restricted access Why It Was W-on-the-Eyes
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WhY J+ Was W-ol1-fhe-6yes by Margaref MOl1fagL1e EDITORS' PREFACE Margaret Montague's charming story of Charlie Webster at his deaf school is always a favorite with the students in our Deaf in Literature class. This is a real story, about the real deaf experience, with real deaf people in it, and the real conditions under which most deaf people grow up. In this story, there is an underlying argument which directs the characters and action to a very specific end: that of proving that oral training has value. This is proven by what seems like a highly unique situation: Charlie Webster 's mother is blind and therefore can't communicate at all with her deaf son because he has never learned to talk. During the course of the story, Charlie does learn a word, and, for the first time, Charlie's mother hears her son "talk" to her. It is a joyful moment. In the story, the person who was opposed to oral training is convinced by this episode that oral training does, indeed, have value. On first blush, we wonder at such a conclusion because, after all, how many deafchildren have blind mothers ? Is that one rather unique situation enough to justify the oral training of all deaf children? However, there is more to this than that first blush. It all begins to have more weight to it when we realize that the whole world of hearing people is, in effect, blind, blind at least to signs, for how many hearing people will ever know signs? In this sense, Charlie's mother symbolically stands for the whole world of the hearing. If deaf people are going to communicate with them they must learn to speak or at least to use the language of the hearing world. 141 • The Twentieth Century • It is a rather simple story, with a simple message, but still, a message about a task that has inspired more debate and demanded more effort than any other task in all the schools for deafpeople everywhere in the world. In this story, then, we are at the heart of the deaf experience. WHY IT WAS W -ON-THE-EYES "I wonder why the children's sign for little old Webster should be W-on-the-eyes," Miss Evans speculated. "There's nothing peculiar about his eyes, except perhaps that they're the brightest pair in school." Miss Evans was the new oral teacher in the Lomax Schools for deafand blind children, and she was speaking ofCharlie Webster, one of the small deaf boys in her class. That was his sign, W, made in the manual alphabet, with the hand placed against the eyes. Everybody in the deaf department at Lomax had his or her special sign, thus saving the time and trouble of spelling out the whole name on the fingers. Clarence Chester, the big deaf boy who had finished school, but still stayed on working in the shoe-shop, was the one who made up the signs for the new pupils and teachers. He was rather proud of his talents in this direction , and took the pains of an artist over every sign. They were usually composed of the initial letter of the person's last name placed somewhere on the body, to indicate either some physical peculiarity, or else the position held by that person in school. Mr. Lincoln, for instance, who was the superintendent, had L-on-the-forehead, to show that he was the head ofthe whole school, and no one else, ofcourse, could have L as high up as that-not even Mrs. Lincoln. She had to be contented with L-on-the-cheek. So, in the 142 • Why It Was W-on-the-Eyes • same way, Miss Thompson, who was the trained nurse, had T-on-the-wrist, because it was her business to feel the children 's pulses. When Miss Stedman, the new matron for the deaf boys, came, she should have had S-on-the-chest, as Clarence made a habit of placing all the matrons' initials on their chests; but unfortunately, S in the manual alphabet is made by doubling up the fist, and Clarence explained to her that if a boy hits himself on the chest with his fist he is sure to hit that middle button of his shirt, and make a bruise. He had to make this rather complicated explanation in writing because Miss Stedman was new to the sign-language and finger...