Developmentally Disoriented

Christopher S. Harris is an assistant professor of English and Composition Coordinator at California State University, Los Angeles. He received his PhD from Bowling Green State University, Ohio. His research interests include the history of composition instruction, writing with computers, and rhetoric as civic and community engagement.



If someone were to look at my life, they would think it highly improbable that I would become an English professor. In grade school, I woefully dreaded English and spelling classes and then had no respect for literature during my rebellious high school years; furthermore, I had a seemingly debilitating speech impediment that forced me into a speech development program during my early elementary school years. One could look at my life and wonder how a speech-impeded ex-Marine could come to grips with the study of literature.

Events took place during my early years that led me to believe that I was a real ladies man. I always caught the interest of older women—especially at the ballpark.

“Oh, how cute. What’s your name?” a teenage girl would ask.

I would reply, “Cwis Hawwis.”

“What?” she would ask, admiring my coy grin.

“He said Cwis. Your name is Cwis? How cute. Isn’t he just sooo cute?” another girl would say.

I would butt-in, “No. My name is Cwis . . . Cwis!”

During these initial moments, the girls would usually become thoroughly amused and worked into some sort of giggle-ridden frenzy. Pinches and pats almost always came during this juncture, but I refused to give up.

“I’m CWIS. C, H, AW, I, S. CWIS!” I would yell.

The chortling women would eventually, usually, come to grips and figure my name after further interrogation. “Oh, your name is Chris,” one of the girls would say. “His name is Chris. How cute.” The excitement would wind down for only a moment.

Her friend would then ask, “What team do you play on?”

“The Wobbins.”

So the agony continued. I can still envision some of those incidents at the ballpark. I was inflicted with the childhood speech-impediment that has recently been referred to as Roger Rabbit Syndrome. I could not pronounce the R sound, and at best, my Rs sounded like perfect Ws.
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A Lesson Before Graduating: Civil Rights in the Contemporary Classroom

Kate Nienaber Scally holds a BA and an MEd from the University of Notre Dame, and has taught high school English in Alabama and Tennessee. As she heads north, she uses literature as a vehicle to make her students aware of their own American history, which, as Mark Twain says, “does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”



My students cannot believe—cannot imagine—that things like this still happen. They read Ernest J. Gaines’ novel A Lesson Before Dying, with its 1940’s cars and WWII references and think, “That was a long time ago. I’m glad things are better now.”


In the novel, Jefferson, a poorly-educated descendent of former slaves, is sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. During the trial, his lawyer’s defense is that Jefferson is [genetically] dumb as a hog, and therefore should not be given the death penalty. His former teacher and the protagonist of the story, Grant, unwillingly accepts the job of “making him a man” before Jefferson goes to the electric chair.


The story is sad and gains an added level of meaning because of the date associated with Jefferson’s death—Easter—but my students are still able to hold it at arm’s length because of the 1940’s setting. Things aren’t like that anymore. Or are they?
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