Education professor, magician Bruce Baum to talk about humor and disabilities at URI, Nov. 17, for Honors Colloquium

KINGSTON, R.I., Nov. 6, 2015 – Teaching children with learning or behavioral challenges is rewarding, but also stressful. Education scholar R. Bruce Baum has some advice: laugh.

“Special education settings almost require humor,” said Baum. “As I go to classes and various programs, I meet teachers and students who need to lighten up.”

One of his colleagues suggested renaming the I.E.P., or individualized educational plan, to the I.F.P., or individualized fun plan.

Baum will bring his ideas to the University of Rhode Island Nov. 17 for the Honors Colloquium about “The Power of Humor.” His talk about humor and disability will start at 7 p.m. in Edwards Hall, 64 Upper College Road.

Those unable to attend the lecture can watch it live online at URI Live!

Baum is a professor emeritus in the Exceptional Education Department at Buffalo State College, creative director of Humor Creativity and a magician. He uses humor (and magic) in his classrooms and during his talks throughout the world.

“Many people in the community perceive disability with sympathetic and lamentable attitudes,” he says. “Because of that, they resist or oppose attempts to juxtapose humor and disability. Many people with disabilities and their family members are resentful or perplexed at these attitudes because they have often developed the ability to perceive humor in even the most trying circumstances.”

URI’s Office of Marketing and Communication chatted with him recently about his work – and his favorite magic trick.

What do you plan to talk about at URI?

My presentation will illustrate how people with disabilities are people first. We will examine how, in the past century, we have moved from excluding people with disabilities and laughing at them to including them and laughing with them as they participate in creating humor and laughter for others. We will also see how teachers can effectively use humor and magic as motivational and instructional tools. Audience members should come prepared to laugh.

Do you laugh a lot – in and out of the classroom?

I laugh as often as I can, as I am well aware of the physical, psychological and social benefits of laughter. There is mounting evidence that those who laugh hardest live the longest.

Do your college students do better in a class filled with laughter?

We can all recall teachers who acted like they were weaned on pickles compared to those who were funny and inspirational. Teachers and professors who use humor, creativity and magic in their teaching can help capture and maintain the attention of their students as well as apply positive strategies to foster learning and skill development. I know of no instructor who was ever criticized for being too interesting.

Why is humor important in a special education classroom?

Humor is important in all classrooms, but is especially relevant to special education settings. It can help children see their issues and life situation from a positive perspective. It can also help them learn the importance of laughing with others and not at them and how humor and laughter can balance some of life’s challenges. Teachers in special education are more prone to “burnout” as the work is challenging and progress may be slow. Humor can help them keep up their energy and excitement about teaching in the face of these challenges.

What can special education teachers do to bring humor to the classroom?

Teachers can plan to infuse humor in lessons, use humorous reading materials, including selected comic books and books on magic, create Individual Fun Plans (I.F.P.s) for students who need to “lighten up” and perform magic tricks as rewards for good behavior or work accomplished. These are only a few examples of techniques that teachers can use.

How did you get started in magic?

As a humorist, I was looking for various props to use in humor teaching and presentations. I came across “The Magic Coloring Book,” which is a simple yet visual and versatile trick. I purchased a couple of other items and then started learning tricks on my own from books, online videos and DVDs. A few years ago I joined the International Brotherhood of Magicians (and the local western New York “Ring”). We have monthly meetings where we help each other learn magic and have magicians present and teach new tricks.

One final question: What’s your favorite magic trick?

I have many favorite tricks, but I’ll take some license and mention three: The Trabucco Twist, which I learned recently; the Magic Coloring Book; and the Invisible Deck Trick.

Photo above: R. Bruce Baum, professor emeritus of education at Buffalo State College and creative director of Humor Creativity. Baum will speak at the University of Rhode Island Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. in Edwards Hall on the Kingston campus. His topic is humor and disability. Photo courtesy of R. Bruce Baum.

The major sponsor of this year’s Honors Colloquium is the URI Honors Program.

Other URI sponsors are Office of the President; Office of the Provost; The Mark and Donna Ross Honors Colloquium Humanities Endowment; The Thomas Silvia and Shannon Chandley Honors Colloquium Endowment; College of Arts and Sciences; College of Pharmacy; The Harrington School of Communication and Media; John Hazen White, Sr. Center for Ethics and Public Service; Gender and Women Studies Program; Theatre Department; Talent Development Program; College of Engineering; College of the Environment and Life Sciences; College of Human Science and Services; College of Business Administration; College of Nursing; Division of Student Affairs; Department of Marketing and Communications; Department of Publications and Creative Service; Instructional Technology and Media Services; ASF College of Continuing Education, URI Providence; and URI Family Weekend 2015.

This year’s organizers of the colloquium are Rachel DiCioccio, professor of communication studies, and Brian Quilliam, associate dean and professor of pharmacy. For more information on colloquium events contact Deborah Gardiner at 401-874-2381 or

For information about ways to support the Honors Colloquium, contact Lynne Derbyshire, URI professor of communication studies and Honors Program director, at 401-874-4732. If you have a disability and need an accommodation, please call 401-874-2303 at least three business days in advance.

For TTY assistance, please call the R.I. Relay Service at 800-745-5555.

For more details about the events, visit Honors Colloquium.