Some Amusing Incidents From a Yalie's Life

By David S. Martin

In responding to our Sandy Weiner’s call for life narratives about incidents that are memorable in our Yale ’59 lives, I’ve selected a few from an autobiographical statement that I developed a couple of years ago. Since I had done an essay for our 45th Reunion and a Reflection for our 60th Reunion, I chose to focus this time on some post-Yale years and events. I hope these anecdotes will be somewhat entertaining—I suspect that at least some of them are unique. The anecdotes start with a graduate-school incident which I am hoping will not offend any readers who are devoutly Christian, then two incidents in my professional life as an educator but which have little to do directly with education per se, and finally an incident involving a world-renowned figure.

Harvard Divinity School

While at Yale I had become the President of the Liberal Religious Fellowship, consisting mostly of Unitarians and Universalists. We had meetings with invited speakers and discussions about important social issues. By the senior year, I had decided that I would like to pursue a career in the Unitarian ministry, and applied to and was accepted with a fellowship to the Harvard Divinity School. The program was part of an effort to support first-year students there who might be considering, but were not completely sure of whether to enter, the ministry.

By the end of the first week of classes at the Divinity School, however, I had determined that the ministry was not for me, but I had made a commitment which I had to honor for the year. (In later years,  my wife unambiguously told me that she would definitely not have wanted to be a minister’s wife). I immediately “cross-registered” in   the Harvard School of Education to take one course each semester since I had decided to pursue a career in education instead. (I was subsequently admitted to the School of Education in the following fall). Upon enrolling at the Harvard Divinity School, all students are asked to indicate which responsibility that they will use as their volunteer service; the checklist was extensive. I saw one option for playing the organ at daily morning chapel services. Since I had by then taken seven years of piano lessons and four years of organ lessons (two at Yale), I felt I could volunteer for that role; however, I specified that I would not play for the Friday morning service since that was always a communion service and communion was definitely not part of my theological belief system.  In the fall of that year, my first class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday was the Old Testament course at 11am; as a result, I could “sleep in” on Friday mornings. Our sleeping quarters on the fourth floor of Andover Hall were rather cramped, and the walls were very thin.

One Friday morning I was awakened about 9am after the 8am chapel service by extremely loud arguing going on in the room next to mine—I could hear the shouting but could not quite make out the actual words.  It happened that on that particular morning as the bread crumbs were being passed among the pews in chapel during the congregational style of communion, a Lutheran divinity student had accidentally dropped the bread crumb on its way from the silver plate to his mouth; it dropped on the carpeted floor of the pew. For the Lutheran, this accident presented an immediate theological problem—for a Lutheran, that bread after the blessing by the minister now had the presence of Christ within it (consubstantiation). He did not know what to do and so he picked up the bread and put it in his jacket pocket, and then came up to the dormitory floor to ask for advice about the right thing to do. The basic problem, however, was that he was the only Lutheran student in the School.  Next door to me was a Baptist student, and when the Lutheran student asked him for advice, the Baptist replied that it was only a symbol and to simply throw it in the wastebasket—absolutely not a satisfactory answer for anyone who believes in consubstantiation; and so a large and vehement argument ensued, followed by the Lutheran student slamming the door loudly on his way stomping out of the Baptist’s room. He then proceeded down the hall to a Congregational student’s room (an even worse decision!); when he asked the Congregationalist what he should do, the reply was, “Flush it down the toilet.”  So the Lutheran student had received absolutely no satisfaction. He then made an appointment with his Lutheran pastor in the city of Cambridge for that afternoon, where he asked again for advice. The pastor told him that he should bury it under the cover of night. And so that evening, in darkness, in the shrubbery outside Andover Hall, he dug a small hole and buried the piece of bread.  While on one level this event might appear to be ridiculous or even laughable (depending on one’s own theology), it is also a testament to some of the consequences that can happen in what is usually considered to be a fine  inter-denominational educational institution which is supposed to increase understanding and dialogue among different faiths.

The Marin Terrace School, California

After some years of teaching, curriculum development, and administrative work for two different school systems, I accepted a position in 1973 as Principal of the Marin Terrace Elementary School in the Mill Valley, CA Schools, just north of San Francisco in Marin County. I was given a challenging responsibility there.

In the prior  school  year, the school had become seriously divided (both parents and teachers) over the philosophy of classroom structure—about half of the community being strong advocates of traditional subject-oriented teacher-centered classrooms and about half being strong advocates of the “open classroom”  in which instruction is more student-centered and student-initiated and seats are arranged in many options except rows.  The previous principal had been very divisive, somewhat pitting different factions against each other but taking a position in favor of the open classroom philosophy. He had been removed from that position because he had polarized the school community as a whole, and one of my primary responsibilities then became to weld the school together and attempt to heal some of the clear wounds inflicted by this divisiveness.

I  needed to take  an objective, middle-of-the-road position in the process, supporting the advantages of both views but also emphasizing choice among teachers and parents; the number of students in the school was barely large enough so that nearly each family was able to get placement in a classroom of their choice with a teacher who reflected their philosophy. Nonetheless, very little cohesion existed within the faculty.  Accordingly, when one of the teachers who lived nearby the school suggested that the faculty have  a pot-luck luncheon on the day before school began, I jumped on the idea as an opportunity to begin the healing process.

Everyone appeared at noon on that day in bright sunshine and warmth, each with a prepared dish. We all had pleasant conversation and an excellent lunch.  At about 2pm, all of the traditional-classroom teachers said that they had to get back to school now to finish preparing for the first day of the school session, whereas the non-traditional teachers decided to stay on for a while. This situation presented a dilemma for me—which should I do—go back to school with the first group or stay on with the other group, and what were the implications of the decision on my part, either way? So I chose to say to the traditional teachers that I would be along in a while at school, but that I would stay a while now with the other teachers. The traditional teachers then left.  Now I was sitting with what some would have called “alternative lifestyle” teachers or in some cases “hippie teachers”.  Soon after the first teachers had left, one of the women teachers sitting next to me on the patio said, “Whew—it’s really hot here”. She then pulled up and took off her sweatshirt, and was not wearing any bra underneath.  I kept staring straight ahead, of course, and we all proceeded to continue talking; eventually some of those teachers went back to the school (with me) and others simply went home for the rest of the day. Seven years later, after I had served two years in the principalship and five years in the position of Director of Curriculum and Instruction in the district as well as two years as Chair of the Department of Education at Dominican College in San Rafael (CA) , I was leaving to take a position in Washington, DC; a party was given in  my honor.  After the party, the teacher who had removed her sweatshirt and her good friend came up to me and said, “Dave, do you remember what happened when we were all sitting on Ray’s patio after lunch in September 1973?”  I laughed heartily and said, “Of course I do!”  They then said,”We were just testing you—a straight guy in a suit and tie from the East; we wanted to see what you would do!”

The Deaf World

I became a Professor of Education at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC in 1980—the world’s only institution of higher education for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Prior to later becoming the Dean of the School of Education at the university, in my professorial role, I was in charge of establishing and running a unique professional preparation program to prepare deaf university students for qualification as teachers of HEARING children—so that they could obtain a general education certificate prior to continuing to a graduate degree in deaf education. The fundamental question that I was charged with, as the founder of the program, was how would these deaf students carry out their final internship which had to be 10 weeks of full-time teaching with hearing students even though the student-teachers themselves were deaf?  The answer was that the student-teacher and a sign-language interpreter would act as a team in the classroom of students. It is easy to imagine the challenges posed by this arrangement, but it succeeded. One incident, however, sticks in memory vividly.

The incident involved a male intern-teacher who was doing his internship in 12th grade social studies.  Each year I had instructed the interns at the beginning of their internships to do three things on the first day of school: (1) explain to the hearing students (through the interpreter) how communication will  work—that “I” am the teacher but the interpreter is my ears and voice; please address me and not the interpreter; don’t tell her to tell me something—tell me directly even though I must avert my eyes to the interpreter to see what you are saying; (2) explain about your own deafness; and (3) explain  in general about deafness. Then answer any questions, and when ten minutes have passed, then begin the regular lesson—everything from then onward is to be the regular curriculum in the regular way, even though communication is different. On the first day of the 10-week internship, I typically would not do any observational supervision because the interns were just starting; I began supervisory visits during their second week. But on that first day in that particular year, in my car I went from school to school to check to see that everything was in place—this process took  all day because 12 interns in about 9 locations required a  lot of driving throughout the greater DC region. Now, we have to remember that in the 1980’s  a wonderful new technological era  was dawning for deaf people—strobe lights flashing when anyone rang the doorbell, vibrating devices under pillows to serve  as alarm clocks, hand-held devices which are now IPads  but which enabled deaf people briefly to communicate with each other at a distance and did not require any use of the telephone, and more. On this particular occasion, I arrived at the high school of this intern about noontime to visit him while he and his interpreter were having a brown-bag lunch break during a free period, and so I sat down and asked how things were going. He replied, “Ok.”  Just “Ok” is not the response that one wants  in a new experience like this, and so I replied, “What went  wrong today?” He replied, “Dr.Martin, I did what you told us to do—I explained about my deafness, deafness in general, and how communication will work ;then I asked if there were any questions.”  (Bear in mind that this group of twelfth-graders was quite sophisticated and part of an Advanced Placement group.) Several students asked good questions, and then one student asked,” Mr. Bernstein, how do you wake up in the morning?”. He said he replied, “I use a vibrator”, after which the entire class broke up in laughter, and classroom control went to pieces!

Princess Diana

One of the most admired persons in the world for me has been the late Princess Diana of England. While working at Gallaudet I had the opportunity to do considerable supported international travel. In 1992, I gave a presentation at the annual conference of the British Deaf Association in Brighton, England.  Princess Diana, who was the royal patron of the Association, was to be the featured speaker; she took the role seriously and became a reasonably fluent user of British Sign Language.  On the day that she was scheduled to speak in early afternoon, the security began three hours early—no one was allowed to either enter or leave the conference building from that time until she eventually left.  She arrived rather late and gave a good speech about deaf rights during which she signed as she spoke; then I watched her doing what she did best. She came down from the podium during the informal mixing time, and “worked the crowd” of deaf people, going from person to person, signing, asking how their mother was (she remembered meeting these people from earlier meetings), and she stood only 20 feet from where I was standing. Although I did not get to meet her, I closely watched her in action—she truly lit up the room with her presence. I, like many others, was devastated at her untimely and unnecessary death, and I attended the American memorial service for her at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

On a lighter note, at that same conference was a presentation by a professor of deaf education from the University of Edinburgh, who was telling his audience about a new educational videotape that he had made about deaf education as a general informational piece.  He thought that it would be wonderful if he could get the Princess to do the introduction to the videotape; he contacted the royal family office, and the Princess agreed. She had to travel to Edinburgh to do the videotaping.  In the video studio, the professor and the Princess were together preparing, and he thought it would be wise to first do a test-run. He asked her to simply say something into the microphone so that the technician could adjust the volume. She asked him, “What would you like me to say?”, and in his presentation at the conference, the professor said, “I then heard myself saying ‘Just say Get up Charles,  you lazy slug’”, whereupon the Princess replied, ‘Oh, I couldn’t possibly say that!’ ”  The way the professor said “I heard myself saying” reminds me of situations where we blurt out things and then realize what we have just said.


So, like my classmates, I can look back at some amusing as well as fascinating experiences; I hope readers will find some enjoyment from these true tales.

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