Robert Coles: Humanist, Educator, Child Psychiatrist, Harvard Professor Emeritus, Civil Rights Activist…Oh So Much More!

“Where you read a book and when and with whom can make a big difference.” –Robert Coles, “The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination

Happy 84th Birthday to Robert Coles. Have you ever heard him speak? Have you read any of his books?  Oh What a Man!  I probably was introduced to him by mom, who you’ve read several times already, returned to college when I was about 6 years old and attended night school 10 years to obtain her undergraduate degree. Robert Coles remained with me throughout my career as an educator and my unending career as a parent. The above quote is quite personal; my son didn’t enjoy reading as a student, so I would read to him or we would take turns reading to each other and to this day he remembers some very wonderful books that touched his heart, i.e.: The Island On Bird Street by Uri Orlev. In fact, when he was teaching a summer school group in Brooklyn before he got an actual teaching job in NYC, he shared that book with his Chinese students; this was a Chinese student summer learning program in the Bensonhurst neighborhood in Brooklyn that prepared its students for middle school grades 6-8. That young boy who didn’t enjoy reading now loves it, went onto teach in NYC for 4 years and is currently living and teaching in India for 2 years along with his wonderful lady who is also teaching there.

Back to Robert Coles…I learned this morning that his mom was a big influence on his outlook and that she introduced young Robert to the teachings of the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day. I think I read that his mom used to get Day’s newsletter in the mail.

“Coles suggests that one’s worth is ultimately measured not by knowledge or intellect but by how one acts when no one is looking. He encourages his students to look to poetry and literature for a different and valuable perspective on the universal experiences of pain and suffering, and seems to imply that a patient’s subjective health status may be at least as important as the “objective reality” provided by sophisticated forms of medical technology…Coles urges his students to find meaning in the stories their patients tell them, even if they do not share similar cultural or literary backgrounds. Stories give us glimpses into realities we cannot articulate, choose to ignore, or have simply been too busy to notice. Although literature is not a panacea, it can offer the understanding doctors and patients yearn for through the use of image, metaphor, beauty, and epiphany. Medical students and seasoned physicians would do well to read this book. In it, Coles reminds us of the mimetic power of stories and the lessons they teach, again and again.”The New England Journal of Medicine, 11-22-90

Seems to me, that anyone going into the field of medicine or currently there should read read the book reviewed by The New England Journal of Medicine in 1990: The Call of Stories: Teaching and the moral imagination. It should be required reading.

Here is a great article to read when you have time: An Enlivening Heritage: Reintroducing Robert Coles















“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”-Anna Quindlen (How Reading Changed My Life)


I am so thankful for books on this Thankful Thursday…I can’t say it enough. As an avid reader from a very young age, reading has enabled me to travel the world; learn about other cultures; deepen my understanding of the human psyche; provided comfort and joy; provoked a myriad of feelings; kept me busy; took my mind off of other matters; and was always there…a constant in my life!  Both of my children always saw me reading and I, of course, always read to them and introduced them to the public library at a tender age; in fact my daughter, at 3, marched into the library and requested her own library card, signed her name and she was off into the larger world of books. I know we’ve all read that if children see their parents reading they’re more apt to read, but I don’t hold onto that maxim. While teaching, I introduced my students to many, many books and always read aloud to them and encouraged their families to visit the library and gave them directions on how to obtain a library card.

Yesterday, I read a book that, since I read it in a few hours, I couldn’t put down. It wasn’t the best book that I’ve read, but it held my interest: After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey, a memoir and I do recommend it. The day before that I read Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni…ok, not as good as her previous Sister of My Heart.  Today I’ll start Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs. In the house I have the fictionalized account of Zelda, Z by Theresa Fowler, but I read a few pages and will probably return it…I much prefer the real accounts I’ve read of Zelda Fitzgerald. So, do yourself a favor, visit the public library soon, pick up a book!





One Tip I Have Learned On Raising Children

“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” –Neil Postman

I have never given advice on raising children; too flawed to do that; and I’m not one of those know-it-alls who pass on advice like passing the salt. Even when I’ve been complemented on my children and how they’ve been raised, I have always said it was the luck of the draw; you can be the best parent in the world and have children that have many problems; or you can be the worst parent and somehow your kids triumph. The reality is, we never know how our children will turn out…we do the best we can, we hope for the best, but what will be, will be.

 This morning, I read a lovely post on a blog that is following me and vice-versa, by a “fellow” baby boomer, My Life in My 60s. Her most recent posting concerned raising children, listening to children and how the busyness of today’s lifestyles requires parents to truly make sure they are making time to listen to their children.  I responded to her immediately that I learned from my husband to “just listen.” Sounds so easy, right?  I also responded that asking a lot of questions might be inherited on my part, a learned behavior or might be a cultural thing that I have had to overcome; I’m really not sure. What I do know is that I can go rapid fire from one question to the next and then find out that my husband knows more than I do when it comes to the kids’ lives (who are now 30 and 28) and when I ask him how come he knows so much more, he’ll tell me, “I just listen.”  He has always just listened without judgment, without interruption, without hysteria…a wise man, a good man, an outstanding father and my soul-mate.  So I agree with My Life in My 60s about the importance of listening and making enough time to listen to our children.