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Teaching from the Heart and Soul

The Robert F. Panara Story

Harry G. Lang

Publication Year: 2007

Robert F. Panara lost his hearing from spinal meningitis in 1931 at the age of ten. However, he could read and write, and with his friends’ help, Bob (as he was known), made it through high school. His new solitude created a new passion – reading, reading, and reading. The stage was set for the emergence of one of the great deaf educators in modern time, a life fully captured in Harry G. Lang’s Teaching from the Heart and Soul: The Robert F. Panara Story. Bob Panara’s many achievements began after his discovery of Gallaudet College in the 1940s. There, he wrote “The Significance of the Reading Problem,” which first expressed his belief that teaching “comes from the heart and soul.” The article secured him his first job at the New York School for the Deaf in White Plains. Bob returned to Gallaudet to teach from 1949 to 1967, when he left to help set up the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) and the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD) in the same year. He continued to expand arts and literature at NTID until his retirement in 1987. Bob Panara’s genius resides in the people he inspired with his vivacious teaching style. He believed ardently in involving students, that they should “be the book.” Former students tell story after story about his fabulous interpretations of drama and poetry, a legacy confirmed by his own story in Teaching from the Heart and Soul.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Series: Deaf Lives Series

Title Page

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pp. i-iii

Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iv-v


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

This adventure in narrating the life of Robert F. Panara began one evening in late August 2002. My wife, Bonnie Meath-Lang, a professor of performing arts and literature, and I joined Bob and his wife, Shirley, at a baseball game to watch the Rochester (New York) Red Wings, the city’s Triple A farm team. We were about a week away from the start of the school year, and this was our...

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pp. xix-xx

To my wife, Bonnie Meath-Lang, a thousand thanks for our many discussions while I worked on this book—from everything about theater and poetry to the passion we share with Bob Panara for teaching deaf students. To John, Janis, Erin, and Bill Panara, and Bob’s sister Eleanor Lynch, your reminiscences...

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pp. 1-3

On a sunny afternoon in May 1931, ten-year-old Bob Panara and a neighbor, Gene Abbati, took the elevated interborough train to Yankee Stadium from where they lived on 231st Street and White Plains Road. The El was much nicer than the trolley car, with a panoramic view from the high rails of the Upper...

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The Silent Hours Steal On

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pp. 4-24

During the months after Bob became deaf—on his mother’s birthday, January 19, 1931—his father tried many things to restore his son’s hearing. Some attempts were painful. All proved futile. For several weeks, a doctor gave Bob injections that caused his body to become alternately too hot or too cold....

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Finding a Deaf Identity

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pp. 25-31

After graduating with a New York Regents diploma from Clinton in June 1938, Bob joined his parents and sister in Somerset, Massachusetts, where Eleanor was attending a school run by French Canadian nuns. The Great Depression was still taxing family finances. Bob knew that going off to college might be too...

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On the Carpet

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pp. 32-38

Bob’s ASD yearbook for 1940 described him as a “great dreamer,” “which accounts for his talent for tardiness.” He had adjusted well to the challenges of developing a “Deaf identity.” He was even designated the class poet,” and he wrote a tribute in verse to the school, which helped prepare him well for college...

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The Laureate of Kendall Green

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pp. 39-44

Bob went from one extreme to another in his freshman year. He became involved in approved social activities. He was elected to various offices within the student body, and he developed a nearly fanatical case of loyalty to Gallaudet. It was like a switch had been flipped in his brain, triggering a new...

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The Significance of Reading

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pp. 45-51

While Bob’s passion for poetry remained undimmed in his senior year, he had realized that he could not emulate a life as fanciful and carefree as that of the poet Shelley. Everyone in the United States was preoccupied by World War II. Many of Bob’s classmates were leaving college to support the war effort. Hundreds...

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Sculptures in the Air

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pp. 52-56

The summer after graduation passed rather quickly for Bob. He knew that it might be his last opportunity to spend significant time with his parents and sister in Somerset. Like all Americans, his family closely followed the developments in the war. As a student at Gallaudet, Bob had devoured Ernie Pyle’s “GI Joe”...

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In Front of the Classroom

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pp. 57-65

Bob’s Gallaudet classmates remember him in their senior yearbook as a “scholar and troubadour . . . with a penchant for Romanticism.” The “heart and soul” had begun to show in his own compositions. Gone was his dream of a life like Shelley’s. Indeed, the world that Shelley had known had been...

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On His Deafness

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pp. 66-70

As Bob’s first year at Fanwood drew to a close in the spring of 1946, he sat alone in his room one Friday evening and reminisced about his college days. Opening his copy of Elizabeth Drew’s Discovering Poetry, he thought about a Christmas evening in 1944 when Professor Powrie Vaux Doctor had bequeathed...

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Go with Your Heart

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pp. 71-90

Shortly after Bob began teaching at Fanwood, he applied for admission to the New York University Graduate School in the College of Arts and Sciences. Doc had discussed the possibility with Bob while he was a student at Gallaudet, and Bob, taking life one step at a time, looked to such further study as a...

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Return to Kendall Green

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pp. 91-110

Upon arriving in Washington, Bob and Shirley drove to Doc’s big “House #7” on Faculty Row on Gallaudet’s campus, the first floor of which he shared with his chronically ill mother. Francis Higgins, another Gallaudet professor, lived with his family on the second floor. Bob and Shirley moved into a two-room...

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Fiat Lux!

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pp. 111-123

The contrast between Bob and the hearing Ph.D.’s being hired at Gallaudet was striking. Although Bob did not have a Ph.D., it was his class that visitors would flock to in order to see excellence in teaching. Colleagues stopped by to see why their students were so enthusiastic about Bob’s style. Professors in the...

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Mending Wall

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pp. 124-130

Change was indeed on Bob’s horizon. In early November 1965, he received a letter from John Gardner, U.S. secretary of education, inviting him to serve on a National Advisory Board for the establishment of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), a new college being planned with an emphasis...

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Field of Dreams

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pp. 131-150

The cinema hit Field of Dreams is a fascinating baseball story, an adaptation of W. P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe, about a mystical cornfield in Iowa that is transformed into a baseball field where the likes of Shoeless Joe Jackson, his teammates from the infamous 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal, and other

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Nothing Great—Without Enthusiasm

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pp. 151-173

The Drama Club quickly brought attention to NTID as a new source of theater in the Rochester community. The club began with short skits put together rather quickly, with only seven to ten days of rehearsals. Mimes, dances, and songs were common. Every academic quarter, the club offered a two-hour show and...

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Being and Reading

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pp. 174-187

In a 1974 video of Bob teaching the elements of poetry, he asks his class to read John Masefield’s “The West Wind.” He guides them toward an understanding of alliteration in the first line: “It’s a warm wind, the west wind, full of birds’ cries.” They discuss their own experiences in using their senses to feel wind...

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Defining Moments

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pp. 188-195

Throughout the 1980s, Bob’s honors piled up. In 1985 MacMurray College in Illinois presented him with an honorary doctorate of public service at its commencement exercises. In 1986 William Castle was especially pleased to have the opportunity to announce at the banquet for an NTID/Gallaudet...

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Making a Pitch

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pp. 196-211

It is no surprise that Bob often connected his passion with baseball and his love for poetry. As Nicholas Dawidoff writes in one of my favorite books, Baseball: A Literary Anthology, “Baseball, the most beloved of American sports, is also the most poetic. Its rhythms are those of the seasons. Its memories are savored,...

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Rustle of a Star

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pp. 212-221

Bob’s fight for Hoy’s induction was just one of many projects in retirement. He never intended that “retirement” would mean “leisure.” “I wonder if I’ll get to see as much of Shirley, and the country, as we hoped by retiring,” he wrote to Ralph Hoag, former superintendent of the Rochester School for the Deaf. It...

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Heart and Soul

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pp. 222-234

For more than three decades, I have been teaching a methods course for aspiring teachers in the NTID Master of Science in Secondary Education program. For many of those years there was little research to guide us. What should be emphasized in such a course? In 1990, as part of the Teaching Research Program...

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pp. 235-238

In 2005 Bob told me a fish story about how in 1953 he had landed a ninety-six-pound tuna while on a boat with his dad in Cape Cod Bay. Knowing that I would pressure him to provide some evidence, he accompanied it with a newspaper clipping that included a photograph of himself, his dad, a friend...


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pp. 239-255


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pp. 257-261

E-ISBN-13: 9781563683893
E-ISBN-10: 156368389X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563683589
Print-ISBN-10: 156368358X

Page Count: 282
Illustrations: 20 photos
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Deaf Lives Series

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Acting teachers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Poets, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Deaf authors -- United States -- Biography.
  • Panara, Robert.
  • Deaf -- United States -- Biography.
  • Teachers of the deaf -- United States -- Biography.
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