-old.
Hemingway’s canonized piece of literature is thick with simile and complex metaphors. Dialogue drives the story.
“What are Jig and the man having a conversation about?” I ask.
“It’s about abortion,” the same girl that couldn’t navigate her way three blocks answers with confidence.
She’s right. And as I go on to discuss the importance of the title and the metaphorical significance of the two sides of the train tracks, she leads the discussion with insight and exactness. She’s right on throughout the discussion.
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That’s the thing about working with students with disabilities, there’s no way to know when they’ll surprise you.
One minute I was shaking my head in disbelief that a girl couldn’t travel three blocks without getting lost and the next the same girl navigates quite complex literature.
-- Jesse Ruderman
Jesse Ruderman spent three weeks this summer working for College Living Experience's first annual summer program in Denver. CLE specializes in helping teenagers who live with ADD/ADHD, Aspergers, psychosocial-maturational, nonverbal learning disorder and other learning disabilities transition into college and adult life with a three-week intensive college preparation session. More than 30 students from across the nation traveled to Denver, where they lived in their own dorm rooms, attended college-credit courses, traveled via public transportation, cooked and or ordered their own meals and were responsible for maintaining their own medications and hygiene, testing their ability to function independently.