In a perfect world, all children would have at least one teacher this special. Jeffrey Wright uses wacky experiments to teach children about the universe, but it is his own personal story that teaches them the true meaning of life.
A now yearly tradition, Mr. Wright gives a lecture on his experiences as a parent of a special needs child. His son, Adam, now 12, has a rare disorder called Joubert syndrome, in which the part of the brain related to balance and movement fails to develop properly. Visually impaired and unable to control his movements, Adam breathes rapidly and doesn’t speak.
This annual lecture about Adam, and the meaning of life, love and family is what leaves the greatest impression on Jeffrey Wright's students.
“When you start talking about physics, you start to wonder, ‘What is the purpose of it all?’ ” he said in an interview. “Kids started coming to me and asking me those ultimate questions. I wanted them to look at their life in a little different way — as opposed to just through the laws of physics — and give themselves more purpose in life.”
Mr. Wright starts his lecture by talking about the hopes and dreams he had for Adam and his daughter, Abbie, now 15. He recalls the day Adam was born, and the sadness he felt when he learned of his condition.
“All those dreams about ever watching my son knock a home run over the fence went away,” he tells the class. “The whole thing about where the universe came from? I didn’t care. … I started asking myself, what was the point of it?”
All that changed one day when Mr. Wright saw Abbie, about 4 at the time, playing with dolls on the floor next to Adam. At that moment he realized that his son could see and play — that the little boy had an inner life. He and his wife, Nancy, began teaching Adam simple sign language. One day, his son signed “I love you.”
In the lecture, Mr. Wright signs it for the class: “Daddy, I love you.” “There is nothing more incredible than the day you see this,” he says, and continues: “There is something a lot greater than energy. There’s something a lot greater than entropy. What’s the greatest thing?”
“Love,” his students whisper.
“Wright’s Law” recently won a gold medal in multimedia in the national College Photographer of the Year competition, run by the University of Missouri. The filmmaker, Zack Conkle, 22, a photojournalism graduate of Western Kentucky University is also a former student of Mr. Wright’s. He says that he made the film because he would get frustrated trying to describe Mr. Wright’s teaching style.