Almost since its inception the education of deaf people has been marred by divisive controversy concerning the most appropriate modes of communication."Deafness is a big country," writes Owen Wrigley in one of his chapter titles in The Politics of Deafness, as he seeks to ethnographically document the "land," the "absent anchor," of the people who belong to the culture he writes about—the culture of the Deaf. For all its nonexistence in chartable, tangible terms, the territory of "deafness" looms large. It is, as I now look out, simply huge; its terrain is vastly diverse and the possibilities for negotiating and navigating in it—or around it—abound. Maps are many. And both their multitude and their various and often conflicting representations guarantee that the going might in fact be made harder by using them.
Margret Winzer, The History of Special Education
an inability or unwillingness to deal with deaf children in terms of their own needs and capabilities. In 1880 this was understandable, as education for deaf children was in its infancy. But in the 1970s?
Richard Winefield, Never the Twain Shall Meet
I think the boundary [between deaf and hearing] is made up by society, the educational system. What caused the separation? I think education, the system.
Ellen, Gallaudet graduate and American Sign Language teacher
The resources and richness of the land, too, are not diminished by physical absence: there is precious ore to be mined here. The size of its population alone guarantees that. Depending on different accounts, on which map is consulted and what criteria for establishing "deafness" are used, the count varies: from 15 million worldwide— "on par with a modest size nation" when commitment to cultural Deafness is the marker in one rendering; to 13.3 million in the United States (or 6.5 million or even 1.7 million, depending on which specific terms and classifications are used to define deafness); to 21 million in the United States by yet another definition. These are just some of the available sets of figures.
Despite the diversity and preciousness of its resources, there are also dangerous subterranean mines in this country—mines long abandoned and not carefully marked, mines boarded shut, with warnings of "Danger! Keep out!" There are land mines as well, in a potentially explosively field. The promise and perils of educating deaf students have been (and continue to be) laid out in such possibly active minefields. Education matters, literacy matters—sometimes violently. Furthermore, education and matters of literacy explode (like the "stop," the "plosive," the most articulate of our speech sounds) on the figurative tongue of deafness, when we look at (lipread?) the rhetorical constructions of deafness.
The ways I might look at the rhetorical constructions of deafness in education are many—frames, maps, primers, and the like prove plentiful . I might, for example, abbreviate most of the longer histories I have encountered, creating my own rhetoric and literacy-minded chronology:
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