For the background on the story, see Michele Westfall’s recent DeafEcho.com article. The following is a recent update on the issue: HB 1367 apparently passed in the House in Indiana, and will soon make its way toward a final vote (with amendments). Below is a slightly revised version (note to the general audience: don’t post on Facebook when you’re too upset to closely scan your first draft) of the post I made on Hear Indiana’s FB page for “Support HB1367.” The post so far as I can tell has since been deleted. But I think this is something that needs to be shared with a wider audience, because yes, the field of Deaf Education is changing. The marginalization of American Sign Language is growing. Schools for the deaf that utilize American Sign Language are under assault as they haven’t been in decades. And we need to respond. On a large–a very large–united front. Soon.
Here is what I said:
Have you really considered what it is, exactly, that you’re fighting to win?
ISD has said, and I have no reason to doubt them, that its outreach center is separate from the school. Furthermore it has said that it has roughly two different kinds of students. One kind has been with ISD since childhood and overall they do quite well. The other type joined ISD very late, and is so far behind in their language acquisition it’s almost impossible to catch up. And while that type pulls ISD’s state test scores down overall, when you consider the first type, the scores are much higher.
Now I ask you. Where do you think students of the second type, the ones who are joining ISD later, went to school first? I don’t know, but I’m asking if YOU do. And furthermore I’d like to ask you this: If all of THOSE students were taken out of ISD, and placed in an oral school, what would happen to that oral school’s state test scores?
People, 90% to 95% of parents of deaf children are themselves hearing. Meaning that most parents are just like you. And it makes perfect sense to me that a hearing parent of a deaf child would first want that child to learn to speak and to use whatever hearing he or she has.
But can you meet me halfway here and admit that, based on what ISD is saying, it would follow that some parents who start out going the oral route, going the assistive listening technology route, nonetheless later find out it’s not working for their child? And then they try to go another route. Well, what do you think will happen, both to the child and to the parents–YOU–if someday there’s no other route to go?
Do you think the House is voting yes because it has some deep expertise in Deaf Education, or do you think it’s at all possible that they are voting yes simply because they don’t want the state of Indiana to pay for ISD anymore? I don’t know the answer to this question but I’ve seen a lot of deaf communities in various states where that seems to be the general sentiment.
I have a Ph.D. in Adult Literacy, and the subject of my dissertation was hearing parents of deaf children and how they cope and how they arrive at decisions. Some of my findings: 1) pediatrician misdiagnosis is widespread, which delays the discovery of deafness. That means there’s that much less time to acquire language with assistance the child could have gotten earlier. 2) Parents feel an enormous amount of stress and distrust over time related to trusting the word of medical professionals AND educational professionals for various reasons. Among them are, for example, people blindly advocating for this or that approach–this is related to both signing AND oralism—and, in the case of medical professionals, telling the parents outright not to cue or sign so the child will depend on the assistive listening technology as much as possible. One parent in particular regretted that enormously and wished she had gone ahead and signed and cued anyway even with the implant (though she didn’t regret the implant itself).
I’ve been a teacher for twenty years now… the last twelve at Gallaudet University. I’m telling you directly, regardless of educational approach, I’ve seen language delays in all kinds of students. Educated orally, with cued speech, with ASL, with some type of a more “English” version of sign language… sometimes their writing is great; sometimes it looks like it went through a paper shredder.
My point is that whatever approach you happen to favor at the moment, there’s one thing no outreach center can offer you: a solid line in the sand telling you when to give up on one approach and start another so that your child will acquire language. I can’t guarantee I’m right but I’ll take a professional guess here… Anyone who tells you differently is selling something…. selling their approach. And some of you will be lucky. That approach will work out.
Some of you will not be so lucky. And neither will your child.
So what I ask of you is simply this: Show your opponents the dignity and respect you would want to be shown on the day you find out that what you hoped for your child isn’t panning out. Because that’s what’s really wrong with Deaf Education today. It’s not a hundred plus years of Deaf people trying to tell AGBell its philosophy is very destructive for a good number of them, and it’s not Deaf people rudely rejecting anything that isn’t ASL or “Deaf enough.”
Purely and simply what’s wrong is a lack of basic respect, a lack of basic cooperation, a lack of willingness to really listen (ironic in this particular field of education), and too much focus on “hooray!” and “whoo-hoo!” and “yippee!” when a victory on any one side inevitably means some other kid isn’t going to get what he needs.
Thank you for considering what I have said here.
Christopher Jon Heuer, Ph.D.