Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Deaf Culture

The feedback on my Reading and Deafness post led to a bit of Internet hopping to sites focusing on issues in deaf education. Once again I was struck by opposing perspectives that influence and shape how deaf children are taught.

Delpit describes literacy as being part of a larger political entity and this is certainly true in the field of deaf education. Literacy encompasses not only reading and writing but reflects how it is situated within a larger context. Educational policies and curricula for deaf children closely reveal larger societal views towards deafness. These are represented in the two divergent approaches in teaching methodologies and modalities, namely the oralist and manualist approaches that influence how deaf children are educated in the United States.

Simply put, the oralist perspective is based on a medical view which sees deafness as a deficit.  From this standpoint deafness is something that needs to be corrected, fixed or cured. According to King and Quigley, the dominant hearing culture has historically held the belief that "deaf people were intellectually inferior to hearing people and showed definite deficits in various aspects of cognitive functioning". This is in line with an oralist stance.

This deficiency model is challenged by deaf individuals and linguists who promote a cultural perspective incorporating art, American Sign Language, shared experiences, lessons and myths.  The shift from "can't" to "capable" has a huge impact on the education of deaf children. It became apparent from my reading that these passionate debates continue to rage on.

As I jumped around the Internet I also read statements voicing the opinion that deaf individuals who use American Sign Language and immerse themselves in Deaf culture refuse to join a hearing world and are therefore choosing to remain isolated and separate from society.  This is a bit like saying that my German grandparents who belonged to a German club and spoke German were Nazis. They weren't.  And deaf individuals who celebrate Deaf culture are not anti-hearing or shunning mainstream society.

America celebrates and recognizes many cultures, why should this be any different?

Note: Click here for an interesting related article in


Anonymous said...

Nice:) reminds of this blog

Most deaf want to be use a language as anyone else. ASL allows them to express themselves like poetry. Or manipulate/play with languages visually like you do with puns (spoken/auditory) . They don't like lack language ability holding them back, but spoken (linear auditorily) language sometimes do.after all i am profound deaf, oral only since birth and even i have a hard time writing.

Pauline said...

If only those sticking labels on people could realize their own deficiencies...

It seems to me that there are as many ways to teach children as there are children to be taught. To assume that when one lacks a sense such as hearing or sight it somehow makes one deficient negates every coping mechanism a human being is capable of. Kudos to you for finding ways to help deaf and hard of hearing children navigate the wold of "knowing" adults!

Gary said...

Anon - Good call on the link. I agree. Thanks for sharing your insights and thoughts on this topic. You grew up oral and I am assuming your parents are hearing. Did you learn ASL later on?

Pauline - Why do we not teach at the same school????? I would love to send my kindergarten/first grade students to you. What a seamless transition. Any chance you want to move to NYC and teach at a school for the deaf?

Anonymous said...

My parents are hearing. I have a deaf oral older sister as well. I grew up with phonic ear and phonak hearing aids and use lipreading along with it. Yes I am learning ASL, mostly for my kids (having another baby soon) as communicating is very important and they get frustrated with me as I am with them. I have CI for over 9 years but my brain is wired as hearing aid user

Gary said...

Anon - I have deaf friends who grew up oral and learned ASL later. Different things work for different people and I am an advocate of the "whatever works" approach. As long as ALL the options are put on the table. I take issue with oralists who poison confused parents minds against ASL. I don't think they have the best of intentions.

Congrats on the baby :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, and I realize ASL does not work for everyone. All it matters if the parents know their options.

Yeah, people worry if ASL effect their child but even though English and ASL are two different languages, they still can share the same concepts (not always as some things can be best explained in their own language). It can work, at least i believe it can co-existent together yet seperate...(geez, i feel like I writing about trinity but anyway, you know what I mean)

I was using homesigns (pointing and gesturing) before my first set of hearing aids at three. Didn't speak until my hearing aids too..I am totally deaf without them, i can only hear a faint,muffled big dog barking if he is still in the same room. So thats why i didnt speak until hearing aids. I still use home signs and gestures and handwritten notes. just wish it was more advanced than that.


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