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  • Philosophy of Deafness:Confluence of Special Education and Disability Studies?
  • Peter V. Paul

After re-reading my previous editorial on the philosophy of deafness (Paul, 2018), I still have the "metaphysical itch" (Post, 1991), which means, in this case, that there is always room for further dialogue on the construct philosophy of deafness. Continuation of this discussion should reiterate several important points and provide some understanding of why some people become educators or clinicians who desire to work with individuals who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing. In addition, I contend that thinking further about the construct disability should shed additional light on how a number of d/Deaf and hard of hearing individuals view their physical constitutions or—in brief—their bodies (e.g., see discussions in Ralston & Ho, 2010; Wasserman, Asch, Blustein, & Putnam, 2016). Of course, I can also relate to and participate fully in this dialogue regarding the construct disabilities. Do not let the title of this editorial or my continuing rendition of this topic push you into a realm of tendentiousness. It is critical to be open to a variety of perspectives.

One approach for continuing the evolution of one's Weltanschauung might be to uncover some nuances associated with the confluence of the field of special education with that of disability studies. I am cognizant that it might be an exercise in futility to proffer a few general principles about each broad field. And I am not so naive to think there is or should be a confluence of perspectives or philosophies from these two diverse domains. Nevertheless, if you enjoy performing meta-analyses or meta-syntheses (e.g., Ritzer, 2001), or if you are an academic educational philosopher (e.g., Noddings, 2007; Pring, 2004), or if you simply have the metaphysical itch, you really cannot stop yourself from thinking about such things.

I assume that most, if not all, of my readers are professionals and stakeholders in special education, specifically in the education of d/Deaf and hard of hearing (d/Dhh) students. (Sidebar: Think about the implications and interpretations of the wording of the acronym d/Dhh). Before discussing a few interpretative tenets of special education and disability studies, we should consider the following query: Why are you in this field of special education? Not to offend anyone, but the question could be disaggregated into several questions: Why do you want to work with or why are you working with individuals with disabilities or special needs? Do you have a strong sense of empathy; are you deeply altruistic? It could be that your involvement (passion?) is fueled by your own challenges and situations in life (e.g., a personal disability or condition; coming from a dysfunctional or otherwise difficult home environment; being a parent or other caregiver of children with disabilities). Perhaps you have this strong desire—not to help (think "helping professions"), but to empower your students or clients, to [End Page 5] facilitate the fulfillment of their potential. Or perhaps you have a vehement belief in social justice.

We may not like to think about or acknowledge this, but there might be professionals who feel a sense of power over individuals with disabilities. These professionals have a need to dictate and control—they enjoy being in charge or having tremendous influence over the lives of others. It might be that some of these professionals—for example, those who work with d/Dhh individuals—believe that they are really doing good by performing tasks in this profession such as signing, teaching, interpreting, and counseling. Perhaps these professionals obtain some sense of worth or purpose by focusing their energy on "improving" the skills or abilities of individuals with disabilities or those who are d/Dhh. In short, this type of involvement feeds these professionals' egos and contributes to their own fulfillment and potential. I am certain that there are other—perhaps unspeakable—reasons, such as the need to convert individuals with disabilities to a particular religion or lifestyle.

I presented this barrage of questions and remarks to preservice teachers in special education in one of my courses. The room became so quiet you could hear a pindrop—on the carpet. The...


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