Thursday, October 12, 2006

362: the future

Let's look at the Deaf Community today, thirty years after the Stokoe Revolution.

We have a new generation of Deaf people who have been studying themselves, their history and their language. This is VERY recent - last 20 years or so, since the development of technology which makes recording visual language simple. It's also partially the result of the Gallaudet Revolution when Deaf people demanded a Deaf person lead the University. (It's interesting - I work in a mental health agency and we are required by law to have a certain number of the minorities we represent in our administration. By law.)

We also have a WHOLE range of in-between people, from abuse victims who were placed in mental hospitals by ignorant families, to angry radicals. Just like any other group.

The fight at Gallaudet has a lot to do with this group, Deaf people studying themselves. Armed with research from the last 30 years or so since ASL was determined to be a language, research which points the way to not only improved education but constructions never before thought possible, they want to establish ASL as the language of education at Gallaudet. For the first time all students would be able to understand all teachers. (Whatever else you say, the truth is ASL is the only language ALL Deaf people can understand. SimCom and other pastiches are not real languages and have never claimed to be so.)

Why is this important? Well, a real language is flexible. A real language is alive. A real language can become poetry, literature, performance. A real language is what you can use to teach - real language. But many people do NOT believe ASL is a real language. look at this forum where people talk about ASL as an "insult to Deaf education."

I did not always accept the scientific proof of this. Many remember me arriving at MSSD using some kind of PSE. I was a writer and believed English was superior to ASL. It took several linguistics classes, and learning two other Signed languages, to make me comprehend that ASL was really a complete language. At that point I feel I became a truly bilingual person. It changed my relationship with my family and we became much closer. My father, who came to America from Peurto Rico, understands what it is to be part of two worlds when I can frame it as language and culture.

At Gallaudet, there is a battle for the future. A line needs to be drawn. Deaf people don't want to keep playing with silly codes. We need a real language established so the Deaf community in this country can draw from that.

First, ASL as a real language can be more efficiently used for English instruction than any other method - as well as be used for instruction in all other subjects. I've been using it myself and found it's powerful to demonstrate something in ASL and then make the comparison to how English works. You can visually "pack" and "unpack" words to show where the articles of grammar are. I've explained English to HEARING people in ASL and it works. They have been writing about this for years - and it's well known that academically advanced European models mandate the teaching of not one, but at least two and sometimes more signed languages! It is not a "communication method" like a code - you can't teach in Morse, though I'm sure PZ Myers would try.

Secondly, it's of survival importance for young Deaf people. Implants, fine, I really don't care what technology people use. ASL needs to be taught to children from DAY ONE. Because the implant might fail. The electricity might stop. It's a limitation. And while it's not a guarantee the implant or hearing aid or speech therapy or SimCom will work (I think only 30% of implant users develop full language competency) it IS a guarantee that language deprivation causes a form of mental retardation if continued past the first three years-and it IS a guarantee that ASL is accessible to EVERYONE. Even Deaf-Blind people. That's scientific.

Thirdly, can you imagine a different language used to teach every class? A cacophony of interpreters dedicated to helping individual students? The cost of paying for those interpreters and services would beggar the University. ASL is far more practical.

We have all this research, and Gallaudet does nothing with it-that's one reason for the righteous anger of students. It's as if the work of the last thirty years had never happened - all the work of Stokoe and Lucas and Liddel and Erting and Glickman and Marshark and Ladd and all the other writers hearing and Deaf who have worked SCIENTIFICALLY to figure all of this out. Thirty years of research, and Gallaudet is still wavering. Audism Monologues and Mandates are ignored. No wonder students are protesting. Their focus is not on Deaf people's research and attempts to better themselves, but on other people's research to "integrate" us. We cannot find our own place. A place will be "found" for us.

Look, I love English. But I know it's because of ASL and Deaf Studies that I'm able to both function in a hearing office and still maintain my own identity. I can defend ASL as a language, explain people and culture, and discuss the ethics of interpreters. That's empowerment, just as women can go to Women's Studies and learn the language of independence. Deaf people are defined as a people both because of what we are and because of what other people do to us.

Women, as different bodies, are a great example. "Why do you want to work outside the home?" "Why do you need an education?" "Why don't you get married and have kids?" Women moved past their phase of oppression, but they still do battle and they still get paid less than men. I guess we all have many battles to fight.

P.S. I had many teachers at MSSD who used a kind of PSE to teach - they were wonderful teachers and I'm not knocking PSE. But at the same time, they matched their language to the child, which is a skill found in ASL... so I think they were just being resourceful! :)


Katie Roberts said...

YOu nmade a good point with your last sentence- teachers at MSSD matching their skill to yours.

If a teacher cannot sign ASL, then her range of expression is much more limited. Someone who can sign ASL, for the most part, can also communicate in simcom (watering down their ASL, signing slower, fingerspelling), use written and read English.

now you have this teacher who can only use simcom, can barely sign. She can't understand the students she teaches, the students can't understand her (because she is nto skilled enough to give students what they need), and everybody suffers.

I absolutely AGREE. ASL is the ONLY language that is accessible for EVERYONE.

I've yet to find someone who can argue against that point.

And just because ASL is important, and an offical language, does NOT mean that people with poor signing skills are unwelcome or looked upon. It only means, "Welcome, learn our language, be part of the community here, and grow as a deaf person"

One frustration I've experienced frmo this protest is all those nay-sayers that have a very low opinion of ASL and deaf people in general, and they base their oppostion to the protest based on that fact ALONE.

The ironic thing is that they are claiming DOD and ASLers discriminate against them!

natech said...

Bingo. You've got it. Only if more people can see that way.