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Summer 1987 BREAKING THROUGH THE CULTURE OF SILENCE Sherman Wilcox We were simply talking in our language of signs, When stormed by anthem-driven soldiers pitched a fever by the score of their regime. They cuffed our hands, strangled us with iron reins. "Follow me! Line up! Now sit!" The captain, whip in hand, inflicts his sentence with this command: Speak! "Sh..?" Speak! "....? Speak! "..t?" Damn your chains! We'll pronounce our own deliverance and articulate our message loud and clear. And for the width of a breathe we grant each other asylum talking in our language of signs. When ... they pound, pound, pound. "Don't answer. Don't open. It's bad, don't!" The thunder rolls again. "But I want to. I want to see. Well maybe. I just want to see." So step by step we succumb our silent agreement, undone. "Come out of your dark and silent world and join us in our bright and lovely world." Look! Those whose ears work are signing. Yes, but such queer speech they shape. What waits out there? To be fair we should see more. Could it be they've rearranged their score? And one-by-one we go down the corridor of their sterile syntax, not knowing ... (excerpt from an untitled poem, Ella Lentz)' Copyright 1987 by Linstok Press, Inc. See note inside front cover. ISSN 0302-1475 SLS 55 Wilcox : 164 My presentation is unabashedly political. The message I want to leave is this: the Deaf community is an oppressed, disempowered minority. One way that power has been withheld from Deaf students is the systematic confounding of their linguistic situation. As a result the development of literacy is both a problem and a solution. One of the most crippling problems in deaf eduction today is the pervasiveness of myths surrounding Deaf people, their language, and their lives. These obscuring myths would be mere trifles if they did not have such a powerful influence on Deaf people; these mythical trivialities can determine the living realities of Deaf students. Interactionism is the framework I will use to describe the influence of myths on Deaf people's language and learning. It is based on the writings of the Russian psychologist Vygotsky (1962, 1978) as expanded by Vera John-Steiner and her associates (John-Steiner 1985, Elsasser & John-Steiner 1977, John-Steiner & Tatter 1983). The interactionist framework assumes that: (1) language is both a tool for thinking and a tool for communicating; (2) the use of language as a communicative tool can and should be studied as social interaction; and (3) language develops and is used in social-historical contexts. The strength of the interactionist approach to literacy is that it encourages us to examine how society and its myths and ideologies -- our "cultural residue" as Paulo Friere (1985) would say -- become internalized by individuals. This internalized residue affects language and the development of literacy. But because language is also a tool for thinking, the critical examination of these myths can become a means to illuminate reality. An interactionist understanding of literacy in the Summer 1987 SLS 55 Wilcox : 165 Deaf community is important for two reasons. First, interactionism readily incorporates the fact that deafness is above all not a pathological problem. Deafness is not a problem that can be "cured" by fixing and filling. Deafness is in essence a cultural problem, one that must be understood in terms of power. The central problems of Deafness and Deaf literacy are locked in the struggle for power; power defined, as Foucault would say, in terms of "who is charged with saying what counts as true knowledge" (1980:131). Second, interactionism stresses that literacy is an effective means of questioning myths. Literacy programs can "challenge the myths of our society" (Holt 1965:8). Literacy is a vehicle for liberation because it promotes critical thinking and empowerment (Giroux 1983). The radical educator, Henry Giroux, has written that if we are to understand the meaning of liberation we must first be aware of the form that domination takes by examining the historical and cultural particularities of subordinate and oppressed groups. Here I would like to explore a few particularities that shape the consciousness of deaf people...


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