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American Annals of the Deaf

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Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School

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Worst Classmate

Despite having certain teachers and peers as anchors of a sort, many participants struggled with low self-esteem throughout their school years. They shared a seemingly endless litany of negative social experiences. While space does not allow me to include more than a handful of their stories, I hope this will not lessen the impression that such experiences, reported by virtually all the participants, were painful, ongoing, and had a lasting impact.

The worst fellow student experience is hard to identify because I had many such experiences. Students teased and laughed. They would sarcastically whine that they couldn't have "radios in their ears" like me. They would talk with their back towards me or cover their mouth and challenge me to understand them. Nothing stands out in my mind as the "worst" experience, as they were all pretty bad. From all the teasing and ridicule, I concluded that I was worthless and that deafness was really a curse. F 81

The boys in sixth grade thought it was cool to make fun of the way I talked. Often there were no teachers around to stop them. They would make fun of me right to my face, and the other girls were just giggling. It was a very isolating and humiliating experience, and I would often go home and cry. F 93

It is interesting to note that some fellow students adopted the attitude that the deaf child was only pretending not to hear. I wonder if they picked this attitude up from a teacher like some of those described earlier.

In eighth grade, the girls complained to the teacher that I'm a liar, that I'm not really deaf because I can hear with the hearing aids. The girls then would test me by calling my name behind me. I would hear them yelling so I would turn my head around. Then the girls said to the teacher, "See we told you. She is not deaf!" I ran out of the class crying. Junior high days were the worst! F 66

Some experiences reflected a cruel and provocative form of persecution. In the few stories where participants confessed to retaliating, the deaf or hard of hearing children were the ones who were ultimately punished.

The worst experience is tragically easiest to remember. It was probably in seventh grade. One day, I'd had an especially bad day of "teasing" (persecution would be a better word for their treatment) by a group of boys (who were also from my neighborhood) who were particularly malicious toward me. Toward the end of the day, I'd basically had enough of them and wasn't feeling too good. In math class, we were doing individual work. I was working on my problems when one boy got up and went to sharpen his pencil. As he passed behind me, he tapped me with his pencil. It shouldn't have bothered me, but I was already hurt and seething. I recall thinking, "If he does that again, I don't know what I will do." Sure enough, he came back and tapped me again, and I shot out of my chair, and stabbed him with my pencil a few times. Luckily, I didn't seriously hurt him, but I did get suspended for it. M 81

Bullying has always been problematic, and we know from media reports and recent research that it continues to be common today. Deaf children are particularly vulnerable even to apparent "generic bullying." In other words, they are simply more likely to be bullied.
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