Guide Dog School Chronicles II: Are We Not Adults?

Throughout my life, I have attended a lot of events that required living in a dormitory or hotel like situation.  I resided in dormitories for a while during college, I’ve attended a few million conferences filled with loads of other blinks staying in the same hotel, I went to YMCA summer camp and have attended various retreats, conventions and other gatherings where a bunch of we blinks had to live together.  

Never, however, before attending guide dog school, had I ever found myself in such a strict and structured environment.  As I mentioned in the first entry in my guide dog school chronicles on my arrival there, I feel that I do not have the vocabulary to praise the staff at Southeastern enough.  The crew there is, in my book, a bunch of fucking saints and deserves all of the respect and gratitude that I contain for their tremendous efforts.  The current staff, though, is not responsible for some of the weird rules that we blinks get scolded for breaking from time to time.

Southeastern established itself some time more than 40 years ago and, perhaps, back then, the people who wrote the rules did so as, being well meaning sighted folk, they felt we blinks might need extra protection from ourselves and each other.  This was also the period when Seeing Eye, up in New Jersey, required blinks to wear coats and ties to meals so as to learn social graces.  I’m told by friends who have attended virtually all other guide dog schools in the US that these rules are common to most if not all doggie schools so Southeastern is not unique in this, to me, bizarre tradition of treating blinks like children.

My upbringing and education taught me to question everything.  This belief system comes from the core of the scientific method and rose out of the philosophy of the enlightenment.  Hence, I don’t accept authority for authority’s sake and have spent many years in classrooms challenging concepts presented by teachers, professors and such.  As a manager, I would scold any staff member for not challenging an idea I would present if they saw a hole in my logic.  I believe in deferring to the expert and that one’s title does not mean that they know more about a specific topic than the most junior person on a staff.  At FS, our team worked in a highly integrated manner and nearly every engineer had his or her fingers in everyone else’s projects as they all brought different things to the table.  Thus, my acceptance of self governance, self guided experiences and personal accountability is endemic to my personality.  I am and will always be a personal anarchist.

Thus, when I received my first scolding, for using profanity, I thought the experience was quaint but weird.  When I received my second, for discussing Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the civil rights of blinks to ride busses with our dogs, I found myself thoroughly puzzled.  When someone explained that we were not allowed to discuss politics or topics of controversy, I was stunned.  Aren’t we adults?  

Shortly after my controversial statements on civil rights (note, I didn’t think Martin or Rosa were controversial but this class did have a lot of students from the American south), I figured out why this rule applied: the LMR (loudmouth redneck) decided to present us with a monologue on how much of a non-racist he actually is and did so by using relatively racist statements which certainly offended me and likely offended others.  I apologized to the staff member who had scolded me as I realized I had started a situation that might be hard to control.

On the other hand, I’ve had all sorts of political discussions with blinks from all points on the belief spectrum at ATIA, CSUN and other conferences without anyone scolding me or the others involved in the debate.  All of the students were adults and I found a bit of discomfort being forced to avoid controversy.  At the same time, I understood how “difficult” topics could cause friction and, therefore, make the jobs of the staff even harder than they were at the outset.  Thus, I found myself in an intellectual quandary: does maintaining order and good will among the students trump our freedom to free and open discourse?

As someone told me that religion should also not be discussed, I avoided the topic.  Of course, how many ecumenical polytheists could there be in a group of 11 people at a guide dog school?  Hell, how many other students would understand my rather rare belief system?  I found one and that conversation came in private and included all kinds of topics and we agreed to keep this communication secret so as not to bring down the wrath of the censors.

My next scolding came when a staff member determined that I had a woman in my room.  Now, if this woman and I had met at an NFB convention while drinking alcohol (also prohibited at the school) and returned to one of our rooms and, consensually engaged in completely unspeakable acts, there would not have been an organizational problem.  Such behavior might cause personal trouble as I’m not certain how my wife would have reacted if such activities occurred and she learned about them but, even though we were not allowed to discuss such acts at the school, the woman and I are both in our mid-forties and if adultery is what we want, adultery is what we should get.  We are, after all, adults, if we were accused of “childrenery” that would make us perverts and criminals.  We were, for the record, sitting on opposite sides of the room, fully clothed and listening to the DVS of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” stream from the Freedom Box Network.  This woman was the first student to whom I introduced my wife and was my table mate at all of our meals.  Finally, I won’t flatter myself by assuming that this woman would have held any romantic thoughts about a crusty old nerd like me anyway.

Nonetheless, the staffer informed us that such behavior was prohibited as people (other students) might start rumors about us.  My friend and I decided to ignore this rule and, presumably, the staff assumed we were incorrigible and there is probably some kind of permanent mark on my record that will follow me for the rest of my life, just like the one I got for kissing a girl named Lois in the second grade.

I actually remember the last time I received a scolding for being with a girl, in a bedroom at a time that the authority figure found inappropriate.  It happened in the summer of 1972 and my friend Linda’s mom suggested that we would have more fun in the pool than in the bedroom.  Thinking back on that day, we did have more fun in the pool than the room and, had Southeastern a pool or hot tub, we might have been there instead of my room in the dormitory.

Back to the core topic, though, I was 12 years old when Linda’s mom suggested we play Marco Polo instead of Truth or Dare.  I would turn 46 two weeks after being admonished for having a woman in my room at guide dog school.  Once again, though, I can see the logic to this rule (this is probably the nastiest thing about being me – I can often see both sides of everything and tear myself apart trying to decide which way I should fall).  In this case, nasty rumors might have made my guest uncomfortable or, more aptly, may have resulted in other students treating us poorly out of some kind of jealousy.  We certainly didn’t want to disrupt the dynamic between the students but hanging out with a friend to listen to a movie is probably an inalienable right, isn’t it?  We would have even have left the door open if it would have been possible to hear our movie over the constant drone of the LMR.

I guess this essay points to a weird aspect of my personality that I do not know exactly how to feel.  I find that a set of rules to maintain order among adults rather insulting to our ability to act like adults.  I also find that rules that only apply to blind students that get enforced entirely by sighted people to rub me poorly.  Such rules never applied in dormitories when I went to college, certainly do not apply at conferences and conventions and, to my knowledge, have not applied to me in any situation since that day in August 1972.

Thus, I find myself torn between ideals like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and the need to maintain order in the already difficult situation that is a guide dog school.  Deconstructing the situation, we have two trainers assigned full time per class, one house mother and a handful of other staffers.  These people are charged with the task of training, in our case, 11 blinks to use guide dogs.  Each of these 11 blinks comes packing their own pile of fears, doubts and insecurities.  The trainers also come with their own personalities which deserve the respect of the others.  We students can place tremendous demands on the staff which will certainly cause them a lot of stress.  At the same time, we blinks are confined to a dormitory with a bunch of people we don’t know, have just received a new animal who will become an integral part of our lives for years to come and, consequently, feel enough anxiety to blow the roof off the building.

So, I can’t say I know the right answer.  Should rules that seem appropriate for a cub scout camp apply to adult guide dog school students?  Quite frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to answer this question and that I don’t run a guide dog school.  Obviously, the anarchist in me says let blind adults live like adults.  The organizational behavior side of me says that such rules are necessary lest the stress, which already reaches peaks that bring many students to tears, completely overload everyone involved.


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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

5 thoughts on “Guide Dog School Chronicles II: Are We Not Adults?”

  1. I totally understand where you’re coming from. I don’t know, I was only at Guiding Eyes in New York, and I don’t think the rules were that oppressive. I know there was a romance going on and I believe the staff pretty much ignored it, and it didn’t seem to cause any problems. I don’t think I would attend a school that was so strict on it’s rules. I think it should be as if you are attending college. It is against most colleges’ pollicies to get totally drunk in the dorms, for example, but most of the time a little drinking is allowed. When it gets right down to it we are all adults, as you say.

  2. I’ve been to Guide Dogs for the Blind twice now to get dogs and found the rules more relaxed the 2nd time around. That might be because we were re-trains, all older adults and the class was small. The first time I went we had several college aged people in the class and it felt more restrictive. The school has a lot to balance, the well being of all students, respect for everyone and the beliefs they have, running an effecient program and insuring that when you leave some big public relations problem doesn’t come up. Still, the rules you speak of sound really off the wall and I’d leave if subjected to them. The main thing to remember is that we are all adults and as such should be treated in that way. I can not believe that a school once made students dress in a coat and tie. That’s not practicle or reasonable and not going to teach me any social graces. I’m focused on my dog and working well with him so i could care less about myself!

  3. The only blind school setting i ever went to was a place called DPI in L.A.

    It was to be a 3-9 month program to teach me how to be a proper blind person. I have only been blind for five years, and this was two years ago.

    so I thought being that I have been blind for three years, there must be somthing I could have learned that I didn’t self teach myself.

    believe me, I lasted for two weeks, and I got some pretty tail out there.

    once I had my room mate dude, stand guard incase the mother hen try to find us, while I was banging this woman in my room. and me and that particular woman had at it for the entire two weeks I was there. annd it took allot of fun, interesting work too, liike jumping over brick walls, feel my way down an alley way and cralwing through some bushies and nocking on a glass sliding door.

    and the other woman was just two times, once in the upstairs little computer library on the floor and then at 2:00 A.M thhe same night out on the commons.

    and finally when I diid get caught, was upstairs in a rec room the woman was actually stripping for me and I had my hand between her legs and the mother hen for the night, actually screamed my name and pulled me out and scolded me very harshly.

    we instead went in to the alivator for ten minutes for a little fun.

    after two weeks of my shannagans I was discharged as “Not suitable for a blind program such as what they offered”

    and being that I already knew braill, A.T, and O&m, I could take cooking classes some where else!

    So, I was kicked out. lol!

  4. Those sort of rules must be a US thing. When I trained with my dog here in the UK some seven years ago the only rules we had concerned behaviour that would have a negative impact on our dogs. I do know of some blink camps here in the UK that have similar rules to the ones you describe, mainly those run by the RNIB, but fortunately they don’t extend to Guide Dogs, or at least they didn’t.

    As for the LMR, you should have tried to educate him. Doesn’t he know that modern homosapians are descendants of Africans?

  5. I have never had a guide dog so have never been to one of the guide dog schools. My roommate just received his acceptance letter last week from the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. However, I totally understand where you’re coming from. There are a few rules in my apartment building which, on the outset, may seem Draconian but they aren’t. One rule is that whenever any of us goes home for the night, we have to let our community builders know. The community builders act as emergency contacts in case anything were to happen. They also build a community around us, as the term suggests. We have to let them know when we’ll be returning back here too. Another rule is that if we the other residents have friends or family over for a night, we are to notify our community builders and they are to meet the people. I’ve never had to do this because I haven’t had anyone over to spend the night. This rule was actually developed in response to a somewhat uncomfortable situation which occurred not too long ago. We had a homeless person staying here without our knowledge. I can’t remember who eventually discovered he was a homeless person though. We are also not allowed to play loud music or anything else after a certain hour. But this last rule I think would apply in any sort of apartment setting. My living situation is a bit more structured, if you will, but more on that later.

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