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Letter to the Editor Emerging from Our Isolation Dear Dr. Moores: Your editorial in the October, 1997 edition of the American Annals of the Deafexpressed a concern I have had for many years. Deaf education has typically paid little explicit attention to the social and political environment in which it is taking place. But as we look at the history of deaf education we find that the philosophies which have driven us generally have not come out of deaf education itself, but rather have been a reflection of points of view being promoted by the larger society. A serious outcome of our inattention to this fact has been that we have often had a myopic view of why we have made certain decisions in past years concerning deaf students and indeed why we are making some of the decisions we make today. I believe this narrow perspective is one of the reasons that the history of deaf education is fraught with bitterness and anger. The battles we have experienced have not been gentle. Without a context for understanding the origin and context of our positions we are likely to take strong absolutist moral positions. We do not realize that our positions are often reflections of our society's ever changing views of how best to deal with difficult problems. We end up fighting on ideological grounds with little consideration of the underlying causes and the larger societal values and changes that are driving our decisions. Without an adequate understanding of societal context, I think we will continue to have battles that consist of throwing moral epithets at one another. Moral disagreements lead to anger and dissention, rather than to a deeper understanding of one another. The articles published in the Annals do reflect the beliefs of the times in which they are written, but they rarely do so explicitly. For example, in looking at articles written in the 1960s you can see that there is simply an assumption that the highest goal for teaching deaf students is integration into hearing society. Nearly all recommendations for curricular changes and many of the research studies were designed to meet that goal. Today such a goal is nearly universally condemned as paternalistic and trying to make deaf people something they are not. The approbation against such a goal is dramatic and sometimes vicious. However , understanding the context of the movement is of great importance. The move toward integration was a reflection of one of the most noble changes in our society. It was a reaction to the social Darwinism of the earlier part of the century, which in its most hideous form led to the rise of genocide during Hitler's regime. In the 1960s, many in the United States were working very hard to change our cultural rhetoric from one of human beings having great differences based in "innate" characteristics, such as race, to an emphasis on the essential similarity of human beings. In deaf education it was believed that the reason deaf students were having so much difficulty integrating into mainstream society was because they had been systematically deprived of the opportunities to learn the skills needed to become part of the larger society. It was believed that the lack of opportunities had come about because of the notion that deaf people were different. The drive in the 60s than was to destroy the barriers that such beliefs created. Indeed, the research that eventually validated American Sign Language as a full, complete language in itself, rather than an inadequate version of English, had its foundation in the belief that deaf people were more like hearing people than different —and therefore their language was a complete, independent language. It is ironic that a philosophy of "we are all human and more alike than different" led to the validation of ASL, which then led to the idea that our differences are important and must take precedence in education. In our current environment the very rhetoric around Deaf versus deaf is almost translatable word for word with the arguments taking place in the African American community, indeed among differing ethnic groups throughout the world. I do not believe that a full understanding and acknowledgment...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-0375
Print ISSN
0002-726X
Pages
p. 4
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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