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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Education in America: Voices of Children from Inclusion Settings

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With insight, Jasmine acknowledges the value of her school for hearing students, but she also recognizes its limitations as a place for her to learn. Jasmine’s comments demonstrate a difference in how the hearing students might benefit, in comparison to how she sees herself benefiting. These comments show a deeper perception of the divide between the school’s ability to provide a good education for hearing students and its ability to provide a good education for deaf students. Jasmine’s viewpoint that her school is a “good school for hearing kids” seems to be a sharp contrast to her inward view of a lack of success for herself.

This alarming consensus of negative feelings among the signing deaf students is a stark comparison to the more positive positions of speaking deaf students. But even within speaking students’ comments you see a hint of being unsettled, either in a longing to connect with the deaf community or a memory of not being accepted. It is interesting that Leslie has seen a change in the way she views school from her early years, when she did not have many friends and did not want to go to school, to now, when she is older and is having fun in school. Perhaps this change was prompted by her increasing ability to produce and understand speech with her cochlear implant. However, Leslie attributes the change to feeling comfortable with herself. Sam also expressed general positive feelings for her school but reveals a need to connect with deaf culture. She seems to be searching for her cultural roots while still supporting her integrated past.

When one reflects on the responses concerning general feelings about school, it does not seem surprising that a divide exists between the signing deaf students and the speaking deaf students. The signing deaf students experience a stronger communication barrier than those who can communicate directly with others in their environment. The signing deaf students may also experience a greater feeling of alienation. Kaitlyn grasps the core of this underlying phenomenon when she emphasizes that “if you can talk, it is much better.” Overall, the responses from this interview question suggest that signing deaf students hold significantly more negative feelings toward their hearing schools than their speaking deaf counterparts.

Loneliness and isolation were haunting themes that emerged in the interviews again and again. Though this theme was found in the responses of students from both the signing and the speaking group, it seemed much stronger among the signing deaf students. Kaitlyn seemed to understand this increased depth of loneliness for the students who could not speak when she said, “I’m not so lonely as those who can’t talk.”

In each interview of signing deaf students, a glimpse of the loneliness was revealed. In Zack’s interview, he repeatedly shared the embarrassment that he felt in his elementary hearing classroom. He mentioned several times that he felt “different” and that it was embarrassing to him. Perhaps this is why his mother described him as being very quiet in school. Though Kyle doesn’t use the term embarrassing, he does say that he was shy because of his lack of ability to communicate with the other students. He also shares that he felt lower than the other students, making him less enthusiastic to communicate. This feeling of being inferior is echoed in the responses of several other students in the signing group. Ashley talks about the isolation enveloping her as she grew older. At the time, she felt this was normal, but now she looks back and realizes it was significant.

Julie and Jasmine both acknowledge the devastating link between loneliness and the ability to learn. Their combined viewpoint seems to suggest that students who feel lonely are unable to maintain the motivation to learn, which leads to lower academic achievement. In recognizing this link, they confirm the critical need to support the social side of learning.

Jasmine links her loneliness and lack of academic success to the larger issue of being detached from her culture. Therefore, it seems that loneliness can be expressed both from an individual perspective and from a cultural perspective. Sam also confirmed this when she expressed a longing to know more of deaf culture.

In contrast, Tyler and Patrick (both speaking deaf students) did not mention loneliness or isolation in their interviews. Interestingly, they spoke quite positively about their school environments and told me of their “many friends.” However, when I interviewed the teacher of one of the boys who gave a glowing report of many positive relationships with peers and teachers, she described him as quiet, withdrawn, and lonely in school, and she said he rarely interacted with anyone. It is possible that the student’s definition of positive relationships is based on actions less rich than normal hearing peer relationships.

Leslie is a speaking deaf student, and yet she did experience loneliness and feeling different. Though hearing through her cochlear implant and her ability to lipread usually served her well, she still felt left out when people were talking quickly, and she couldn’t understand. Interestingly, she chose to just enjoy the passive stance of listening, instead of trying to join a conversation she was not understanding.

With loneliness and isolation a major theme among the deaf student participants, it is important to explore the ramifications of these deeply felt emotions. What are the consequences of long-term loneliness? An abundance of research has been conducted on the topic of loneliness. Though much of the research has focused extensively been on the reasons for loneliness, more recent research has looked closer at the outcomes of loneliness, clearly linking loneliness to other

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