Education15th December 2014

Attitudes Towards Sign Language Leaves A Lot To Be Desired

Teachers for the Deaf try to banish Sign Language in Mainstream Schools, denying deaf children a choice later in life

by Sarah Lawrence

In almost every teaching establishment in the United Kingdom, Deaf and Hard and Hearing children are taught orally. Very few schools teach deaf children sign language with only a handful of fluent, proficient and culturally aware sign language users employed in education.

Parents of deaf children who raise a question about their child learning sign language are usually met with a scowl and told emphatically that it would not be in the child’s best interest. That is often the response from teachers for the Deaf, people parents look to for sound advise and information. Sadly, some parents are still told that their child is too intelligent to use sign language. What is that about and why is that stereotypical, discriminatory, and insulting viewpoint allowed to prevail.

Where is the research to back that opinion up?

In recent years, I have met many parents of deaf children who have been met with that level of anti BSL rhetoric. I have also met with deaf youngsters of college age, some with hearing aids, some with cochlear implants, nearly every one of whom seemed uncomfortable around me, when I start signing. Speaking to them about deaf culture, the deaf community and sign language, they invariably have no contact with anyone else who is deaf, and they assure me they don’t need contact with deaf people because they are a part of the ‘normal’ hearing community.

It is interesting, that it is these same youngsters who I see standing or sitting alone drinking a coffee or having lunch. Occasionally, I see them with one other youngster but they are rarely amongst a group of friends, which is the situation for most college students. It looks to me like they are clinging on to the hearing community by their fingertips. Based on my communication with youngsters in this position, it seems they think that becoming a part of the deaf community is considered detrimental to well being or future life chances.

If I’m honest, I worry about these youngsters and other deaf children and what life has in store for them. Don’t get me wrong, I know that this dogmatic approach towards oral teaching and giving deaf kids ‘a voice’ works for some, but, for every success story, I wonder how many deaf children leave school or college underachieving in comparison to their level of intellect.

It is debatable whether the education outcomes for deaf children are  properly assessed and it is neigh on impossible to find out facts about deaf achievement because of the way SEN results are reported. I’ve tried to find out reliable information and it is difficult to come by to say the least.

It seems commonplace for children to be considered as having learning difficulties or a learning disability as well as being deaf. Looking below the surface of these special education assessments, you often find the issue is the child’s inability to listen, pay attention or show understanding of what is being taught. In other words, they are deaf and the real issues might be the lack of teaching tactics applied to deaf children and frustration because of the lack of communication.

When my parents found out I was deaf, they had no knowledge or understanding of deaf issues at all. What they needed was information, a lot of information. They wanted options, thoughts, and considerations not opinionated professionals and policy makers who push parents down one route. Playing a game of denial about a child’s deafness through a push for an ordinary oral life can lead to isolation, frustration, a troubled school life and the lack of academic achievement.

The additional problem with shielding deaf children and their hearing parents from the deaf community is that they grow up struggling or rejected by mainstream sport. They are oblivious to the opportunities that exist in deaf sport. For generations of deaf people that has been important, but for many deaf children that door is slammed in their face by ‘supporters’ who don’t know about it.

In being pushed into mainstream education and taking an arms reach approach to people within the deaf community, is it any surprise that some of these children struggle to conform in school. It’s what teachers want and yet when a child struggles, blame is usually levelled at their door and parents are told how dysfunctional their child is. A typical school report might read, ‘he/she is terrible at mathematics, unable to focus, and had difficulty with words and speech’.

Yes, that is what was written about a deaf child in school, and yet that child turned out to be one of the greatest inventors the world has ever seen and is responsible for us having light to turn on at night-time. I wonder what that teacher made of Thomas Edison’s later successes.

Now tell me, why oh why can’t we keep all options open for deaf children so that as they grow they can exercise choice, as opposed to the no choice option thrust upon them now. We should be empowering children and recognising that people are different. Thrusting just one point of view on them and their well meaning but desperate parents sounds a bit like a manipulative dictatorship!

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Education

15th December 2014