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6 The Alienation and Individuation of Deaf People: Eugenics and Pure Oralism in the Late-Nineteenth Century In chapter 2, we discussed how professionalism and the depersonalization of disabilities generally affected the way that people regarded and treated those who were deemed to be disabled. The medical definitions that defined deafness and deaf people themselves as pathological and in need of treatment were transforming the educational goals and orientations maintained by hearing teachers, parents, and benefactors. The moral therapy movement with its personal even familial approach to the treatment of those deemed “insane” was replaced by diagnoses and treatments that divorced the individual from society and dealt with symptoms rather than with the whole person. Similarly, the missionoriented approach that characterized the education of deaf students throughout most of the of the nineteenth century would be replaced with an approach that sought to transform pupils by overcoming their symptoms—deafness and muteness—through lipreading, technological developments in hearing aides, and speech training. Again, the main agency of this process was professionalism. Professionalizing “teachers of the deaf” was a process that not only reoriented the teaching process but also drove the deaf teachers from the classrooms and challenged the authority of deaf people in other walks of life, including that of deaf missioners. 148 ch06_GUPress_193022 3/21/02 9:25 AM Page 148 Forces of professionalism would encompass the teaching of deaf students in the same way they encompassed the treatment of other forms of unreason. The new scientific professionals who emerged through the later half of the nineteenth century would distance themselves from individual suffering by conceptually separating the patient from his or her “condition.” In the same way, through this professional approach by teachers of the deaf, deafness became a pathological syndrome to be measured and dealt with therapeutically, with the teaching process itself becoming part of that therapy. Hence, we turn to the years through the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century to document the rise and consolidation of professions that were formed to deal specifically with the culturally constructed field of “disabilities ,” including “the deaf,” and with the accompanying “technopoly ” as Postman (1993) calls it—the subordination of people to technology , a process that consolidates and accentuates the alienation of the “disabling” condition from the individual. Margret Winzer writes: When Laurent Clerc (1785–1869) first stepped onto American shores, no public special institutions existed in the young nation except for a small hospital for the insane in Virginia. By the time of Clerc’s death a flourishing complex of institutions reached across North America. To Clerc, the term special education would not have been familiar; it would not emerge until 1884. But Clerc was intimately associated with efforts to assist exceptional students with settings and programs designed to cater to their unique needs. (Winzer 1993, 83; Winzer’s italics) Clerc certainly would not have seen deaf people as one with the insane, as “disabled” people in need of special education, nor would he have agreed with euphemistic references to the “disabled” as “exceptional students .” That unitary and benevolent orientation toward “handicapped people” was a result of the next hundred years of cultural “development ,” developments that lumped a host of what would have been for Clerc or Gallaudet or Watson strange bedfellows indeed—the insane, the deaf, the blind, “feeble-minded youth,” “idiotic and feeble-minded children ,” and “mentally retarded children”—as “handicapped people” in need of “special education.” The lumping of these people together was directly linked to the evolutionist and eugenicist consciousness that pervaded Western societies. Eugenics and Pure Oralism 149 ch06_GUPress_193022 3/21/02 9:25 AM Page 149 Darwinism, Evolutionism, and the Devaluation of Signing As we outlined in chapter 1, Darwin’s theories of biological evolution generated a range of theories about social and cultural evolution. These theories not only sought to understand the stages through which societies had passed in “evolving” toward their present state but also sought to classify existing races and cultures in terms of the stages they had reached in the overall evolution of humanity. Western industrial societies were assumed to be most evolved and hunter-gatherer societies such as those of Australian aboriginal people to be least evolved. By the end of the nineteenth century, the evolution of language was of particular interest to “evolutionist” anthropologists such as Edward Tylor. Theorizing about the origins of language, Tylor claimed that gesture was the earliest form of language and that speech developed...


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