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Letters Mask of Irrelevance (A reply to the Annals review of The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community) Why would a book awarded a prize by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and hailed by the press in terms like "powerful, tightly-reasoned" (New York Times, Konner, 1992) and "an exciting breakthrough" (TheNation, Davis, 1992) be lambasted in the pages of the Annals? Why would the book's author, who has received three awards from the NAD, be called by the Annals "arrogant...toward deaf people" (Moores, 1993, p. 4)? True, the Annals is the house organ of the establishment for deaf education, so a very favorable review of The Mask of Benevolence in its pages could be embarrassing for the book, which calls current educational practices with deaf children "disabling." But how to explain the excoriating review in the March issue of the Annals, its lengthy disputes about footnotes and references, its willful misinterpretations, and its personal attack on the author? Mask is a work of social irony (p. 242). The procedure of irony is to examine familiar premises in a new light, thus exposing the choices that have been made. Mask invites the reader to imagine a different world in which culturally deaf children are not conceptualized in audiologic terms, and the fundamental construction of deafness proceeds in terms of language, culture, and history. Debunking and negativity are inherent in the ironist's method, for in questioning the conventional wisdom, the ironist implies the professionals are either naive or disingenuous: either they are unaware that their wisdom is merely one convention, or they know it and choose to keep it to themselves. Because Mask presents matters from a perspective so different from the dominant one in the profession, it is bound to be seen as the work of a presumptuous outsider. The professional cannot afford for long to stand outside of the framework within which action occurs: the psychologist has tests to give, the teacher classes to teach. The ironist, on the other hand, stands at a maddening distance from the fray, intimating other possible strategies. Thus, it is understandable that the editor of the Annals finds Mask arrogant . In response, however, Donald Moores does not address Masks social irony; in six pages he never discusses what a change in the dominant construction of deafness might offer special educators. The reviewer is, I think, baffled by the book's relativizing what he (and his publications) have always taken as given—the pathology of childhood deafness. In short, Mask extends an invitation to a journey and Moores declined it. Hence, in an important sense, Moores has not read Mask and cannot review it pertinently. Moores dons instead a mask of irrelevance . Just as educators have recast the suppression of ASL as a dispute about methods, so Moores attempts to evade Masks criticism of educational practices with diversionary tactics. What the tirade is designed to do is to allow educators to dismiss Masks unwelcome criticism, which, I take it, rings all too true (otherwise , why not address it directly?). Moores wants to defend the way things are now. He acknowledges that much was wrong in the past, even the recent past, in deaf education, but now, he would have us believe, that nasty business has gone away—or nearly; and he cites Frank Bowe's (1991) glad report on federal response to the recommendations of the Bowe Commission on the Education of the Deaf. In brief, most everything's fine with deaf education now, so leave us alone. Moores doesn't know about or chose not to mention the powerful indictment of federal response in the 1992 testimony of the NAD to the House of Representatives , which affirmed that there is "a national crisis in the education of deaf and hard of hearing children in the United States" (National Association of the Deaf [NAD], 1992, p. 1) and went on to list numerous unmet educational needs of deaf children, as follows. Deaf children need appropriate early intervention so they receive full access to language; they need valid tests of their strengths and weaknesses; they must have access to top-quality residential schools, and no deaf child should be...


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pp. 316-321
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