Donald Graves (Inducted 1991)

University of New Hampshire (Emeritus), Jackson, NH, USA


Don Graves (1930-2010)

Comments by Jane Hansen
May 2011, Reading Hall of Fame Annual Meeting, Orlando, Florida
Don suffered from Alzheimer’s and died in September 2010 of pneumonia, surrounded by his wife Betty and their five children.
I worked with Don during the majority of my 20 years as a professor at the University of New Hampshire. In particular, for 10 years, we served as researchers, twice a week, to study students as writers in classrooms.
I will base my comments today on the title of one of Don’s first publications,
Let Them Write!

Don firmly believed that all students will write, if we let them. More so, in a sense, I think it may be inaccurate to say he believed. I think he knew that all students will write.
On my first day as a researcher with him, we were in a first-grade classroom in Somersworth. The year was 1981, and New Hampshire had yet to fund public kindergarten. Somersworth was a blue collar, factory town and none of the children in this class had ever been to any kind of school. Twenty-eight of them arrived; eight could not write their names.
Don and I met with each child and asked one question, “Can you write?” Twenty-six said, “Yes.” We said, “There is some paper over there. There are various kinds, so you decide what you want, and there are some markers, pencils, and crayons over here. You decide what you want to use, sit anywhere you want, and write!” They did.
The two children who said they couldn’t write, were the two children in the class who could already read.
Now, we will zoom ahead about ten years to the year in the early nineties when the U.S. invaded Iraq for the first time. During that time Don and I led a team of researchers in Manchester. The team included UNH graduate students and teachers from elementary through secondary, and we all met once a week, with a piece of student writing in hand, and our own one-page reflection about it.
At our meetings we each shared our updates for response from the group. At one meeting an eighth grade teacher read a poem written by a girl in her class. The girl and her older brother were a family – her brother was the girl’s entire family. The two of them rented an apartment, and he had just been called to go to Iraq. She was bereft and wrote her poem about her brother.
It was not necessarily a very well-written piece of poetry and the teacher placed a B upon it, whereupon, the girl became totally upset. Then, the teacher became totally upset – with herself – and brought her dilemma to us. Much discussion evolved, and remained woven into our team discussions for months. Throughout, Don’s voice resounded: Let them write! If the evaluation system interferes, the evaluation system must be changed. It cannot take writing from them.
Now we will zoom ahead once more, to Don’s memorial service in Portland, Maine, last October, held in an elementary school auditorium windowed to view Don’s favorite ocean.
On stage are his two youngest grandchildren, who read what they have written about their grandfather. The two children, ages 8 and 10, read from their hearts, and the audience tears.
The children continue to write….