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4 The Formalization of Deaf Education and the Cultural Construction of “the Deaf” and “Deafness” in the Eighteenth Century As the education of people who were deaf became more formalized through the eighteenth century, the confrontation between “the universal tongue of knowledge and power” and the “vulgar,” natural language of deaf people became more complex and more overt. [N]either Bernard nor the archers nor I myself could understand what she was saying in her peasant tongue. For all her shouting, she was as if mute. There are words that give power, others that make us all the more derelict, and to this latter category belong the vulgar words of the simple, to whom the Lord has not granted the boon of self-expression in the universal tongue of knowledge and power. (Eco 1984, 330) The philosophical speculation of the seventeenth century that had found deaf people and signing so intriguing gradually gave way to less mystical, more pragmatic orientations toward people who were deaf and toward their education. The debates about the links between language and sound as well as between language and knowledge continued to involve speculation about the signing conversations of people who were deaf, but they were being encompassed by new views of humanity. 91 ch04_GUPress_193022 3/21/02 9:23 AM Page 91 Deaf people were increasingly thought of as “other”: other than human beings who had all five senses; as an other, a unitary category; and as other than rational, in need of rationalization. But no singular process was at work. According to followers of Locke, who considered human beings as being tabulae rasae at birth on which knowledge gained through the senses would be inscribed, people who were deaf were capable of as much education as their senses would allow. Dalgarno maintained that no educational limitations were imposed by their sensibility. For some, sign language was an adequate and effective avenue to knowledge; for others, access to speech was essential. For some, people who were deaf were forever deprived of effective language and effective intellectual development; for others, their development was assured through sign language, through the effective acquisition of spoken and written language, or both. According to those who followed Leibnitz, people who were deaf retained more of their mystery because they were seen not as being tabulae rasae but as possessing all the innate ideas bestowed on human beings.1 The goal was to unlock their innate ideas and give them the opportunity to effectively express and develop those ideas. Again, debate raged as to whether giving them this opportunity required teaching them speech and lipreading as well as whether instruction should be through speech or could be through sign. Nevertheless, as with madness, the orientation was toward their normalization through treatment, their rationalization through education. “The deaf” per se were being defined as the embodiment of elements of unreason and, therefore, in need of scientific intervention. Here, we continue to concentrate on the development of deaf education in Britain. We explore the continuities between the earlier philosophical orientations that were documented in the last chapter and later developments through the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century . We also, albeit briefly, compare these British processes with those in France. In eighteenth-century France, developments would take place that were to affect the education and wider conceptualization and treatment of deaf people throughout the world. These French developments have been well documented, and although our interpretation of those developments differs somewhat from the interpretations offered previously, we reflect on the French scene here primarily to place the British developments in a wider historical context. Above all, we intend to show how philosophical and pedagogical developments on both sides of the Channel reflected and contributed to the idea that people who were deaf were disabled. 92 a sociological history of discrimination ch04_GUPress_193022 3/21/02 9:23 AM Page 92 But speculation on the educability of deaf people was not confined to the meetings and transactions of the Royal Society. Educators such as Wallis and Henry Baker were not alone in developing the images of deaf people and their intellectual potential. The literary representations of people who were deaf, mute, or both that fired the public imagination of the early eighteenth century in the popular works of Wallis’s brother-in-law, also Henry Baker’s father-in-law, Daniel Defoe, linked Wallis’s philosophical “experiments” in the later-seventeenth century and Baker’s therapeutic and educational achievements in the mid-eighteenth...


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