book review: Alone in the Mainstream

I finished reading this book a few days ago and I would highly recommend it to:

  1. people who were themselves the only deaf person in their school (for any length of time);
  2. hearing people (epecially the ones who Just Insist They Know Best about shoving deaf children into regular schools);
  3. deaf people (especially the ones who blame “oral deaf” for “choosing” not to grow up culturally deaf); and
  4. anyone with any interest in deaf issues at all

Gina Oliva was herself mainstreamed and alone in her grade school education and clearly describes what it was like for her. She also brings in the experiences of other students who were similarly isolated in the school system. So from a personal standpoint, this book spoke volumes to me about my own experiences, which I of course had always assumed were unique, not having run into anyone else so isolated. (That’s essentially the crux of this particular problem — isolated, you don’t necessarily know of the other options out there until later in life.) Critically, even if you are an academically successful solitaire (as I was — straight A’s, etc.) you are often isolated from your peers (I always only had one or two friends at a time, and rarely did group things except — exactly as Oliva notes — in athletics. As she points out, these are generally structured activities in which it’s easier to know what’s going on. Interaction is more controlled.)

She includes the stories and anecdotes from other people who were mainstreamed like we were, and she also includes the story of two children she knows: one DOD and the other with a CI. Interestingly enough, the more I learn about CI, the more I see them as simply fancier hearing aids, with very similar limitations. In fact, I’d say that CI students are going to be the new solitaires, with the same attendant issues that the mainstreamed deaf have been having all along. Which is why I think it’s a good thing that the Deaf community is more tolerant than previously about these things; I think it’s also becoming clear that the fears that these deaf with CI can never be Deaf are entirely wrong.

I think anyone interested in this topic will benefit from reading this book; there are certainly also many people who need their eyes opened who are unfortunately in a position of power over deaf children such as this closeminded twit. It’s ignorant bigots like this one that are the reason I believe that at least half the educators working with the deaf should themselves be deaf; preferably also mainstreamed so that they actually understand the real issues involved. Instead of getting all fluttery over academic scores. Notice how they do that? “Oh they’re getting good grades, so obviously everything is wonderful.” Bah. This idiot woman should take note that I think she’s full of it — and I’m a complete success by her standards! The sad thing is there are no doubt plenty of people like her.

I think what particularly enrages me about this is that there is no excuse for their ignorance. They have plenty of opportunities to actually see what is going on. I suspect that for many of these people, they simply get their rocks off on being the sympathetic and nice (but ultimately powerful) person taking care of all these helpless people. I see the same thing in all kinds of volunteer/social work (check out the attitude of social workers toward the poor some time as a perfect parallel example) or work with the “disadvantaged” and it drives me nuts.

OK, didn’t mean to go off into rantsville. I do encourage people to read this book: it’s an important additional perspective on what is all too common a deaf experience. If you were yourself a solitaire, you simply must read it…you will see yourself on every page. If you tend to think “oral deaf” are traitors, unable to be Deaf, or even the model of “successful deaf,” etc…you should read this book, too.

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