What did I see? I saw a shop class at a school filled with the usual tools — drills, screwdrivers, table saws, planers, chisels, ratchets, nuts and bolts and wrenches, with teenagers working hard on this particular day to create beautiful hand-crafted cutting boards.
Although intently focused on their work, above the noise of several machines, the usual chatter about upcoming events, sports, and relationships reminded me that these teens had the same interests, frustrations and hopes that most all teens possess.
But there was one fundamental difference. On that day, I saw what none of these teenagers had ever seen. Why? Because most of these children are totally blind. Yet, they maneuvered around the shop with a certainty uncharacteristic of many sighted teens. Since every tool has its place, these students knew exactly where to go to get what they needed — the saw to cut larger boards into strips, a chisel to scrape away excess glue, the planer to smooth the rough boards.
There seemed to be no real confusion. The shop buzzed like a busy beehive of teenagers working to create their special masterpieces. Never did I see a child misjudge where a tool might be or a large piece of equipment might stand. They were, however, constantly bumping into each other. Since there is no way to know where other students might be, the collisions were fairly frequent. But even this was handled with grace ... “Excuse me” ... “That’s OK.”
When the 75 minutes came to a close, every tool had been carefully put back in its place by the students. Their work for the day was stashed away in cabinets where they would return the next day to retrieve their creations and return to the task at hand.
As a gift, I have a wooden pen and pencil set made in this shop. The students make them and sell them for fundraisers. Their last project was wooden door chimes. They even make derby cars and race them with great enthusiasm. One advanced student is handcrafting a desk. It’s absolutely beautiful.
Typical of many high school teenagers, the students seem to absolutely love this class. Several confessed to me that it sure beats being in math or science class. Their teacher, an obviously sensitive and caring man who understands the delicate balance between encouragement and expectation, understands, too, that beyond the fun, there is hope — hope that one day, many of these teenagers can live successful, productive lives, working jobs with the skills learned in his shop class.
Nine years he has done this work. Nine years without a single accident. After 15 years in a sighted shop at a public school where children cut off fingers just by being carelessly inattentive, he readily admits he wants to be nowhere else than where he is.
I left convinced that I would never again complain about any self-imposed limitations. If totally blind students can take joy in creating works of art they will never see, then why should any of us ever question our ability to do anything we set our minds to?
Perhaps all of us could use a few lessons from blind students to teach us what we cannot see.