A Teacher’s Year of Battles, Breakthroughs, and Life-Changing Lessons at Belchertown State School

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Pub Date 01 Nov 2021 | Archive Date 15 Jan 2022

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The year is 1969, and fresh-out-of-college smart-aleck Howard Shane has just landed his first teaching job—at Belchertown State School, a bleak institution where people with disabilities endure endless days of silence, tedium, and neglect.

Howard is stunned by the conditions at Belchertown and the challenges of his new job, but as he gets to know his diverse, endearing, and intelligent students, he becomes consumed with a mission: to unlock their communication skills and help them reach their full potential. Pitting his youthful idealism and passion against the rigidity of a rule-bound administrator, Howard battles his way to small joys and victories with his students—and, along the way, learns just as much as he teaches.

A stirring and spellbinding memoir from internationally renowned AAC expert Howard Shane (Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School), Unsilenced is a candid look at a pivotal era in disability history and a deeply personal account of how all human beings can flourish when we care for each other and fight for change.

The year is 1969, and fresh-out-of-college smart-aleck Howard Shane has just landed his first teaching job—at Belchertown State School, a bleak institution where people with disabilities endure...

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Featured Reviews

What an incredibly powerful memoir. I had so many emotions reading this one.

I'm heartbroken that so many were subject to such horrible treatment at places like Belchertown. So many lives that were shuttered away, so many voices lost. I'm also heartbroken that, despite all the progress society has made over the last few decades, society is often still inaccessible for many, and people still don't have access to the technology and resources they need.

This was also a fascinating and bittersweet glimpse at the state of accessibility in the late 1960s. Though I'm very familiar with modern AAC and switch access, I've admittedly never thought much about how communicating with switches worked prior to computers.

I kept imagining how things might have been different for his students if they had been born into a world in which communication was possible with just eye movements on a computer. For so many throughout history, this was never a possibility, and I'm saddened for those who never had the opportunities to communicate that modern technology has brought.

So many of these advancements are thanks to Shane and people like him who paved the way with their determination and creativity.

Despite the difficult nature of this memoir, Shane's words overwhelmingly filled me with a sense of hope for the future. Seeing how Shane was bothered by Ruth and Ron's communication needs, experimented with possible solutions based on his limited resources, and continued to dedicate his career to AAC strategies was so inspiring. This story is such a beautiful picture of advocacy and allyship.

I highly recommend this for anyone interested in accessibility and disability rights and advocacy.

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.
Wow, what a remarkable journey Howard Shane has shared with readers! This proves how much of a positive difference one person can make on many people's lives. Together with other employees at Belchertown, he improved the quality of life for so many residents. His coordination with professors and engineers has created a life changing communication aid that was the starting either point for further technology development.
Although this book provided a lot of detail, and that may turn some readers off, it actually helped me feel like I was right there experiencing what was going on.
I highly recommend this book.

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"It began in 1969, at a school with a name that's repellent to modern ears: 'Belchertown State School for the Feeble-Minded.' Located in the sleepy town of Belchertown, Massachusetts, it was a grim institution where children with a wide range of disabilities were warehoused for nearly a century. At that time, parents of children with disabilities had few alternatives when it came to raising and educating their children."

This fantastic memoir is an important addition to the history of people with disabilities. This is a story that MUST be told.

Howard Shane was only 22 when he took a teaching position at the Belchertown State School. Much has been written about the institutions where "disabled" people were warehoused in the past. However, this book is completely unlike any other.

Institutions such as the Belchertown State School were not places of learning as one would expect from the name. It's full name says much more about it: The Belchertown State School for the Feeble-minded. These were NOT places where hope or inspiration could be found. Instead, the residents were taught either only the basics of self-care, or were taught nothing at all.

When Howard Shane arrived to begin his teaching position, he had no idea that it would shape his entire future.

Determined to actually educate his students, who were the most severely physically disabled residents of the "school," Howard devised a way for the non-verbal students to actually communicate. This invention changed the lives of his students in untold ways.

His dedication to actually educating his students caused him to butt heads with the administration continuously. His views were seen as radical and his goals for his students were seen as unrealistic and a waste of time.

This book will grab your attention and is 100% unputdownable. Readers will find themselves rooting, not only for Howard Shane, but also for the students in his unconventional classroom.

This book is important. We need to remember the past and how people with disabilities were viewed and treated. This knowledge is essential so that society is never allowed to slip back into believing the uneducated views of the past.

I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone who believes that every person, despite their physical and mental disabilities, are important and deserve the chance to be happy and to live a fulfilling life.

I am very much hoping that Dr. Howard Shane decides to write a follow up to this memoir. I would be extremely interested in hearing more about his career and the devices he helped to create. In my view, Howard C. Shane is an exceptional human being and his life and work need to be celebrated.

I rate this book as 5+ OUT OF 5 STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and I will be eagerly awaiting the next volume of his memoirs .
*** Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book. ***

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