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8 The Denial of Deafness in the Late-Twentieth Century: The Surgical Violence of Medicine and the Symbolic Violence of Mainstreaming The years after the Second World War saw the firm consolidation of oralism throughout the Western world and of the technologies associated with the treatment of hearing loss. In Britain, Farrar’s example continued to promote high hopes among parents and teachers of deaf students, but higher education for deaf people remained very limited. The Spring Hill School, the direct descendent of Arnold’s school, closed during the Second World War to be effectively replaced in 1946 by the newly established Mary Hare Grammar School, the first secondary school for deaf students in Britain (see Boyce and Lavery 1997). In 1955, the Burwood Park School, a secondary technical school, was opened and was supported by private subscription. The education at both establishments was firmly oral and residential, with entry through competitive examinations. The overall education of deaf children was governed by the view of deaf people as suffering a hearing loss and as being hearing impaired rather than deaf. Testing ensured that they were divided in terms of relative hearing impairment. As a result of government inquiries, special 203 ch08_GUPress_193022 3/21/02 9:28 AM Page 203 schools for the “partially deaf” were opened in Britain. By 1959, the term “partially deaf” had been replaced by the concept “partially hearing”: This change in terminology reflected the developments in audiology and electronic hearing aids which made it easier to ascertain and exploit residual hearing. In consequence, the numbers of “deaf” children declined while the incidence of “partial hearing” rose. There was also greater emphasis on “integration” and the education of hearing-impaired children in ordinary rather than special schools. (Lysons 1987, 302) Society had faith in the audiologist to measure the impairment and faith in the hearing aid technology to compensate for the loss. The hearing specialists and teachers assumed much about what the pupils could “hear” and achieve. Although academic excellence was a feature of the Mary Hare school and, to a lesser extent, the Burwood Park school, places were few, and competitive entrance ensured that those with cultural advantages of family background and, above all, who responded well to oralism, went on to higher education. Through an alliance with medicine whereby deafness became a medical pathology to be therapeutically treated, oralists deprived deaf people of their linguistic unity and thereby fostered their individuated dependence on the wider hearing society. Deaf students remained firmly institutionalized in special schools or in special units within mainstream schools, but they were divided and ruled by an increasingly complex bevy of professionals—teachers, therapists, doctors, and acoustic engineers . The increasing sophistication of audiometry in the 1930s and the assumed expertise of audiologists in determining levels of hearing ensured that deafness could be treated as an individual pathology. Professionals now assumed that no two deaf children were really equivalent in their deafness but, rather, that the individual levels of hearing loss or partial hearing could be rationally divided into groups according to educational potential. “Educational potential” meant potential to acquire spoken language through the use of “residual hearing,” enhanced by means of hearing aids. The educability of a child varied according to the degree to which the technology was assumed able to compensate for the hearing loss. In 1938, the Eicholz committee had decided that all children with a hearing loss of more than 40 decibels on the Gramophone Audiometer were outside the terms of reference of its investigation into 204 a sociological history of discrimination ch08_GUPress_193022 3/21/02 9:28 AM Page 204 “Children with Hearing Defects” and were essentially viewed as ineducable . By the late 1940s, the London School Board classified children having a hearing loss in the range of 37 to 79 decibels as “able to be educated using natural language” (Crickmore 1995, 114). “Natural language ” was, of course, assumed to be spoken English. The School as Clinic Teacher training for teachers of deaf students not only ensured that all teachers were hearing but also, in the period after the Second World War, increasingly focused on speech therapy and the use of acoustic equipment . In schools, a vast amount of time was spent fixing and adjusting hearing aids and ear molds with most of the rest of the time spent on speech therapy. Education often lagged far behind. The children with “partial hearing” remained classified as “handicapped” and, thus, as “disabled,” but they no longer had a deaf identity...


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