Alone in the
Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School
During my adult years, Dad and I had just a few exchanges that starkly illustrated our polar opposition regarding how deaf people should be and what they could be. Our opposing views echoed, in my view, the controversy that has marred progress in the field of deaf education since the sixteenth century. His view was clear in one conversation that happened in March of 1988. As chance would have it my parents were visiting at my home in Maryland during the now-famous Deaf President Now protest at Gallaudet.2 My father remarked, “Well, I think the college ought to have a president who can hear. A deaf person could not do that job.” I decided to take the easiest way out and replied, “Let’s not talk about this.” My father and I only had one terrible argument about hearing loss—and once was enough (the story is related in chapter 4). My mother wisely said nothing as well, but I am sure she would have disagreed.
Sometimes how one group labels a certain phenomenon is different from how another group labels the same phenomenon. Rhetorical analysis delves into such contrasts. For instance, the European conquest of America, from the European perspective, was a necessity to progress. The subsequent impact on the Indian nation, from the perspective of the Native Americans, was hardly progress. Likewise, the forceful taking of Africans from their homeland for enslaved farm work was upright business for some and deplorably immoral for others.
Another example of such contrasting labeling, albeit not within a category of outright and forceful physical domination, is the solitary mainstream experience. I pondered long and hard about how to label this phenomenon; however, those three words, for me, come as close as any to accurately labeling this experience. Other deaf and hard of hearing adults who offered their thoughts for this book never questioned the label. Former solitaires knew instinctively that this was an appropriate label.
In contrast, experts in the field of special education use the term inclusion to describe the practice of placing a single deaf or hard of hearing child (or any disabled child, actually) within a local school. Certainly inclusion has very different connotations than “the solitary mainstream” or “alone in the mainstream.” It is a very different kind of label indeed for the phenomenon in question.
What does that word inclusion bring to mind? That’s simple—it means to be included: certainly a normal, to-be-expected state of affairs. The word seems to go hand in hand with another catchall term used today: diversity. America has embraced diversity as a value—that although we are all unique, we need to accept and respect our differences. There is no reason for special schools or clubs or programs for certain categories of people. Most adults, even adults who have no involvement in education, human services, or politics, would probably say, “That sounds good. Of course, everyone should be included—so this inclusion philosophy must be a wonderful thing.”
It is my premise that true inclusion for individual deaf children is a possibly unreachable ideal. My experience with inclusion in the public school system from 1955 to 1968 was far from ideal. To me, my experience was solitary. I was alone. I was not included. And this is not because I was educated a long time ago. It is because real inclusion for a deaf or hard of hearing child was and continues to be extremely difficult to achieve. The adults in the schools and neighborhoods where solitaires live don’t know how to achieve it. Without ample and extraordinary help and support, for