why do the terms “oralist,” “oral success,” and “oral failure” make me so angry?

Over the last couple of months I have found myself objecting to the term “oralist,” at least as applied to myself. In addition, the more I contemplate the terms “oral failure” and “oral success,” the angrier I get. Why?

Let’s take “oralist” first. I can see that it’s used in a fairly general term: someone who was taught using oral methods. It’s also used to refer to people who support the use of such methods, particularly exclusively, to deaf children. The little bit I’ve read about the Milan Convention describe the two “camps” as “oralists” and “manualists.”

Well, I may have been educated orally. But it was something done to me, not a choice I made for myself, nor even one I support across the board. If I could change anything about how I was educated, I would add in sign language and access to other signing children. I do not countenance the isolation, and I do not countenance the continuation of oral therapy on a child for whom it is not beneficial.

As for “oral failure” and “oral success,” where to even begin? This truly maddens me, because these terms pass the responsibility of the outcome ON THE CHILD! No. No. No, and a thousand times NO. It is not the child’s “fault” (another loaded concept here) if speech therapy isn’t right for that child; it isn’t the child’s “success” if he or she happens to do well with speech therapy. It is strictly chance: it is the outcome of the particular combination of how a child perceives auditory input and the actual skill of the child’s teacher, neither of which the child controls.

Let me repeat this: The failure is on the part of the therapist or teacher. These people are evading their own responsibility in the breakdown of a child’s education when it turns out that speech therapy IS INAPPROPRIATE but they continue to force the child to try to comply with it.

I mean, this makes me furious. No one here is an “oral failure” (I don’t even want to use this term at all)! Many of us have had the educational system fail us. This is a crucial distinction. Some of you seem to be shrugging and saying “So what? These are just words.” Well, words and descriptions are extremely important. These particular terms are shifting responsibility away from the perpetuators to the victims and that’s simply unacceptable.

Those of us orally educated, we survived it. We all learned something from it, although what I learned and what Aidan learned were in some ways entirely different and in other ways very similar…

So. I was orally educated, and that’s it.

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12 Responses to why do the terms “oralist,” “oral success,” and “oral failure” make me so angry?

  1. ckblythe says:

    Yeah, I agree with you. It makes me wonder who came up with these terms — oral failure and oral success — have you found out the sources?

    However, another nicely written article you did!

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  2. Julie Rems-Smario says:

    Thank you! Yes we carry the burden too often. We need to get the system to hold itself accountable. Great writing.

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  3. Diane says:

    Even I speak pretty well, I had missed out ALOT during my school years til I graduated from high school. What a waste. It is not me as an Oral failure. My hometown, schools, and educators are “Listen failure”. Diane

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  4. todos la vie says:

    Hi BEG, I have a defining question…what is oral education? My brother went to John Tracy Clinic like yourself, and then to other oral training programs (Oralingua, St. Joseph Inst in St.Louis) so I know he defines himself as going to oral schools. As for me, I just went to regular classrooms without an ASL interpreter. There were self-contained classrooms, but my mom put me into the regular classrooms most of my life (I understood because I was growing there academically and estimating anyway). I took the school bus with my deaf friends and ate lunches and sometimes played recess with them, but most of my days were spent in those boring classrooms. I can still remember the spelling tests where I had to lipread the words and write the words. In junior high, I was able to enroll in some self-contained classrooms where the teachers signed, but then I was back into regular classrooms with interpreters in high school. I didn’t have much speech therapy, other than the ‘s’ and ‘z’ where the speech therapist told my mom that I needed a retainer to fix my underbite. I’m not perfect in my enunication of some words. My son helps me with some words I pronounce wrong, like for tidy, I say it with a long i, and he asked where I got that. Well, I guess I just make it up as I go along!

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  5. The definition probably varies…I would say oral education is any education that omits sign language or at least tries to get rid of ASL and focus on as much speech as possible. But there’s certainly a lot of variation and yours sounds like an oral education. I should look and see if there’s more formal definitions…

    In my case, after JTC, I simply went into regular schools (private for kindergarden, first grade; public after that) with no interpreter, etc. Just the itinerant tutor (from JTC) thereafter for speech therapy.

    Yeah, I have trouble with s and z, and sometimes f and v. Also, I say words strangely, if I’ve never heard them said, but know them from reading. Lima was my long i example!

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  6. MM says:

    There is confuson with some deaf what the hell oralism or oralkits or orals actually are, and in what context their response should be.

    Presumably oralists are people who promote oral tuition against the right, ability, or need of the deaf person. But, teaching oral recognition TO deaf children that can utilize this, is NOT ‘oralism’, nor these deaf oralists or audists either, too many lay a blanket ‘I Hate oralists’ view on everything, they say it’s targeted at hearing people, but the negativity often extends to parents, and DEAF people who use orals to communicate, it would help if critics, identified exactly who they are criticizing, because they do hurt genuine deaf people who have managed to maximize oral use, and why shouldn’t they ? Most still sign too.
    It’s very had to separate the negative view from the collective one, we know the sign user hates orals on any level mostly, but it needs proper context, if only to show their criticism is fair.

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  7. Diddums says:

    What, is that not how we’re supposed to pronounce Lima? Oh…. whoops.

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  8. You hit the nail on the head! Good blog!

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  9. Diddums: I hate English! I had to look up “long i” — I thought it was the eeeee sound but it’s the aye sound, so Lima is with an aye sound, but I always pronounce it “Leeeeema”.

    I mean, who on earth ever thought it made sense to describe sounds as long, short, whatever??? “eeeee” sounds long to me!!

    Bah 🙂

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  10. MM: I do agree that teaching children who benefit from it speech therapy — and that includes deaf children along with other children who have difficulties with speech for other reasons — is appropriate. I do not agree with it at all when the child does not benefit and when that is forced on the child is when I consider it verging on abusive.

    And then for deaf children/people generally, to deny them access to sign language — whether or not they can speak/lipread/etc — limits their full ability to comunicate and that results in various levels of neglect and/or emotional abuse.

    I am not addressing the question of abuse in a legal sense although some of the stories people have are clearly well within the legal definition.

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  11. Janis says:

    Your friendly neighborhood linguistic pedant here. 🙂 The long and short vowel distinction stems from pre-Great-Vowel-Shift pronunciations of vowels in English. Before the GWS, the only differences in the words “hat” and “hate” were that the latter had a vowel that was longer in duration. After the GVS, the long vowels all wandered around in the mouth, until the /a/ sound in “hate” was nowhere near where it had started. Only the terminology of “long vowel” remained to describe it. It’s an artifact of the GVS.

    I’m starting to think that the best way to describe an oralist is that they think it’s more important that the kid be able to pronounce seven and twelve than that they can add seven and twelve. *grumble*

    Or that how that knowledge got into the kid’s head mattesr more than its presence there. Sure, a kid at an ASL school may have the fumdamental theorem of calculus in their head, but if it got there through the eyes and not the ears, it somehow counts for less. Ridiculous.

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  12. S. says:

    OMG I do have trouble with these letters too as you quoted: Yeah, I have trouble with s and z, and sometimes f and v. Also, I say words strangely.

    YOu surely one amazing person who said it perfectly… as there’s no such thing as “orally failure” which I was in the same education system you had and I do not have any regrets about it. I’m not do the best of ASL but trying and it’s a challenge.

    Keep it up BEG… looking forward to more of your blogs..

    Orally, S. (Ontario,Canada)

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