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  • Unconsciously or Consciously, the Principle of Zero-Sum Game Dominates Irish Deaf Education
  • John Bosco Conama (bio)
Language, Power, and Resistance: Mainstreaming Deaf Education by Elizabeth Mathews (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2018, 192 pp., hardbound, $60.00, ISBN: 978-1-944838-04-1)

It feels almost needless to say this, but I will regardless . . . this book is highly recommended for anyone who has a strong interest in the education of deaf children in Ireland and beyond. The analysis of the power dynamics among stakeholders in the Irish arena makes for fascinating reading and is thought-provoking.

The author sets out to analyze the mainstreaming of deaf children into nonsegregated schools, separate from those designated as schools specifically for deaf children. She examines the power relations and their dynamics between several groups; one such example is where a Foucauldian lens is taken to the relationships between educational professionals, parents, and the Deaf community. Through this examination, Mathews critiques the medical model of deafness and its role in influencing power dynamics. I believe that she has successfully applied Foucauldian theories to identify how power dynamics operated within her study.

Situating the piece from her academic knowledge on geographical spaces that influence educational spaces, Mathews’s successful application of Foucauldian theories to paint a portrait of the power dynamics in this area makes for a very significant contribution to the understanding of how the “system” works against the promotion of signed languages. To be fair to the author, Mathews acknowledges the [End Page 295] shortcomings of Foucauldian theories, and goes on to successfully address these by relying on Allen’s analysis of Foucauldian ideas (Allen 2003, 45–47). Moreover, she crystallizes these ideas in order to understand how the power dynamics and resistance can be analyzed.

Through her analysis, it is quite easy to recognize how the medical model of deafness sustains its presence and maintains its position against any resistance. It is difficult not to empathize with the parents of deaf children who were interviewed for this study, and the accounts of frustration and bewilderment that they experienced make for harrowing and difficult reading. Within this work it is possible to recognize how ideological positions color the power dynamics concerning the educational placement of deaf children. The steadfast opposition to the use of signed languages in families is an admonition that is in stark contrast to the countless research studies that have found that the use of signed languages does not hinder the ability of children to acquire spoken languages.

It is clear from Mathews’s study that the prevailing attitudes on the side of the medical model of deafness are influenced by, whether intentionally or not, the belief that the rules of a zero-sum game apply—one side has to make a loss in order for another side to prosper. This study reveals how such a belief is self-defeating in many ways, and is a timely reminder for us all to do away with such beliefs. The example of families being actively discouraged by professionals from the usage of signed languages on the basis of the belief that it hinders the ability of a child to acquire spoken/written language makes this book another reminder for all of us who want the best for deaf children that we should embrace both modalities; signed and spoken/written languages together maximize the benefits of bilingualism or multilingualism for deaf children.

This book is a must for those who have a deep interest in how the Irish education system caters for deaf children—not just for those in academia, but for those beyond academia. This is especially true for Irish Deaf campaigners, with sobering comments made about their failure to engage with hearing parents in a meaningful way and build a collaborative relationship. While such comments are not news to many of us who have a strong interest in bettering education for deaf children, for me, such comments alongside responses from parents, has confirmed the suspicions held by many people about the continuously [End Page 296] weak collaboration between parents and the Deaf community in Ireland.

It is also fascinating to read the analysis of resistance with the author acknowledging...


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pp. 295-297
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