Universal Mentors Association

Film Club: ‘I Stutter. This Is What You’re Not Hearing.’


About three million Americans — or almost 1 percent of the population — speak with a stutter. President Biden has spoken openly about the embarrassment and pain of his severe childhood stutter.

I Stutter. This Is What You’re Not Hearing.” is an eight-minute film from the Times’s “Adapt-Ability” Opinion Video series inviting audiences to confront discomfort with disability. It profiles John Hendrickson, who stuttered nearly his entire life. Working with the filmmaker James Robinson, he explores the obstacles and emotional burden of his condition and explains the coping strategies and workarounds he has devised to make it through the day in a world that demands that we speak up and speak clearly.

The film suggests that the problem may lie not with people who stutter but with a society that is largely unprepared or disinclined to accommodate them.

What can we learn from Mr. Henrickson’s story? How can we all help fight the stigmas and shame that surround disabilities like stuttering?


1. Watch the short film above. While you watch, you might take notes using our Film Club Double-Entry Journal (PDF) to help you remember specific moments.

2. After watching, think about these questions:

  • What questions do you still have?

  • What connections can you make between this film and your own life or experience? Why? Does this film remind you of anything else you’ve read or seen? If so, how and why?

3. An additional challenge | Respond to the essential question at the top of this post: How can we better understand and fight the stigmas and shame that surround disabilities like stuttering?

4. Next, join the conversation by clicking on the comment button and posting in the box that opens on the right. (Students 13 and older are invited to comment, although teachers of younger students are welcome to post what their students have to say.)

5. After you have posted, try reading back to see what others have said, then respond to someone else by posting another comment. Use the “Reply” button or the @ symbol to address that student directly.

6. To learn more, read “Americans Who Stutter.” David Leonhardt writes:

About three million Americans — or almost 1 percent of the population — speak with a stutter.

For some adults, the stutter is fairly mild and has receded since childhood; President Biden falls into this category. For others, the stutter remains severe; John Hendrickson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, is part of this group.

Over the past few years, Hendrickson has been on something of a mission to educate people about the condition. The role does not come easily to him. He is a journalist, not an activist. Last week, on the night before The Times’s Opinion section published a video about him, he told me he was feeling nervous about the response it would receive.

The video is excellent, and I hope you can find the eight minutes to watch it. I also want to devote today’s newsletter to some of the main points from Hendrickson’s recent work.

Stuttering is one of many disabilities that Americans once treated with disdain. But the disability-rights movement, which took off in the 1970s and ’80s and more recently includes activists like Alice Wong, has helped change attitudes toward human diversity. Of course, not everything has changed.

Discrimination against disabled people — sometimes unthinking, other times deliberate — remains common. For stutterers, it can take the form of assumptions that the condition stems from anxiety or intellectual weakness. It is neither. It is a genetically influenced neurological condition.

Want more student-friendly videos? Visit our Film Club column.

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.


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