broken education

This article is just jaw-dropping: I’m Sorry, Your Child Is Stupid

Our experience raising Leah is not typical, not typical at all. I dare say, we have successfully raised a deaf, bilingual child.

We did it in a school environment that called us “crazy.” In Leah’s Individual Education Program (IEP), where she transitioned from Early Intervention to preschool, we were asked,

“Why do you want ASL? No one else wants ASL.”

I didn’t care what the district said, because really, we had nothing… or was it everything, to lose.

The Parent Infant Program representatives from the state agencies told us that our child would graduate from high school with a third grade reading level. Then we asked them,

“Why do you believe that a child who cannot hear does not have the ability to learn?”

We asked them,

“What are you doing wrong? What is wrong with the education of deaf children in America?

Really, go and read the whole thing first. Scary, yeah? That could have happened to me but for the sheer, blind, dumb luck that meant I was able to get an education with the oral method forced on me. A few differences either way in my life — less supportive (if not always all-knowing) parents, a touch more of dB loss on my audiogram, anything that could have made hearing aids less effective for me — and I would have also graduated high school reading at third grade levels. And I think it’s pretty clear that it wouldn’t have been because of any mental deficiencies.

And yet, because — and as long as — hearing people equate speaking with intelligence, that’s how they treat deaf children to this day.

Despite my personal educational background, I do not promote the oral method as the sole method of teaching deaf children. This is how I was taught but it was not my choice and my mother did not have full information: only deaf education professionals and doctors who all cautioned her to make sure I never learned sign language because then I would surely never be properly educated. (That’s an attitude that continues to this day, as you can see from the above article.) She fought for my admission to public schools several years before mainstreaming was opened up, informally put together what would be called IEP’s today with my teachers and so on.

But being able to hear is of no real importance to me. I think of it like a car — useful in some ways, but not central to me or who I am and on occasion problematic. And I’m not sure hearing OR deaf people quite understand this. Most hearing people take for granted a supposed desperation among deaf people to comprehend music, listen to sound. At the same time, all too many deaf people equally assume that because I wear hearing aids and do speak, I must find sound of utmost importance. Of all the people I would think would actually understand, this really disappoints me. Hearies are surrounded by sound, they grow up with it, they respond to it emotionally, it is a central sensory input for them, it makes sense to me they would overestimate its importance to me. But fellow deaf people? Oh, please.

For many deaf people, the use of hearing aids or even cochlear implants is taken as a de facto sign of colonization. Look, I understand colonization and I will tell you right now that hearing aids and CI are incidental to that. You want to know what colonization of deaf people is? DEPRIVING US OF SIGN LANGUAGE. Isolating us. Judging us continually and solely against a hearing standard. Look again at the above article and see how the deaf kids in Leah’s IEP programs weren’t even encouraged to express themselves in ASL — how even that was stomped into a dumbed down English sort of version. Good God, how many of you would seriously give feedback to a hearing child, encouraging her to describe her day as “Bike bike, play play” to describe her day? You’d never do it. But no one thinks twice about doing that to deaf children — who are obviously idiots, so we’ll treat them that way anyway.

Yes, I was colonized even though I was successfully educated & attained a reasonably successful standard of verbal communication. I didn’t get sign language. I have no native language, because English isn’t my native language — it is a language I am physically unable to fully communicate in and yet it is all I had for most of my life. I didn’t even meet another deaf person until I was an adult.

On the one hand, I’ve been criticized for “not trying hard enough” when I fail to understand something someone said. And on the other, I will never be a native ASL signer. Yes, I am now learning sign language, and am fairly proficient given that I’ve been working on it for several years and have few people to practice with (non of them native signers). I have no doubts whatsoever that had I been exposed to sign language as a child, I would be equally fluent in sign language and as skilled in using the tools I have now (hearing aids, etc). So stupidity and inability to learn are clearly not de facto associated with deafness.

But many of you hearing people don’t even think about it and assume that they are. And that has had a grievous impact on the education of deaf children for nearly 200 years.

Deaf children are like any other children in a very important respect: they want to communicate. How, exactly, they communicate, is up to the adults around them, and in my view there should be no deprivation of any form available to the deaf child for communication. Children will use what they are able to use. This means they should be no more deprived of the opportunity to learn lipreading, try hearing aids out, etc., than they should be deprived of sign language.

I was needlessly deprived of sign language. That is the colonization, the injustice I rail at. I have no particular issues with using oral methods of education for deaf children, what I have major issues with is when it is presented as the only method. (And seeing how ASL was employed in Leah’s classes, words just fail me. It’s like we can’t win for losing! I have the utmost respect for Leah’s mother for her perserverance in the face of all this crap.)

Leah, despite “access” to ASL, was also colonized in the quality of ASL presented to her. She is fortunate that her parents fought for her education, fought for her access to ASL as a full, living language. She is a deaf, bilingual child (and I’m somewhat jealous! 🙂 )

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