Monday, March 03, 2008

Some further thoughts on the Times

So it comes down to this again: angry emails from deaf individuals claiming that I have betrayed my identity, that I have misrepresented crucial positions, and promoted misunderstandings and unrealistic hopes. I’ve been in this position before. Why is that people expect a short article in the New York Times to capture the nuances of the sign--oralism debate, especially when to hearing people those nuances are inconsequential? And they are, on a level, inconsequential. The fratricidal battles being fought in the deaf community are self-defeating. We should be celebrating each other and our differences. Sometimes the signing-oralism debate reminds me of nothing so much as the Crips and Bloods fighting over a street in Watts. There is a whole wide world out there; why get lost in the focus on a few blocks?

“You have proven,” one man wrote me in an email, “that you don’t understand us.”

Really? What is there to understand? The basic human need to connect, to feel worthwhile and loved is paramount and similar in all of us. Why fight over the methods?

My grandfather was a Rabbi. He died young, eight years before I was born. When I was a teenager I thirsted for information about him and once my mother showed me a box of his letters. What came across in these letters was his sterling penmanship (how times have changed in that regard), his intelligence (he had a law degree in addition to a Rabbinical one) and his kindness. Every letter of his had the same signoff: relax and enjoy.

Relax and enjoy. Here, friend, is the message I would hope people carry from what I write. Please don’t go looking for evidence of one school of thought over the other, one approach over the other. Encourage in people the freedom to live the lives that they have, through no fault of their own, been born into. Do they want to hear even though they were born without working ears? Do their parents want that for them? Do they want the opposite, to be left alone in silence? Fine. Either way, it is no judgment on you.

UPDATE: Here is a link to an impassioned response to the Times piece by Julie Hochgesang, a Ph.D. student at Gallaudet.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perfect, Josh. I swear, if only more of us had your sense(s)... I still really wanna hear about your hospice work. A friend of mine died suddenly 2 weeks ago - he wasnt even 30. The poem read at his funeral made me think of those who are around death more than the rest of us - esp the death of young people. If you havent already come across it, its called Dirge Without Music by E. St.Vincent Millay.
See you soon, I hope.

9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your analogy of sign-oralism to the Crips gang is poorly thought. Within the sign-oralism issue revolves around one major thing: education.

A lot of deaf children lack access to education because of the battle between sign-oralism.

What people continually fail to see is- which method fully gives them 100% access to education, knowledge and independence? I leave that for you to answer.


3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My son (who happens to be deaf) puts it very well. When asked if he prefers to sign or talk, he says, "Why do I have to choose? I have the best of both worlds".

He is fluent in sign and also happens to have bilateral cochlear implants. First received at age 5, second at age 14, just 3 months ago. He is successful both in his auditory skills and his ability to communicate in sign. He really does have the best of both worlds, but the Deaf will say he is not "deaf enough" and the hearing will say, "oh, he is deaf", instead of celebrating his ability to easily traverse between the two worlds.

Trekcass: A lot of deaf children lack access to education because of badly trained personnel. A teacher with two semesters of ASL is not linguistically capable of being a language model to a deaf child in need of intense language input. ASL was my fourth language but I could never learn it fast enough to be an appropriate language model for my son. Giving him access to spoken English broadened his access to education, knowledge and independence. Prior to being able to communicate orally, he was totally dependent on me or another person to interpret conversations so that he could communicate with non-signers. Being 100% dependent on ASL limited his ability to access education from everyone around him. Education does not just occur at school.

Proud Mom to amazing kid who happens to be deaf.

6:19 AM  

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