Barb's Blog

Whaddya Know?

Recently The New York Times published several essays on the topic “Do States Need Schools for the Deaf?”  The essays were accompanied by a photograph of several (cute!) children who were taught through spoken language only and who would attend a hearing school in the fall.  They included the opinions of a special education lawyer, two representatives of think tanks devoted to economic issues, a historian, and a deaf writer who grew up attending hearing schools.  Yes, you read that right.  Five individuals invited to comment about deaf schools, and not-a-one with any experience in, at, with, around, through, under, or over a deaf school.  Yes, The New York Times!  I couldn’t believe it either!  

Let’s apply this approach to other scenarios.  Imagine soliciting opinions about, say, the recent NFL labor dispute, and interviewing an accountant, a couple of car mechanics, a newspaper columnist, and a beer-lover who once watched part of the game – but no team owners, players, or Cheeseheads.  

Think about the topic of, say, the Arab uprisings, and getting the perspectives of a couple of medical doctors, someone who had read a book about the Middle East, and a few waitresses. 

How about the subject of how to improve health outcomes in minority communities and publishing only the views of a buncha white women?

And does it matter how the question is asked?  Should the game of football exist - or should it be abandoned?  Should people pursue democracy – or should they accept dictators?  Should our society try to improve health outcomes for minorities – or should we let ‘em eat cake?

It’s very easy to determine the answer to a question when you load the panel with people who don’t understand the issue and when you paint them into a corner as to how it must be answered.

The fact is that deaf education is complex, and with every layer peeled away, another is found.  Many of today’s deaf adults who grew up without sign language and were considered successful lament that they lost out on so much growing up.  With early identification and intervention, many of today’s young deaf children demonstrate good speech skills, but have gaps in their language usage.  Even late-deafened individuals fitted with the most advanced hearing technology miss environmental and language sounds.  Deaf children are still deaf no matter what form of technology they use.  And American Sign Language is not a magic answer either.  Families must receive a lot of exposure and support to learn it, and it is not always easy to find a deaf community for the child to be a part of.  No sir, raising and educating a deaf child is not for sissies.  And school programs should be designed to meet the needs of students and families, not the other way around.  That is what is legally and morally required.  

Successful deaf education focuses on access to language and all that follows – development of neural pathways and brain structures, growth of cognitive functioning, ability to learn and communicate, maturation of social and emotional processes, and ultimately becoming a well developed human being who reaches his full potential. 

Rather than ask whether states need schools for the deaf, The New York Times should ask “What do deaf children and their families need, and how do we as a society make sure they get it?”  A much harder question, yes, but the one that really matters.

Copyright 2011.  Do not reproduce without permission.

© Barbara Raimondo 2015