Stephen Hawking, the scientist — Do you remember him? Here’s some of his wisdom and common sense.

Here’s a short, very short story about a speech by Stephen Hawking that I heard thirtynine years ago in Boston. Why share a short story, a vignette? Because I believe such stories may bring some wisdom, a smile, common sense reality, a path forward — in our challenging education world — and in our wider world. These gems come from my clients, colleagues, famous people whom I don’t know personally, relatives, passers-by. You get the picture. I do believe that COMMON SENSE, WISDOM, and TRUST can help us create a path forward to improve schools for all students and life for us all. And that — dear friends and colleagues — is always the goal.

Now back to 1984, when I was living in the Boston area and heard Stephen Hawking, the scientist — actually a theoretical physicist — speak at a science teachers conference at the Sheraton Hotel. I wasn’t a science teacher. But I wanted to hear Stephen, whom I considered to be a friend in the physics community, as my husband is also a theoretical physicist.

Hawking, who died in 2018, was very famous. He inspired people all over the world, especially as he did great physics even as he had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), a debilitating disease that confined him at that time to a wheelchair and to needing the help of others to communicate.

Yes, he was inspiring. Do you remember reading and hearing about him?

I’ve never forgotten that 1984 presentation at the science teachers convention. His wise words and astonishing delivery have stayed with me. Today, I want to share them with you.

Stephen’s delivery was super slow — each word articulated carefully through the help of his students and caretakers who could interpret his lip motions, as I recall, before the next word — so slow that I actually could hear and process every word and write down all that he said. While I don’t recommend that we all speak and present this way, it is something to think about. It was a most superb way to share ideas. I could digest them as Stephen went along because he was speaking so slowly. Imagine that!

In terms of what he said, I heard WISDOM and COMMON SENSE. His talk was about living with a disability and he closed his remarks this way: “I find that people in general are very ready to help, but you should encourage them to feel that their efforts to aid you are worthwhile by doing as well as

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA, is a reformer, thought leader, lawyer, and author. Check out her book, Special Education 2.0 and her medicine bottle art!