Roger Shaw, 79, taught dyslexic children

July 20, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Roger M. Shaw, a retired teacher of dyslexic children and wounded combat veteran of World War II, died of complications from congestive heart failure and diabetes Wednesday at his North Baltimore home. He was 79.

Born and raised in Glenolden, Pa., as a young man he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was hit in the back by shrapnel at Iwo Jima and awarded the Purple Heart.

He later said, "I needed to go to war to learn about peace."

While recuperating from back surgery for his wound in California, he decided to dedicate his life to teaching. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Temple University in Philadelphia, and completed course work toward a doctorate at New York University, where he also taught.

In the late 1950s, Mr. Shaw was educational director of the New York region for the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Friends said he marched alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. protesting racial segregation in Mississippi. He also interviewed Dr. King for a radio program.

Mr. Shaw then taught English and social studies in public high schools in Frederick, New York state and in Middlebury, Vt. In Vermont he befriended the poet Robert Frost, who addressed Mr. Shaw's students.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was chairman of the sociology department of Frederick Community College.

Friends said he was fired because of his leadership in a faculty movement protesting working conditions at the school. His dismissal and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to win reinstatement in the courts were covered by newspapers there, they said.

In 1978, he joined the faculty of the Jemicy School in Owings Mills at the urging of one of its founders, the late Margaret Byrd Rawson, a pioneer in educating dyslexic children. He taught social studies at Jemicy until retiring in 1997.

"He became much more than a teacher in the lives of his dyslexic students and younger faculty members. He was animated and colorful as well as outspoken and often opinionated," said a friend and Jemicy colleague, Mark Westervelt.

"His energy was reflected in his classroom, where he amplified building confidence through public speaking. He taught students a most cherished right, the freedom of speech, and the ability to express oneself. He resonated unbelievably with his students," Mr. Westervelt said.

Mr. Shaw created high expectations within his classroom and challenged students to go beyond average effort. Friends said he was a firm believer in hands-on education.

Colleagues said he taught geography to younger children through making globes and singing the song, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." He portrayed historical characters during school events, weaving facts into skits and demonstrations.

In 1995, he spent a semester in London at Jemicy's sister school, Fairley House, and taught U. S. history and westward expansion to British children by having them dress as and learn the customs of American Indians.

Mr. Shaw, with fellow faculty members, began annual field trips to sites in Massachusetts and the mountains of Western Maryland. A good cook, he taught students to cook over an open fire and eat lobster. He shared stories of his friend Mr. Frost around the campfire.

On weekends he held court and greeted former students at a table at a Starbucks in Mount Washington. He drove a yellow Jeep Wrangler, and, accompanied by his cocker spaniel, Jolly, waved to many around the streets and stores of Roland Park. He enjoyed gardening, bird watching, collecting antiques and making martinis. He also researched the life of Benjamin Franklin.

After retiring, Mr. Shaw remained active in what is now called the Dyslexic Tutoring Program and the International Dyslexia Association. He consulted privately with many former students and families on college placement and testing.

He was an adviser to two emerging schools for dyslexic children, Friendship School in southwestern Baltimore County and Radcliffe Creek School in Chestertown.

In a memoir, he wrote, "I have been described as a curmudgeon, storyteller, funny and charming. According to many of my students my classes were lively and not boring. Perhaps they were not boring because I hated to be bored."

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Sept. 18 at Jemicy School, 11 Celadon Road.

Mr. Shaw is survived by two sisters, Mary Jane Snell of Phoenixville, Pa., and Joan Flannery of Stevens, Pa., and four nieces and two nephews.

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